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When the new James Bond movie was titled No Time to Die, unsuspecting producers could scarcely have imagined that governments would suddenly take exactly that stance, closing down cinemas across the globe in order to save lives from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Never Say Never Again!” bemoaned the world’s film buffs in unison, as they awaited a new winter date for the premiere they’d been promised. Yet tragically, as everyone’s eyes were peeled for the next installment in the adventures of Bond, one of the most legendary actors ever to play his role passed away: Sean Connery. The 90-year-old, who had starred in seven of the movies, lost his fight for life during Halloween 2020. Yet on screen, of course, he remains immortal.
The Bond character has made an entrance in many locations over the decades. One example is at the Monte Carlo casino where the reckless lady’s man opted to forego $267,000 worth of winnings – the price of an entire house in many parts of France – to instead settle for the dubious privilege of just “one dance with Domino.”
However in honor of the late Connery’s life and legacy, combined with our love for the City of Light, let’s focus on the Parisian exploits of the fictional Bond – plus Connery and Roger Moore, two actors that bore his name – by covering solely locations in or around Paris.
Originally opening just before the turn of the 20th century and taking pride of place on the bustling Champs-Elysées, a mere stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, it has been a classically Parisian brasserie since the moment of its conception. It has also always been a place of action. For instance, merely a few years before the film version of A View to a Kill was released, a group of French female journalists would reportedly cause a stir by storming its designated ‘Men Only’ bar in defiance of its segregation rules. They refused to leave – and soon afterwards the ‘Men Only’ section ceased to exist. The venue is equally dramatic these days, annually hosting a gala dinner to mark the cinematic César Awards – the French equivalent of the Oscars.
From feminist history to movie magic and even political prestige – for instance, Nicolas Sarkozy held a party to celebrate his election win there – Fouquet’s has long been a storied venue. It even saw the type of miserable days that Bond complained of, when it was set ablaze by gilets jaunes protestors in 2019. It defiantly and triumphantly opened its doors again on Bastille Day of the same year, only to then fall prey to coronavirus the following year. Despite its ups and downs, it will always be a public favorite, though many are unaware that it was Bond’s brasserie of choice back in the day too.
Another notable restaurant for Bond was the Café de La Paix at the Intercontinental Le Grand hotel, located in the beautiful Opera district and overlooking the Palais Garnier across the square. This venue once played host to writers Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde, with the latter dining alongside his ‘scrooge-like’ ex-lover Lord Douglas and having a public tiff over financial support.
Barely a four-minute walk from here is Harry’s New York Bar, another firm favorite of the literary Bond. Situated on rue Daunou, it always attracted an international crowd, and its Piano Bar is regarded as the location where George Gershwin composed the music for An American In Paris. Bond could have enjoyed a Bloody Mary here, in the venue where the tipple is alleged to have been created, or a glass of Hemingway’s signature drink, the ‘Montgomery’ Dry Martini – fifteen parts gin to one part martini was the once secret formula!
Another Bond favorite was Le Grand Véfour, tucked away in an arcade of the Palais Royale. Rumor has it that women dining here would check the authenticity and quality of jewelry gifted to them by scratching the gems on mirrored surfaces – the question in mind was whether the diamonds truly were forever!
Back in those days, the restaurant was filled with honey-trappers and Bond would have had to steer clear of spies disguising themselves as merely seductive single women!
Bond was a prolific diner. However one place that remained on his bucket list, the top location where he fantasized about taking a date, was Armenonville – a former hunting lodge turned feasting joint in the Bois de Boulogne area. It now focuses on gastronomic events – yet don’t forget about Fouquet’s! Merely minutes away, the Bond enthusiast has no shortage of options to satisfy hunger pangs.
However those who have seen the subsequent 1985 movie version of A View to a Kill will have witnessed on screen for themselves Bond’s most dramatic restaurant experience of all – at Le Jules Verne. This stunning Eiffel Tower venue, with its panoramic views over the city of Paris, was named after the famous Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea author. However for Bond, the landmark dinner was marred by trauma, as it was here that the French private detective accompanying him was dramatically assassinated.
David Bowie almost pipped Roger Moore to the post for the role of Bond in the film, but reversed his decision at the last minute as he “didn’t want to see [his] stunt double falling off cliffs.”
After the assassination, the movie plot swiftly moves outside the city to nearby Chateau de Chantilly and the surrounding stables where Bond attends a horse sale. His agenda is to uncover the owner’s secret laboratory, where he is discreetly chipping his racehorses with performance-enhancing adrenalin devices. Perilously, he’s outed as an agent there, dicing with death at the hands of his assassin rival – not that anyone would associate such drama with Chantilly nowadays. Thirty-five years on, France’s largest race-horse training community, complete with thousands of equines, is totally peaceful, having even been described by residents as “Disney meets horse-racing.” The chateau, racecourse and Living Museum of the Horse, where Bond was filmed, are all worth witnessing – along with a horseback ride of your own in Chantilly forest, if you crave a taste of outdoorsy life.
For those following in Bond’s footsteps – but without the drama, of course – a visit to the above attractions is essential. Meanwhile when hunger strikes, the best port of call is the Auberge Jeu de Paume, a Relais and Chateau hotel with a scrumptious Michelin-starred restaurant. The beef tartare and caviar is an excellent choice for mains, while a renowned selection of cheeses offer an epic after-taste.
Further afield, around 50 miles from central Paris, is the town of Dreux, Eure-et-Loire, an important filming location in the 1965 film Thunderball. Movie buffs might recognise the Château d’Anet – former home of King Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers – as the place where Sean Connery as Bond attends the funeral of a Spectre agent. In the times of coronavirus, visitors might need to ‘Dreux another day’ and schedule this in post-vaccination! However, when the time comes, it’s a mere 75-minute drive.
Finally, the Seine-et-Marne department is home to Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, which featured in Moonraker (1979). This baroque chateau is an under-rated gem just 35 miles outside of the city and it’s close to Fontainebleau and the Disneyland theme park too. Although guests are unlikely ever to replicate the dramatic helicopter landing that Roger Moore made at the chateau, it’ll be a thoroughly entertaining day trip nonetheless.
All that’s needed is to arm yourself with your favorite Bond stories and choose your own adventure while following the same paths. Plus should you need a place to lay your head at night, consider the advice of Bond, who based himself at the Terminus Nord, directly across the street from the Gare du Nord train station. Enjoy…
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Lead photo credit : Sean_Connery in the Bond years. Photo credit © Rob Mieremet, Wikimedia Commons