While this year's Bollywood smash hit film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, roughly translated as You Only Live Once, is causing a riot at box-offices around the world with its scenes of high-adrenalin adventure sports, seductive locations across Spain and energised dance numbers, those who want to use the film for personal travel inspiration will find plenty of great ideas.
Director Zoya Akhtar does a fine job with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. She puts together a familiar plot, with recurring themes of friendship, love, coming-of-age and travel as its mainstay, but her invigorating characters pump in fresh energy. Like other films, such as Mamma Mia, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and French Kiss, which have plenty of shots of a featured country; in these cases Greece, Australia and France, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara does a fine job of promoting Spain, and many viewers will want to buy an air ticket as soon as they get out of the cinema to share a piece of the action.
Spain has much more to offer than what you will see in the film, and there are vast offerings for the inquisitive traveller who is yearning for adventure, romance and culture. Book your ticket and explore the fabulous Mediterranean coastline, the southern Andalusian cities with their fascinating Arab past, dive into treasure-filled museums along the way and party on into the night at a typical Spanish fiesta.
The Spanish journey of the film's characters begins on the famed Costa Brava, a stretch of rocky coastline north of Barcelona. The most glamorous way to explore this area is what you might call the movie star option — aboard a speedboat, all gleaming mahogany and cream leather trim, drinking in the view. From the vantage of the deep blue Mediterranean, you can appreciate why the Costa Brava, or "wild coast", has maintained its appeal. Its pine-forested cliffs riddled with caves and coves, remnant castles and ancient stone walls still radiate the rugged beauty that has lured foreigners for centuries. First the Greeks, then the Romans and, in more recent times, an A-list of foreign and local luminaries — Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso — have been drawn here by the promise of sun and serendipity.
While cruising the turquoise blue waters, there are plenty of opportunities to drop anchor and spend some time — just as the Indian boys in the movie do — exploring the wonders of the deep. All you need is a snorkel and mask to get an up-close experience of the fish and sea life but, if you want to put on a full scuba-diving kit, then the extent of the marine wonders will be almost limitless, especially if you explore the underwater caves.
While passing by the pretty town of Calella, you may find that the call of the coast is irresistible, and it's time to head to shore. Calella is where Barcelona's cool set comes to unwind. Its ribbon of golden sand is studded with a myriad of coloured parasols in stripes, blocked colours and swirls, and peopled by tanned bodies sprawled between upturned menorcinas, wooden boats painted in cheerful pastel shades. Whitewashed buildings line the seafront, their ground floors shaded by arched porches concealing cafés and restaurants where holidaymakers retire for epic seafood dinners beside the water. In the golden glow of late afternoon, Calella's charm is mesmerising and is worth experiencing.
Spain, flamenco music and dance go hand in hand, and the place to experience this art form at its best is down south in the region of Andalucía. This was the stronghold of the Arabs who ruled Spain until 1492 and there are still many reminders today of the Moorish past. The region's biggest city, Seville, is a delightful challenge for the traveller, given its chaotic, maze-like layout. While a map is helpful, it's best to plunge into the laneways and see where they take you before arriving at the grand 15th-century Gothic cathedral and the nearby fortress palace Alcázar, two of the city's major monuments. There are plenty of scenes in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara showing the group of friends winding their way through the picturesque streets with iron balconies filled with colourful geraniums.
Every city needs an oasis, and Seville's comes in the form of the lovely Maria Luisa Park, a maze of paths flanked by lush trees, flowerbeds and fountains. Just across the road is the magnificent Plaza de España, a semi-circular building constructed for the 1929 Spanish-American Exposition. It's now full of government offices, but the plaza, reminiscent of a bullring and lined with pretty canals, still draws families, couples and tourists alike, all eager for a photo opportunity.
Late in the afternoon, stylish Seville locals like to go out and be seen. They dress up in their finest clothes and promenade along the boulevards before stopping for a cold drink. As night falls it's a different story, one which the film uses to full advantage. Seville is full of flamenco bars and, during the summer, each neighbourhood will have a fiesta or party, where flamenco music and dancing are the highlight. The nights are marked with spontaneous performances from guitarists, singers and flamenco dancers who whirl and twirl as they stamp out the rhythm with their feet. One of the scenes in the film shows a typical explosion of Spanish passion through music and dance. The song Señorita, which was actually filmed in the adjacent village of Alájar, typifies the way the locals in Seville spend their evenings. Women in frilly, polka-dotted dresses arch their backs and strut around to the beat of castanets and strumming guitars. If you are passing through Seville try El Arenal which offers some of the best performances in town.
Spain loves a fiesta and many of these have become world famous, such as the two which are featured in the film. In the small town of Buñol, near Valencia, the Tomatina festival takes place on the last Wednesday of August each year. It attracts hundreds of thousands who battle it out in the main square with overripe tomatoes. For logistical reasons the scene, with the hit song Ik Junoo, was recreated in a Mumbai studio using 16 tonnes of squishy tomatoes imported from Portugal.
The other adrenalin-pumping scene was filmed in Pamplona with the running of the bulls. During the local fiestas in July, a number of bulls are set loose to run along a specified route through the town while those who dare run ahead, trying to avoid their horns. In the film it may seem like an exciting and typically Spanish event, but it is important to remember that it has also been highly criticised by animal-rights groups for the cruelty to the animals, which are finally herded into the bullring to be slaughtered.
— Scott Adams is a Madrid-based freelance writer
Must See. Must Do. Beyond ZNMD
While Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara provides plenty of inspiration for those thinking about travelling to Spain, it barely touches the surface of this varied and exciting country. The capital, Madrid, is one of the world's greatest cities for art and nightlife. Spend the days exploring the wonders of the three big museums; the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
As the sun sets, Madrid really comes to life. Do as the locals do and have a late dinner of tapas. Start around 9pm and work your way around a few tapas restaurants. Plaza Santa Ana has plenty of variety including the ever-popular Cerveceria Alemana and the trendy Estado Puro. After dinner, retreat to the rooftop terraces to laze around on sofas while watching the views across the city. One of the best terraces is on the roof of Hotel Oscar. It attracts heavenly bodies and there is even a swimming pool for those who want to show off their tan.
Spain's other great metropolis is Barcelona. The world-famous architect Antonio Gaudí made his mark here with a number of impressive early 20th-century buildings including his masterpiece, the Sagrada Famila. Those keen to put their credit cards to the test will adore the shopping. Passeig de Gracia combines beautiful buildings with top brand names. While in the neighbourhood, don't miss the opportunity to sample some of the region's finest food cooked by award-winning chef, Raul Balum Ruscalleda, at Moments, inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a highly entertaining film and it is sure to inspire you to discover more about one of Europe's most interesting countries. Whether you follow the route in the film or plan your own itinerary, you are sure to have plenty of fun, Spanish style.
Top things to do in Spain
- Visit the Prado Museum in Madrid
- Climb to the top of the spires of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
- Visit the ancient Arab Alcazar in Seville
- Spend a night enjoying a flamenco performance in Seville
- Discover the medieval wonders of the town of Toledo
- Watch the sun set over the Alhambra Palace in Granada
- Rent a boat and discover the Costa Brava
- Visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
On the net:
Where to stay:
- Costa Brava: Alva Park www.alvapark.com
- Buñol: Masia El Ferrajon www.masiaelferrajon.com
- Barcelona: The Mandarin Oriental www.mohg.com/barcelona
- Madrid: Westin Palace www.palacemadrid.com
- Seville: EME Cathedral Hotel www.emecathedralhotel.com
- Pamplona: Hotel Puerta del Camino www.hotelpuertadelcamino.com
Go there! Madrid, Spain
From Dubai to Madrid for Dh4,180. Or try Qatar Airways from Dubai to Barcelona (via Doha) for Dh3,880. To reach Pamplona and Seville, take domestic flights from Madrid.
Or try Emirates/Iberia Airlines from Dubai to Seville (via Madrid) for Dh4,900.
Emirates/Iberia Airlines also fly to Pamplona (via Madrid) for Dh6,800. Or try Swiss Airlines from Dubai to Valencia (via Zurich) for Dh3,300.
— Information courtesy the Holiday Lounge by Dnata. Ph: 04 3492886