Turin and the French Riviera: Following in the footsteps of film stars

Watching two classic British thrillers spurred Mark Mason to visit their chic settings - without the robberies and murder, of course
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The Independent Travel

A little nerdish, perhaps. All the way to Italy because of a film. But then my gaze alights on the DVD of my other favourite movie, The Day Of The Jackal. How about combining the two? Jo isn't sure. I point out that the Jackal drives along the French Riviera. She becomes more interested. It turns into one of those holidays where the fun is largely in the planning. Which bits of the two plots to combine, and how?

Certain elements discount themselves (stealing $4m worth of gold; trying to shoot the French President). Extensive use is made of a research tool neither Charlie Croker nor the Jackal enjoyed: the internet. Eventually, a plan is hatched, and arrangements are booked.

Day one is The Italian Job. Luton Airport provides an early quote opportunity: "Look neither to the left, nor to the right, just walk straight ahead," I say as we cross the Tarmac to board. In Turin, our first stop is Le Meridien Lingotto. The hotel used to be Fiat's main factory, where cars were tested on a rooftop racetrack. Part of the chase sequence was filmed here. Le Meridien guests can jog round the track, which offers views of the mountains surrounding the city. We shun exercise, though, preferring my DVD-enabled laptop, which shows us red, white and blue Mini Coopers, and Michael Caine exhorting his driver to "look for the bloody exit: we can't go round here all afternoon".

Then it's a taxi to the Villa Della Regina, a charming stately residence that in its 400 years has housed Cardinal Maurizio di Savoia, Anna Maria d'Orleans and, more pertinently, Charlie Croker's gang as they prepare for the job (chronology has bowed to geography). Unfortunately, the Villa is currently closed for renovation, but the outside alone is worth the ride.

Next comes the Gran Madre di Dio. This is the first time the film really adds something to our trip. The church, overlooking the River Po, is impressive enough. But even more impressive, we realise as we watch the film, was the stunt driving that allowed the Minis to descend the steps outside it, careering past a wedding party to whom one of the robbers shouts "good luck". The gradient is far steeper than it appears on screen. I'll never watch that bit of the film again without cringing.

The rest of the afternoon is spent exploring the city centre. We find the Palazzo Carignano (gold unloaded into the Minis), the Palazzo Vela (Minis lose police car on huge curved roof), the Galleria Sub Alpina (Minis race through exquisite shopping arcade), the Piazza Castello (Mini passenger grabs chicken leg from plate); each example of Baroque architecture is beautiful in itself. But, we realise, the film is giving our trip an added dimension. Instead of meandering the streets, our sightseeing is structured by the list of locations. At every stop there's the satisfaction of seeing it both on the screen and before our eyes. Each tick on the list adds to that fulfilment - almost like the thrill of pulling off a robbery. Michael Caine got to play at being a robber. I'm playing at being Michael Caine. Childish? Of course. Good fun? Definitely.

As darkness falls, we are to be found outside the Palazzo Municipale, underneath the balcony where Camp Freddie, resplendent in his pink suit, oversees the attack itself. A passing couple look curious as to why one would compare views of the square to the picture on a laptop. I begin to explain, in non-existent Italian, that I'm looking for the exact spot where Charlie Croker shouts, "Oi, knock that bloody water cannon out!" I stop myself. Time, perhaps, to call it a day.

Day two, which is Day Of The Jackal, starts obscenely early: our train for Nice leaves at seven. As the Alps pass by on either side, I go over the plan one last time. We're to join the assassin's trail at the point where, custom-made rifle and fake passports duly collected, he drives into France from Italy, heading towards Paris. As well as the film, I've consulted the original novel. Frederick Forsyth's research is famously meticulous. Sure enough, chapter 15 gives the Jackal's route: along the Corniche Littorale from Nice to Cannes.

At Nice station we locate the Hertz office. Jo grumbles as she remembers a difference between film and reality: Edward Fox drove a convertible two-seater Alfa Romeo; we've got a Peugeot 307. But this is where my (or rather Forsyth's) research pays off: the Jackal, I point out, has to drive fast to keep cool in the blistering August heat. We, on the other hand, have air conditioning. Jo takes small consolation from this. We enjoy a peaceful hour doodling along the coast road. To our left the Mediterranean glitters in the sunshine. There's a toll motorway that would be quicker, but the film is set in 1963, so accuracy provides an excuse for our stinginess. Once in Cannes, we locate the Majestic Hotel. It's from here that the Jackal telephones Paris ("ici Chacal") and learns that his cover has been blown. While deciding whether to abandon the mission, he takes coffee on the terrace. Jo and I think this would be a good bit to recreate.

Our demeanour, however, clearly inspires less respect in French waiters than Edward Fox's "Englishman abroad" routine. If the Jackal had had to wait as long for his coffee as we do for ours, he'd have reached Paris to find de Gaulle dead of old age. In the novel, the bill causes the Jackal to wince. Ours has the same effect.

Back on the road, we follow the Jackal's route, the N85 north from Cannes. Soon we're climbing into the Alps, and once more it's fun to tick off towns and villages against those in the story. The mountainous drive through Grasse, Castellane, and Digne would be awe-inspiring anyway. The knowledge that we're following in someone else's tyremarks (albeit a fictional character's) adds an extra dimension. The only moment of tension comes when it's my turn to drive, and over-acceleration into a bend threatens to return us to The Italian Job - specifically, the last scene, with the coach hanging over the edge of the cliff.

But we survive, and after rolling through Sisteron we find ourselves in Gap. This is where the Jackal spends the night, at the luxurious Hotel du Cerf. He drinks Calvados after dinner, so I do too. I avoid the bit about seducing a stranger so I can hide in her house before killing her.

The final day sees a leisurely drive up to Grenoble, where we drop off the car before flying back home. It's raining in Luton. Not as much fun as being in the movies.

GETTING THERE

You can fly to Turin from Stansted on Ryanair (0906 270 5656; www.ryanair.com) or from Luton on easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com). You can fly from Grenoble to Gatwick on British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com), to Stansted on Ryanair or to Luton on easyJet.

GETTING AROUND

Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com). The journey from Turin to Nice takes just over four hours. Tickets can also be reserved through Rail Europe (08708 371 371; www.raileurope.co.uk) from £19 one-way.

Hertz (08708 448844; www.hertz.co.uk). Four days' rental of a Peugeot 206 or similar in the south of France starts at £77.17.

STAYING THERE

Best Western Hotel Piemontese, Via Berthollet 21, Turin (00 39 011 669 8101; www.bestwestern.it/piemontese_to). Doubles start at €89 (£64), including breakfast.

Le Meridien Lingotto, Via Nizza 262, Turin (00 39 011 664 2000; www.lingotto.lemeridien.com). Doubles start at €125 (£89), including breakfast.

Hotel Majestic Barriere, La Croisette 10, Cannes (00 33 4 92 98 77 00; www.lucienbarriere.com). Doubles start at €195 (£139), room only.

Hotel Ibis Gap, 5/7 Boulevard Georges Pompidou, Gap (00 33 4 92 53 57 57; www.ibishotel.com). Doubles start at €48 (£34), room only.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Turin Tourism (00 39 011 535 181; www.turismotorino.org).

Italian State Tourist Board (020-7408 1254; www.enit.it).

Cannes Tourism (00 33 4 92 99 84 22; www.cannes.fr).

French Government Tourist Office (09068 244123, calls 60p/min; www.franceguide.com).

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