I’m frequently asked the question “What is the best hotel you’ve ever stayed in?” It’s an almost impossible one to answer, as each hotel is dependent as much as location, size and style as much as the quality of service, food and accommodation. Today I’ve been thinking about my years of travelling in India, and here’s my personal top 5 of the hotels I’ve enjoyed in this amazing country.
No. 1 – The Lake Palace, Udaipur
The Taj Lake Palace is located in the middle of Lake Pichola and is without doubt one of the world’s most romantic hotels. Built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II, this unique palace spreads across a four-acre island – an almost surreal vision in marble. The hotel’s 200 rooms and suites are all different in layout and design. This is a stunning hotel, managed by the prestigious Taj Hotels Group, with fantastic food and service, and is totally unique in style and atmosphere. It’s a magical experience to approach the hotel on its own private island by the small boat from the city. This a hotel with a dreamlike quality that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
No. 2 – Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra
The Oberoi Amarvilas is located just 600 metres from the world-famous Taj Mahal, and all guest rooms and suites, as well as the lobby, bar and lounge, offer breathtaking views of the monument. Built in a style inspired by Moorish and Mughal architecture, the resort is a splendid display of terraced lawns, fountains, reflection pools and pavilions. No other hotel in Agra comes near to the Amarvilas in either quality or proximity to the Taj; it’s in a league of its own. Naturally it comes with a hefty price tag, but I would say it’s worth it. An unforgettable experience.
No. 3 – Glenburn Tea Estate, near Darjeeling
My favourite mountain retreat in India – “a little corner of heaven” as one guest described it. Consisting of just 8 rooms (all completely different), housed in two separate bungalows, Glenburn is a place to get away from it all, either to simply relax and take in the breathtaking scenery of the Kanchenjunga Mountain Range, or hike through the forest, raft on the river, or enjoy the superb birdwatching. Started by a Scottish tea company in 1860, Glenburn is now in the hands of the third and fourth generations of the Prakash family, who over the years have come to be known as the “Chaiwala family” – which literally means “tea planters”. You’ll also learn about the fascinating process of tea making during your stay. From bush to factory – and into your tea cup at a tasting session – discover what goes into making a fine Darjeeling tea.
No. 4 – Mahua Kothi, Bandhavgarh National Park
Searching for the Bengal Tiger is one of the things you must do when visiting India. Until fairly recently the accommodation in the game parks was pretty poor, but the collaboration between Taj Hotels and the African wildlife specialists &Beyond has produced a string of top class game lodges that have set new standards fir wildlife viewing in India. My personal favourite is Mahua Kothi in Bandhavgarh. Each of the 12 charming guest suites – or kutiyas (jungle village huts) – is built in the vernacular style of Central India, and is accessed through private courtyards with shaded seating and traditional mud floors. Each ensuite bathroom features twin hand basins, indoor shower, bath and separate w.c. It also helps that the Mahua Kothi guides are amongst the best in India so you are guaranteed a fantastic safari experience.
No. 5 – The Imperial, New Delhi
After the long flight from London, there’s nothing better than being whisked from Delhi Airport to the wonderful Imperial right in the heart of the city. One of the best hotels in Asia, the award-winning Imperial Hotel is World Discovery’s top choice of accommodation in Delhi. Built in 1931, this landmark hotel is located on the famous Janpath (Queensway during the days of the British Raj), just steps away from Connaught Circus and the capital’s best shopping. The Imperial has 235 guestrooms including 43 suites. There are many dining options, including the 1911 Restaurant for all-day dining, the Spice Route for Southeast Asian cuisine (one of “top restaurants in the world” according to Conde Nast readers), Daniell’s Tavern for Indian food, the Nostalgia Brasserie (dinner only, with jazz or piano music), and the San Gimigniano for Italian dishes. For drinks and cocktails, head for the 1911 Bar or the Patiala Peg.
I’ve left out some superb hotels in South India, especially Kerala, but I’ll cover these in a separate post.