The movie (and book): The Da Vinci Code
The location: Europe
Picture this. A crowd of tourists is gathered around what is probably the world's most famous painting the Mona Lisa, in the Louvre in Paris. As the painting stares back from behind its Plexiglas shield, the question on most people's lips is not 'How did the artist achieve such fine brushwork?' or 'What is the source of her enigmatic smile?' but rather, 'Was The Da Vinci Code right?'
The book by Dan Brown has sold over 40 million copies worldwide since its 2004 publication and the movie starring Tom Hanks was so successful Hanks has even starred in the Angels and Demons follow-up blockbuster.
The plot, which revolves around a chase to find the Holy Grail, hidden meanings in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and the mystery of Mary Magdalene, starts with a murder in the Louvre. Its mix of semi-fact and fiction has inspired almost as many pilgrims as the legend of the grail itself and spawned a whole industry of book location tours. So here, with apologies to all the serious historians, theologians and art lovers who have already had enough of the 'Code crowds', is The Luxury Travel Bible's own self-guided luxury tour.
Chateau de Villette, Versailles
The plot: The novel's main characters, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, seek the help of art historian Sir Leigh Teabing, who supposedly lives in Chateau de Villette.
The luxury location: Luxury hotel lovers will be pleased to know that, for the right price an exclusive stay at The
Chateau de Villette can be yours. The Chateau is 35 minutes north-west of Paris near the more famous Chateau de Versailles. It is an impressive pad set in gardens landscaped by the same man responsible for the intricate lawns of Versailles. It was built for the Count of Aufflay, Louis XIV's ambassador to Italy.
This truly is an exclusive luxury holiday choice because it is not easy to get inside unless you have a serious amount of money. There are no public tours of the house (although corporate events are allowed and the chateau is occasionally hired out for weddings). Hollywood celebrities, The Luxury Travel Bible site-readers and other billionaire-types happily pay out around ?6500 Euros a day (one-week minimum) to rent the antiques-filled Chateau.
French Vacation, who organise the Chateau rentals, can also organise stays at the magnificent sister Chateau, Chateau Grimaldi in Aix-en-Provence and a Mary Magdalene tour that traces her supposed 30-year residency in Provence - from Les Ste. Maries-de-la-Mer to Ste. Baume to Basilica de la Magdalene in Saint Maximin where she was buried.
The plot: The quest begins with a murder in the Denon Wing of the Louvre. The museum's Da Vinci paintings - Mona Lisa, St John the Baptist and Virgin of the Rocks - and its spectacular glass pyramid yield clues throughout the novel.
The luxury location: Lovers of luxury hotels should first book into the legendary Le Meurice situated between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre on the fashionable Rue de Rivoli. Once your Louis Vuitton luggage is settled in your suite, walk through the Jardin de Tuileries to the Louvre. To get in the mood enter the Louvre via the arched access to the Court Napoleon, where I. M. Pei's Pyramid is situated.
Find the Italian paintings at the western end of the Denon Wing. St John The Baptist hangs in Salle 5, along with the Virgin of the Rocks. The Mona Lisa smiles enigmatically in Salle 3; next year she'll be in Salle 13. Her real name is La Gioconda - she's thought to be the wife of one Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine millionaire. But if you've read the book you may beg to differ. Luxury hotel lovers should stay a short stroll from The Louvre.
The plot: An albino monk comes to search for a keystone believed to unlock the secrets to the grail. He murders a nun in the church.
The luxury location: Called the Cathedral of the Rive Gauche, the huge 17th century church is where the Marquis de Sade and the poet Baudelaire were baptised and novelist Victor Hugo was married. Situated on Place Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Germain-des-Pres. On the walls are two Delacroix frescoes, Jacob Wrestling With The Angel and Heliodorus Driven From The Temple. Near the middle of the nave on the right side, you can find one end of the Rose Line. The narrow brass strip marks the original zero-longitude line, which passed through Paris before being moved to Greenwich, England.
The monk uses the line as a reference point in his quest for the Holy Grail. At St Sulpice Father Paul Roumanet has put up a sign: "Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this is not a vestige of a pagan temple". The sign points out that the initials P and S on the window refer to St Peter and St Sulpice, not the Prior of Sion featured in the novel.
Luxurious hotel lovers should book into the luxury boutique hotel, Relais Saint-Germain. Its antique-filled rooms still have a lush 17th century feel, unusual in boutique hotels which often seem to yearn for minimalism. What makes the hotel extra special is that it is owned by Yves Camdeborde, one of Paris's most highly regarded jeune chefs. So the joy of a stay is the chance to eat in the bijou Comptoir du Relais Saint-Germain bistro.
Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, Milan
The plot: The book suggests that the effeminate figure of the apostle John in the Last Supper is really Mary Magdalene and that the work is laden with clues relating to the real meaning of the grail.
The luxury location: Stay in Milan at the fashionista's favourite, the Bulgari Hotel. Lovers of real luxury should book into The Bulgari suite, with its own front door from the lift and a price tag to match the privacy. Da Vinci's famous Last Supper is painted on the wall of the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie on the piazza of the same name. The guides are now resigned to questions about 'the Code'. Admission to the painting is by reservation. Only 25 people at a time are allowed to visit.
Westminster Abbey, London
The plot: "In London lies a knight a pope interred" is the clue; the answer is the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton buried by Alexander Pope in Westminster Abbey. A confrontation takes place in the Chapter House.
The luxury location: Nearly all of England's monarchs have been crowned at Westminster Abbey, south-side of Parliament Square, Westminster and many of them are buried here. There has been a church of some sort on the site since the 7th century. The Chapter House, an octagonal room supported by a central column, is decorated with 14th century frescoes. The Abbey Museum is in the crypt and includes a collection of macabre effigies made from death masks. Newton's grave and tomb are near the choir screen, at the north entrance to the choir. Those who want the best in a boutique luxury hotel should stay at 51 Buckingham Palace Gate, a townhouse hotel that feels more like your own private London pad, than a place you book simply check in and out of.
Luxury links: www.51-buckinghamgate.com, www.visitbritain.com
Temple Church, London
The plot: Langdon and his companions believe the answer to a cryptic clue may lie with one of the knights' tombs at Temple Church.
The luxury location: Luxury hotel lovers can book into The Savoy, now a Fairmont hotel. From there you'll just need to take one of London's inimitable black cabs down the Strand and Fleet Street, to The Temple so near it is not worth a limo ride.
There is a gothic horror story feel about the church on Inner Temple Lane, off Fleet Street with its unusual circular nave and staring stone statues. It was built by the Knights Templars in the 12th century. Inside are life-sized stone effigies of nine knights. It is said the knights held their secret initiation rites in the crypt. Having started out poor and dedicated to the protection of pilgrims, they grew rich on royal gifts and, some say, secret knowledge of the Ark of the Covenant, until the 14th century when they were charged with heresy.
Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland
The plot: Answers to the mystery of the code are found in this ancient Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian Scotland
The luxury location: The chapel, technically known as St Matthew's Collegiate Church, is at Roslin near Edinburgh. Even before Brown and his book arrived on the scene, the beautifully carved chapel was a magnet for grail seekers, latter-day Templars, UFO spotters, ley-liners and a host of other lovers of mystery. Something about the place invites outlandish theories. Many historians doubt any direct link between Rosslyn, its builders and the Templars but the visitors still come.
Those who run the Rosslyn Trust are broad-minded. "We always enjoy the visitors who come to Rosslyn - without necessarily agreeing with them," says project manager Stuart Beatie. "But the trust is here to conserve the chapel and the visitors help in that." The visitors centre displays copies of The Da Vinci Code alongside volumes on local history, freemasonry, the Templars and Celtic mysticism. The chapel is open daily 10am - 5pm; Sundays noon - 4.45pm.
Recently awarded five black stars by the UK's AA, The Howard likes to bill itself as 'the most discreet five-star hotel in Edinburgh' organizes tours to Rosslyn Chapel.
Luxury links: www.rosslynchapel.org.uk/
Hilary Doling 10/4/10