One of my favourite childhood memories was having a bedtime story read to me and travelling to distant, enchanting worlds from my bedroom in London. The Faraway Tree series was a firm favourite when my sisters and I would climb the Tree into the Land of Toys and the Land of Birthdays with Saucepan Man and Moonface. I still remember my disappointment when I realised that this was just a fantasy world, and there was no such place where it was my birthday every day.
In the world of film, it’s a little different. While we may never live under the sea with Ariel the Little Mermaid, there are many movies that have placed already-famous film locations firmly on the travel hotlist and introduced new destinations into the mix. Films take us across the world, immersing us into other cultures, other eras and other lives, all the while offering an exciting glimpse of stunning corners of the globe.
London is one of the most famous film locations of the world, and hundreds of famous names have used the British capital as the backdrop for their adventures. One of the best films of recent times, 2012’s Skyfall, saw Daniel Craig – aka James Bond – running around the capital, and the closing scenes see Bond standing proudly atop the rooftops of Whitehall, looking out over the city.
There’s the Edwardian-era London portrayed in 1985 drama Room With A View, where Daniel Day Lewis visits the National Gallery and the two Miss Alans (Fabia Drake, Joan Henley) call South Kensington home. The Baglioni Hotel takes advantage of all that Kensington has to offer, with a privileged setting just around the corner from Kensington Palace. The hotel boasts a unique Italian spirit as well as ornate guest rooms with an exquisite finish and a much-lauded luxury spa.
Sense and Sensibility (1995) is another quintessentially British tale adapted from the original novel. This star-studded drama uses West London locations to tell its story, with scenes illustrated by antique furnishings and charming period colour schemes. Chandos House off Harley Street was Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie’s London home, and also the location where Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet battle it out after learning of Hugh Grant’s upcoming nuptials.
Then we have the London for lovebirds with Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), which was filmed mainly around the Borough neighbourhood. You can even pop into wine merchant, Bedales, which was the location for the famous scene where Hugh Grant and Mark Darcy air some much-pent-up mutual distaste. Borough is also the primary setting for the action in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 crime comedy Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard is in proximity to Borough and its world-famous market. Located inside the Shard, Western Europe’s tallest building, the hotel has an enviable central position, five-star facilities and a stunning cocktail bar with wraparound windows that welcome views over the River Thames.
Mike Nichols’ drama Closer (2004) explores the darker side of love through the tangled, intricate love stories of its four main characters – an A-list line-up including Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen. The film was shot on location in the Portrait restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery, with scenes also shot at Paul’s Cathedral and the London Aquarium.
Even the London Underground has played a major part in many films. When you jump on the tube at Hyde Park Corner after a blissful night’s sleep at The Wellesley, you can pretend to be Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998’s Sliding Doors. The Wellesley is one of London’s most iconic hotels and features just 36 rooms for a cosy, private ambience. It also has an excellent jazz lounge and a bar stocked with floor-to-ceiling vintage spirits.
Over in Paris, there are just as many famous film locations. Sleeper hit and indie classic Before Sunset (2004) was filmed across the capital. The follow-up to 1995’s Before Sunrise sees Ethan Hawke frequenting the Seine’s Left Bank to visit Shakespeare and Company and publicise his novel; this bookshop also features in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris (2011). Many of the rooms at the elegant Shangri-La Paris afford views over the Seine for a postcard Parisian experience. The hotel is situated in a listed building and features a design concept emulating the atmosphere of a high-class Parisian home.
One of the most stunning and innovative films of recent times was also filmed in the French capital. Amelie (2001) plunged Audrey Tautou into stardom, and the lovely art deco Café des 2 Moulins where her eponymous character now has a Crème Brulee named in her honour. Located in the Montmartre district, the cafe is tricky to find but well worth it. Amelie wanders dreamily through the breathtaking city, crossing the wooden Pont des Arts by the Louvre, which is also the spot that features Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne in the closing scenes of 2002’s The Bourne Identity. Hotel Therese is a charming, retro-style hotel in central Paris that offers a warm, welcoming atmosphere and spacious, elegant accommodations. It is just around the corner from the Palais Garnier, the 19th-century opera house that has featured in films including Anastasia (1997), Marie Antoinette (2006) and 1976’s Marathon Man.
Italy – Turin, Florence and Rome
Romantic and beautiful, Italy has also featured in some classic films including the original Italian Job (1969) where the chases were filmed against the Turin city backdrops. Federico Fellini’s best-loved classic La Dolce Vita (1960) uses iconic images of Rome including the Trevi Fountain, Tivoli and the Via Veneto. Portrait Roma is an exquisite boutique hotel with just 14 rooms and an incredible location beside the Spanish Steps. Offering the best in Italian hospitality, Portrait Roma also has an expansive terrace from which to enjoy a sunset cocktail and absorb the vibrant atmosphere of the city.
One of the most inspiring and innovative films of recent times, Tea With Mussolini, is set across Florence with a magical, nostalgic tone that explores the city in new and exciting ways. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, the 1999 film features scenes across the city centre. The aforementioned British drama Room With A View also employs some of the most beautiful features of the city in its adventures, as Helena Bonham Carter and Maggie Smith visit landmarks including the Neptune Fountain and the Piazza della Signoria. The Gallery Hotel Art is Italy’s very first design hotel and boasts a suitably fashionable location steps away from the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery. The hotel’s extremely contemporary design fuses Asian and Mediterranean styles for a stunning finish.
New York, USA
Then, of course, we have New York. Much like London, the Big Apple has a seemingly endless list of cult movies that have used the city’s famous film locations to tell their story. Tiffany’s flagship store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 57th Street is an attractive location, having featured an incredibly beautiful Audrey Hepburn in 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s as well as Reese Witherspoon and Patrick Dempsey in 2002’s rom-com Sweet Home Alabama. The Chambers Hotel is just around the corner on Fifth and 56th in proximity to the city’s famous Museum Mile. Designed by David Rockwell, the hotel includes modern, loft-style rooms and more than 500 original pieces of art across its public and private areas.
Another popular film location is Times Square in Manhattan’s midtown, which welcomes 40 million visitors every year and was used as a backdrop in Tom Cruise’s 1996 sports comedy Jerry Maguire (of “show me the money” fame). The A-list actor returned here to film scenes for 2001 psychological thriller Vanilla Sky alongside Penelope Cruz. Times Square also features in fun-filled rom-coms Friends with Benefits (2011) starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, and Date Night, with Tina Fey and Steve Carell, as well as 1988 Tom Hanks classic Big. Just ten minutes’ walk from Times Square, the Andaz 5th Avenue is another great midtown accommodation option. It boasts trendy, industrial-style décor, a fantastic cocktail bar and a 24-hour gym, as well as a curated art and book collection to complement the cultural surroundings.
Thailand and Cambodia
We cannot forget the dazzling backdrops that Asia has provided the film world. The Beach (2000) has Phi Phi Island in Thailand to thank for the exquisite backdrops. This haunting thriller features an incredible performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and inspired a wave of backpackers to discover the real thing. Neighbouring Phuket is home to some of Asia’s most beautiful hotels, including the Indigo Pearl, which sits against tropical rainforest backdrops in a peaceful corner of the island. Or perhaps a stay in the oceanfront sky villas at the Kata Rocks will suffice. The resort is situated between two of the island’s best beaches embraced by the glittering Andaman Sea. All of the accommodations face west, welcoming views of the ocean and the world-famous Phuket sunsets. The island is also home to some of the most exquisite cuisine and fun-filled nightlife in Thailand.
Finally, we have Cambodia. On the outskirts of the city of Siem Reap, you will discover the world-famous temple complex at Angkor Wat – a site of truly phenomenal beauty. Angelina Jolie starred in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which was shjot mainly at the Ta Prohm temple, one of the most famous film locations due to a tree that seemingly grows out of its walls. The Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor is located just down the road from the temples and offers grand, luxurious surroundings in a spiritual setting.