in praise of bond

I love the James Bond films  – even the lame ones - for so many reasons: the geeky gadgets and kooky villains for a start. Then there’s the crazy chases and death-defying stunts and, of course, Bond’s bevy of double entendre-toting beauties. Plus, there’s all the exotic locales. In film after film, few heroes have given us wider license to travel the far corners of the world than Agent 007. Here are just a few memorable highlights.

SCHILTHORN, SWITZERLAND: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) took us to the mountaintop, literally: the 2,970-meter-high Schilthorn, which George Lazenby skied down at breathtaking speed with Telly Savalas as Blofeld in hot pursuit. It’s one of the great movie ski chase scenes, now documented in an exhibit at Piz Gloria, which doubled as the Bleuchamp Institute for Allergy Research in the film. Organized Bond-themed excursions start from the car-free town of Mürren, or you can glide up the mountain yourself on a 32-minute aerial cable car trip that originates in Stechelberg. For more Bond-style adventure, ski the mountain’s 15.8 km mixed-terrain Inferno course. Experienced skiers usually cover it in about 45 minutes; competitors in the annual Inferno Race – the largest amateur ski race in the world – can do it in 15.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Several locations in Turkey – where East meets West on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus – are featured in Skyfall, the newest adventures of James Bond. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been a must-see since 1461. More than 550 years later, it attracts nearly a half-million visitors daily. Presumably few of them other than Skyfall director Sam Mendes envision its narrow, crowded aisles as a location for a high-speed chase. It is, however, an excellent place to buy local handicrafts and to engage all your senses as you immerse yourself in the city.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA: Licence to Kill (1989) kicks off with Timothy Dalton parachuting in with CIA pal Felix Leiter to Felix’s wedding at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West after some insane aerial maneuvers. Other scenes shot in the area include a car chase on Seven Mile Bridge, the segmented concrete (to make it hurricane-resistant) span you’ll cross if you’re driving to Key West, and a scene at the Ernest Hemingway Home in which M demands that Bond relinquish his “license to kill.” Hemingway, no slouch in the adventure department himself, moved to the house at 907 Whitehead Street in 1931. A guided tour shows off his writing studio as well as the descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, who have unlimited license to roam the house and grounds.

THE BAHAMAS: Of Bond’s many visits to the Bahamas, the most memorable is Sean Connery’s 1965 Thunderball battle in the underwater caves of the Exuma Cays. They’ve been known ever since as the Thunderball Grotto. (Connery returned there in 1983 for Never Say Never Again.) Several charter companies, including Four C’s Adventures and the Island Routes 007 Thunderball Luxury Tour, will take you out to the grotto by boat and guide you on a snorkeling route to the inside of the caves, where the light streams in and colorful fish dart about below the water’s surface.

PARIS: With an “I’m too old for this stuff” look on his face, Roger Moore chased Grace Jones to the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill (1985), only to watch her parachute off, land on a boat conveniently waiting along the Seine, and make a spectacular getaway in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. (It was almost as good as Duran Duran’s video for the movie’s theme song.) On a tour of the tower, you’ll learn about Franz Reichfelt’s tragic demonstration of his “parachute suit” in 1912, which should convince you that parachuting off the observation deck is not the thing to do here. However, if you’re feeling fit, climb the 704 steps from the ground to the second floor. From there, you can catch the lift to the top, where you’ll find a champagne bar with killer views of its own.

AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, CANADA: Nobody does it better, ahem, than the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore BASE jumps off the edge of a mountain and – whoosh – a Union Jack parachute opens and glides him to safety. The mountain, with its distinctive twin flat-topped peaks at 6,598 feet, is Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, Canada. Serious outdoors people find the 7,370-square-mile arctic park a haven of pristine beauty offering 24-hour daylight in summer. Accessible via the Inuit hamlets of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, which can be reached only by small plane, the park requires that all visitors attend a safety orientation before they embark on their travels. For this level of adventure, only experienced wilderness travelers — and MI-6 agents — need apply.


the luck of the irish

When the Irish monk Gallus came to Switzerland in 612BC, he stumbled among the wild vegetation of the Mülenenschlucht gorge and promptly fell into a thorn bush. While extricating himself from the nettles he came nose-to-nose with an angry bear none too pleased to have its midday nap interrupted. Soon thereafter Gallus fell ill and almost died. Being Irish, he took this series of unfortunate events as a sign that he had found a new home. “This is where I will stay,” he is said to have uttered upon regaining consciousness. And apparently heaven didn’t steer him wrong: Gallus built himself a monk’s cell and spent the remainder of his life as a hermit wandering the forests surrounding Lake Constance. A hundred years later a monastery was set up in the same place. It would go on to become one of the most important medieval schools of learning in the Western world, and the Canton of St. Gallen grew up around it. This spring marks the 1,400th anniversary of Gallus’s arrival. Under the quirky banner of Gallusjubiläum, the UNESCO world heritage city will be honoring their patron saint through to the  end of Autumn. Even the taciturn Swiss, it turns out, owe a bit of their pluck – and luck – to the Irish.


just published: swiss bliss

If discretion is the better part of valour, surely the Swiss deserve a medal. Not for nothing do all those secret bank accounts remain so hush-hush – well, mostly: the Swiss have not only perfected the art of keeping secrets, they’ve elevated it to an art form.

With the exception of a few undisclosed vaults in Zurich, nowhere is such a distant delicacy practiced with greater fervour than along the shores of Lake Geneva. A hit list of bold-faced names that have sought sanctuary here confirms its reputation as a hideaway in plain sight: Byron, Shelley, Chaplin, Nabokov, Wagner, Hemingway, and Freddie Mercury, whose life-size statue adorns the Montreux waterfront. This is the Swiss Riviera after all.

It’s only natural that you’d find a selection of sublime spas and wellness clinics blending seamlessly into the Alpine landscape here – if you know where to look. Between Lausanne and Montreaux, no fancy signs point the way. Bells and whistles are nowhere to be seen and the international clientele that comes in search of rejuvenation would like to keep it that way – and remain nameless, thank you very much. However, once inside these retreats you’ll find the peace of mind that comes from cutting edge therapies and a promise that everything will run as reliably as the trains and as smoothly as the chocolate.

CLICK HERE to read more Swiss Bliss (pdf download)


swiss snapshots

P1000890I’m currently knee-deep into finishing a big spa story for a magazine out of Hong Kong, which means going back through copious notes as well as snapshots from my visit to Lausanne and Montreux over the summer.

The Alps pretty much speak for themselves, though you can click on the images to enlarge them for a better perspective.  I’ve also thrown in a handful of other fun shots to mix things up a bit.


At the newly renovated Le Mirador in Mont-Pelerin, every room takes advantage of the hotel’s spectacular height above Lake Geneva.  This balcony looks out over Vevey and Montreux, with France in the distance.


Claes Oldenburg’s playful giant fork is plonked outside Nestle’s food museum in Vevey.


The terraced vineyards of Lavaux were recently recognized by UNESCO for the extraordinary beauty of their engineered landscapes.  And the wine is not half bad either.


Enthroned on an islet in Lake Geneva, Chillon Castle was notoriously depicted in Lord Byron’s The Prisoner of Chillon – which opens with one of my favorite  lines:  “Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind”


Being ferried to see Marianne Faithful at the Montreux Jazz Festival by private boat doesn’t suck.


Michael Phelps and his gold medals interpreted in sand outside the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.


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