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Sunday September 23rd 2018

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel | 2011

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel filming location: Panna Meena Ka Kund Step Well, Amer, Rajasthan, India
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel location: Sonny and Sunaina at the step well: Panna Meena Ka Kund Step Well, Amer, Rajasthan, India | Photograph: Wikimedia / Alice Surabhikumawat

John Madden’s film of Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things is rendered irresistible by the A-list cast and, of course, the best exotic locations.

The story opens in London where the park, overlooked by the home of recently-widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench), who's struggling on the phone with a tech call centre, is Highbury Fields, Islington. A quick check shows that it’s 3 Highbury Place, N5, just off the Holloway Road north of Highbury & Islington tube station.

Her home is at the opposite end of Highbury Fields from the house of Charles (Hugh Grant) in Four Weddings And A Funeral and the site of the botched attempt on the life of Leslie Payne in Brian Helgeland’s 2015 Krays movie, Legend, with Tom Hardy.

Along with the other varied disaffected Brits, Evelyn leaves for a break at a palatial luxury hotel in Jaipur, from Stansted Airport in Essex. Stansted is obviously more film-friendly than the vast and busy Heathrow and even, in Bridget Jones’s Diary, stood in for New York’s ‘JFK Airport’.

Jaipur, known as the Pink City after its rose coloured architecture, is the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan in Northern India, founded by Maharajah Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amer, after whom the city is named. The film bravely avoids the city's best-known tourist sites. There's not a glimpse of the Palace of the Winds or Amber Fort although, oddly, at one point during the frantic tuk-tuk ride through Jaipur you can glimpse the exterior of their final destination, the best Exotic Marigold Hotel itself.

The long bus ride delivers them to what turns out to be a ramshackle hotel, run with more enthusiasm than expertise by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel).

The 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' hotel is Ravla Khempur, a royal palace turned equestrian hotel that is attached to the tiny village of Khempur about 30 miles northeast of Udaipur.

You won't find the lively market outside the hotel, as this was created especially for the film by Production Designer Alan MacDonald on what was little more than a dirt track.

Dating from the early 17th Century, the palace was famous for its stud of fine Marwari horses and is still home to dancing stallions which perform occasionally in front of the magnificent turreted building (there's already been that glimpse of its exterior during that ride through 'Jaipur').

Closer to Jaipur, the ‘Viceroy Club’, where Madge (Celia Imrie) attempts to pass herself off as 'Princess Margaret' to meet a rich husband, and ends up being introduced to ‘Prince Michael of Kent’, is Castle Kanota, now the Hotel Narain Niwas Palace, Agra Road, Kanauta, around 10 miles east of central Jaipur.

In Amer, about five miles northeast of Jaipur, not far from the famous Amber Fort near Kheri Gate, you'll find the Panna Meena Ka Kund Step Well, a 10th century watering spot surrounded by ten storeys of pale golden stone steps, creating a visual maze in which one never ascends or descends by the same route. This is where the ever-optimistic Sonny attempts to convince his girlfriend Sunaina (Tina Desai) that everything is going to be fine.

There are many of these wells around India and, no, this is not the much larger and more famous Chand Baori Step Well in the village of Abhaneri in Rajasthan, which was featured in The Dark Knight Rises and The Fall.

Later in the film, the characters journey to ‘Udaipur’ (no spoilers), but the old, ruined garden a lake they visit was for practical reasons filmed at Kishangarh, known as the Marble City of India, between Jaipur and Udaipur.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel filming location: Jagat Niwas Palace, Lal Ghat, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel location: the rooftop restaurant in Udaipur: Jagat Niwas Palace, Lal Ghat, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India | Photograph: Jagat Niwas Palace

The hotel in which they stay, however, really is Udaipur. It’s the Jagat Niwas Palace, 23-25 Lal Ghat. The rooftop terrace of this early 17th century haveli (a merchant’s mansion) where the group gathers for drinks overlooks Lake Pichola and the famous Taj Lake Palace Hotel, famous from 1983 Bond movie Octopussy.