By Katie James
November 20, 2014
Courtesy of Netflix

What inspired screenwriter John Fusco (of Hidalgo fame) to create Marco Polo, a new Netflix series based on the life of the 13th-century Venetian explorer? An epic journey of his own—guided by nomads through Central Asia on horse and camel. After that 2007 trek (and later trips to remote corners of China), Fusco resolved to turn the story of the world’s first globe-trotter into a TV drama.

With unknown 24-year-old Italian actor Lorenzo Richelmy in the title role—“he reminded me of a young Brando,” Fusco says—shooting began in Venice in March. “And then, just like Marco Polo, we traveled east,” Fusco says. Kazakhstan stood in for ancient Constantinople, Karakorum, and other Silk Road stops, with hundreds of extras reenacting intense battles on the steppe. Later scenes, including those at Kublai Khan’s court, were shot on elaborate sets at a studio in Malaysia.

It’s said that with his last breath, Marco Polo whispered, “I did not tell half of what I saw.” Fusco’s series should help fill in the blanks. Dec. 12.

Katie James is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @kjames259.