Rough Guides has partnered with the British Film Institute (BFI), the UK’s lead organisation for film and television, to inspire people to use travel to shift their perspective on the world. To celebrate the publication of the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth and the 63rd BFI London Film Festival (2nd - 13th Oct 2019), the BFI and Rough Guides have picked out the most inspiring films from the festival and paired each one with a recommended experience from the new Rough Guide.
Travel to: the Himalayas
BFI recommended film: The Gold-Laden Sheep & The Sacred Mountain
In the remote Himalayas, a shepherd searches for a mythical mountain where a plane has crashed. But is his heart as sacred as the place he seeks?
Rough Guides recommended experience: Meditating in the Himalayas
People have looked to the mountains for spiritual consolation for millennia. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” says the Christian Psalm 121, “from whence cometh my help.” For the Nepalese, the link is especially powerful. The Himalayas are where the Hindu gods go to meditate and replenish their tapas, or spiritual “heat”, and the Buddhist peoples of Nepal’s Himalayan regions also regard many of the highest peaks and lakes as sacred.
Evening or night view of Boudha or Bouddhanath stupa - Kathmandu - Nepal © Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock
Many trekkers come to Nepal to make personal pilgrimages. When you stand on a ridge festooned with colourful prayer flags torn ragged by the wind, or look down on the luminous, glacial blue of a Himalayan lake, or when with aching lungs, cracked lips and a spinning head you come to the top of the highest pass yet, it’s hard not to feel your own spiritual store hasn’t been warmed just a little. Of course, you can always just emulate the gods: find a high place, fix your eyes on the Himalayas, breathe and begin the search for mindfulness.
Film still from The Gold-Laden Sheep & The Sacred Mountain © BFI
For spiritual discipline, perhaps the richest possibilities are found in the Kathmandu valley, Nepal’s heartland in the Himalayan foothills. The valley has been described as a living mandala, or spiritual diagram – its very geography mapped out by temples, devotional stupas and holy caves and gorges. Pashupatinath, where Kathmandu’s dead are burned beside the river, attracts pilgrims from across India. Many Western travellers make for neighbouring Boudha, the vibrant Tibetan quarter, where the painted Buddha eyes on the great white dome look out across throngs of Buddhist monasteries, and where, at dawn and dusk, the violet air echoes with the sounds of horns and bells, and the murmured mantras of the faithful.
BFI recommended film: An Easy Girl
Rebecca Zlotowski investigates desire, the lure of the high life and the imagery of modern female sexuality in a French summer-of-sun drama with a difference.
Rough Guides recommended experience: On the art trail along the Côte d’Azur
Like most of Renoir’s work, it’s instantly appealing, with a dazzling range of colour and a warmth that radiates out from the canvas. A hazy farmhouse at the end of a driveway, framed by leafy trees and bathed in sunny pastel tones, La Ferme des Collettes is one of the artist’s most famous paintings, perfectly evoking a hot, balmy day in the south of France.
But what makes this watercolour extra special is its location: it’s one of eleven on show in the actual ferme depicted in the painting, a mansion in Cagnes-sur-Mer where the celebrated Impressionist lived and worked from 1907 until his death, and which is now the Musée Renoir. Step outside and you step right into the picture, bathed in the same bright light and warm Mediterranean air.
The Renoir Museum in Cagnes-sur-Mer © Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock
And then there’s Picasso. Probably the greatest painter of the twentieth century, he spent a prolific year at the Château Grimaldi in Antibes, a short drive south of Nice. Now the Musée Picasso, it’s packed with work from that period – the creative energy of Ulysses and his Sirens, a 4m-high representation of the Greek hero tied to the mast of his ship, is simply overwhelming. But it’s hard to stare at something this intense for long, and you’ll soon find yourself drifting to the windows – and the same spectacular view of the ocean that inspired Picasso sixty years ago.
Ever since pointillist Paul Signac beached his yacht at St-Tropez in the 1880s, the Côte d’Azur has inspired more writers, sculptors and painters than almost anywhere on the planet. If you want to follow in their footsteps, Nice is the place to start, home to Henri Matisse for much of his life. Resist the temptations of the palm-fringed promenade and head inland to the Musée Matisse, a striking maroon-toned building set in the heart of an olive grove. Among the exotic works on display, Nature Morte aux Grenades offers a powerful insight into the intense emotional connection Matisse established with this part of France, his vibrant use of raw, bold colour contrasting beautifully with the rough, almost clumsy, style.
Still from An Easy Girl © BFI
Travel to: South Korea
BFI recommended film: The House of Us
One for fans of the family dramas of Hirokazu Kore-eda. Set in South Korea, with The House of Us director Ga-eun Yoon proves herself one of the world’s finest filmmakers at capturing contemporary childhood onscreen.
Rough Guides recommended experience: Walking among Silla royalty in South Korea
In the centre of Gyeongju, South Korea lies a gently undulating series of mysterious, grass-covered bumps. Though smaller and much softer to the eye, these mounds serve a similar purpose to the great Egyptian pyramids: tombs for great leaders from an ancient civilization, the impressive Silla dynasty, which ruled southeastern Korea for nearly a millennium, more than a millennium ago.
Bulguksa Buddhist temple, Gyeongju, South Korea © MicheleB/Shutterstock
The feeling of ancient power becomes quite palpable when walking through Tumuli Park, Gyeongju’s district of burial mounds. Though close to the city centre, there’s surprisingly little intrusion from the modern world – Gyeongju’s more recent rulers chose to impose a cap on the height of buildings and encouraged the use of traditional roofing, all of which fosters a natural, relaxed feeling hard to come by in other Korean cities. As you walk around the park, you’ll pass gentle green humps on your left and right – the larger the bump, the more important the occupant. The largest is a double-humped mound belonging to a king and queen, and it’s even possible to go inside a slightly smaller one to see a cross-sectioned display of the surroundings of deceased Sillan nobility. These tombs have yielded wonderful treasures from the period, most notably an elaborate golden crown.
Gyeongju’s pleasures do not start and finish with its tombs. Bulguksa, a temple dating from 528 AD and viewed by many as the most beautiful in the country, lies nearby to the east. It exudes vitality, and is surrounded by some staggering mountain scenery. Delving into the mountains on a meandering uphill path, you’ll eventually come across a grotto known as Seokguram. Here you’ll see a stone Buddha that has long fixed his gaze over the East Sea – a perfect place to enjoy the sunset at day’s end.
Travel to: Vietnam
BFI recommended film: Monsoon
Hong Khaou follows his successful film Lilting (BFI Flare 2014) with this gorgeous drama that evokes the disorientation of returning to an unrecognisable homeland.
Rough Guides recommended experience: Karst and crew: overnighting on Ha Long Bay
Spend a night afloat among the limestone pinnacles of Ha Long Bay, and you’ll witness their many moods as their silhouettes morph with the moonlight, mist and midday sun. Scores of local boat companies offer this experience, for the spectacularly scenic bay is a World Heritage Site and Vietnam’s top tourist destination.
Ha Long Bay Vietnam © Stanislav Fosenbauer/Shutterstock
Regularly referred to as the eighth natural wonder of the world, the 1,500 square kilometres of Ha Long Bay contain nearly two thousand islands, most of them uninhabited outcrops that protrude from the Gulf of Tonkin. Their intriguingly craggy profiles have long inspired poets, wags and travel writers to wax lyrical about Italianate cathedrals, every type of creature from fighting cocks to bug-eyed frogs, even famous faces, but the bay’s creation myth is just as poetic. “Ha Long” translates as “the dragon descending into the sea”: legend tells how the islets were scattered here by the celestial dragon as a barrier against invaders.
A still from Monsoon © BFI
Even the most imaginative visitor might tire of interpreting the shapes for a full two days, so overnight trips offer different angles on rock appreciation. As well as lounging on island beaches by day and swimming the phosphorescent waters by night, there are plenty of caves and floating villages to explore, and endless fresh seafood to enjoy. Some tours allow you to paddle yourself around in a kayak, while others feature forest treks and cycle rides on Cat Ba Island, the largest in the bay.
Travel to: Mongolia
BFI recommended film: Öndög
Wang Quan’an returns with a witty, tender and visually bewitching tale of death, desire and camels on the plains of Mongolia.
Rough Guides recommended experience: Horsing about with the Mongols
For Mongols, life has always been portable – homes, families and livelihoods are all carried on horseback. There’s no better conveyance for this rolling grassy terrain than their well-trained steeds, and certainly no other way to immerse yourself in this last great nomadic culture. To enlist in this itinerant life you’ll saddle up for the grassy steppe of the Darhat Valley, where horsemen and herders find prime summer pastures.
From an encampment on the shores of Lake Khovsgol, a day’s horse trek across the Jigleg Pass leads through forests of Siberian larch trees before descending into the Darhat Valley – but this is just the beginning. Throughout your days on horseback, you will come upon isolated encampments dotting the grassy expanse, each with several gers, the traditional lattice- framed, felt-covered homes of nomadic herders. Mongols are quick to invite you inside, where you’ll witness their shamanistic rituals as they call for rain or predict the future from the shoulder bone of a sheep.
Horses in the mongolian steppe © Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock
As you sit on the felt-lined ger floor, they’ll reach for a leather bag and pour you a bowl of airag, a fermented horse-milk beverage – think fizzy sour milk with a kick. It’s an acquired taste, but it quenches thirst and a swig will help wash down that morsel of roasted marmot you’ve been gnawing. Evenings will be spent in comfortable ger camps and in tents with all the accoutrements of catered camping.
As you approach the southern skirt of the valley you can expect to encounter the Tsaatan, a tribe that both rides and herds reindeer. The Darhat Valley is their favoured home for summer grazing before they retreat to the more protective forest highlands in the winter.
With fresh horses, you’ll leave the Darhat through mountainous birch woods, bringing you back to Lake Khovsgol – the conclusion of your passage into a vanishing, but still vigorous, way of life.
A still from Öndög © BFI
If you're thinking of planning a trip to any of these destinations, get in touch. Rough Guides can connect you with an experienced travel expert to organise a fully personalised trip for you.
Top image: Ha Long Bay Vietnam © Stanislav Fosenbauer/Shutterstock