Tel: 91 11 4173 4788
Getting to 360° Leti is not for the faint-hearted. After an overnight train ride from Delhi (or a charter flight, which cuts out an additional two-hour drive), you face seven hours of hairpin driving through steep mountains, followed by a one-and-a-half-hour trek along a narrow trail that clings to the face of a plunging cliff. (Your luggage, and for that matter everything else, is portered in by local women who bound light-footedly ahead of you.) Your spunk is well rewarded, however, for perched on a small plateau 8,000 feet above sea level, 360° Leti basks in spectacular panoramic views. Until recently just a collection of tents, the camp is now an ensemble of stone, glass, and wood structures that draw on solar power and mountain water. Each of the four cottages, furnished with a spare yet pampering luxe, is sited for privacy and a knockout view that can also be enjoyed from a private terrace with a fire pit. During the chilly evenings, wood stoves warm the cottages, hot water bottles are tucked into the beds, and solar lanterns and candles are lit. There is no Internet or cell phone access, no TV or morning newspaperonly the occasional sound of bells, either from passing goats or a temple on a neighboring hilltop. But there is a well-chosen library in the lounge, and family-style meals are accompanied in the evening with fine wine. A day hike brings you rare views of Nanda Devi, one of the world's highest mountains, or you can swim beneath a waterfall of pure Himalayan water.
48/10 Village Majorda
Tel: 91 832 274 6800
So infused with traditional Goanese design is the graceful, tile-roofed architecture, so massive and gnarled are the mango trees growing in its courtyards and gardens, that it's not initially obvious that the Alila is in fact brand-new. The public rooms and corridors, open-sided and high-ceilinged, draw in the lush surroundings, which are cooled by reflecting pools and fountains. Dramatic lighting makes the outdoor setting, which includes an infinity pool with partially submerged recliners overlooking rice paddies and bamboo stands, even more magical at night. The 114 rooms and suites are furnished simply yet elegantly, enlivened by jewel-colored headboards; the bathroom, enclosed by a lattice screen, has a tub, a walk-in shower, and a walk-in closet. The open-kitchen Vivo serves multiethnic cuisine at all meals; Spice Studio, a purely Indian menu in the evening. There are some quibblesthe rooms are not well soundproofed, and tour groups can diminish the otherwise exclusive feel of the resort. But the Alila's gorgeous looks and peaceful southern Goa surroundings together with its delightful staff outweigh the drawbacks. Besides, only a short stroll away along a quiet country road are the hotel's chaise longues, parasols, and snack bar on spectacularly beautiful and uncrowded Majorda Beach.
Tel: 91 1465 223 333
Tel: 800 477 9180
The 40-room Amanbagh resort serves as an excellent example that hotels other than Oberoi can do "new palace" architecture well. One of two Amanresorts properties in the region (the other is Aman-i-Khás), it oozes excellence. Good luck finding stand-alone bathtubs carved from single blocks of dark-green Udaipur marble anywhere else—standard in all of Amanbagh's rooms. The indulgence extends to the North Indian–inspired cuisine—you'll gorge on yogurt and sesame seed–crusted kebabs, perhaps, or murg kalongi, chicken with ginger and onion seeds. Still, our favorite thing might just be its rural location, allowing for a chance to see the "real India." Two hours by car north of Jaipur, Amanbagh sits in a narrow, fertile valley, ideal for organized forays into the countryside and nearby villages. Smart guests will head out in the late afternoon, at "cow dust" hour, when locals are herding livestock on farm roads yet are not so busy that they can't smile, and wave, and perhaps even invite you to stop in for a cup of tea.
Ranthambhore National Park
Tel: 91 7462 252 052
A luxury-tent encampment just outside Ranthambhore National Park, Aman-i-Khás is in fact more camplike than its nearby competitor, Oberoi Vanyavilas. After all, the interior walls of your tent are actually made of cotton. Nonetheless, in this world of rarefied luxury, that still means cushy king-size beds and deep soaking tubs in the attached bathroom. Overall, though, guests here will have a better experience of being in nature, as the camp isn't encircled by walls but is simply situated next to the tall grasses and brushy trees of the dry forest. What makes Aman-i-Khás truly special is its size: With only ten guest tents, it is the smallest of India's top-end resorts (and also of the ultraexclusive Amanresorts properties). Smaller is better, as it allows for more personal pampering. There is a dining tent, for instance, but you can eat just about anywhere you want and order pretty much what you want, too (besides, of course, beef). Pampering is something the Aman-i-Khás staff have to be expert at—after a long day, possibly without any tiger sighting, they may have to explain to hot, tired guests why the step-well/dipping pool isn't really big enough to swim in. To minimize that possibility, the resort is open only from October through April, when game viewing is at its best.
Tel: 91 11 4363 3333
A quiet moment can be hard to come by in the middle of Delhi, which is why the Aman is such an oasis: The serene six-acre compound, located across the road from the Delhi Golf Course and near the bucolic Lodi Gardens, houses just 69 rooms, in two mid-rise contemporary buildings that, like most things Aman, are design showpieces. Before the Aman New Delhi opened in 2009, Delhi's go-to luxury accommodations had long been the Imperial, but the Aman resort is a class above, from room sizes and amenities to service and dining. Accommodations have a romantic, Asian-modern vibe, with dark burnished wood, stone quarried from northern India, handwoven carpets, jaali screens, and integrated entertainment systems. Many rooms also include a perk previously unheard-of in such a densely packed city: a 161-square-foot plunge pool on a private balcony. The restaurants (Indian, Thai, French, and Spanish tapas) will keep you sated; the library, engaged; and the spa, at peace. But should you wish to explore beyond the gates, the telepathic staff will be happy to arrange a chauffeured ambassador, rickshaw, guide, or whatever else you might desire.Lynn Suhrie
P5 Hauz Khas Enclave
Tel: 91 11 4175 9268
Good mid-range hotels are short on the ground in New Delhi, which is why French owners Alexandre Lieury and Mathieu Chanard decided to open this small boutique property in the Hauz Khas enclave in the south of the city. The Haveli's six rooms are cheerful and homey, each decorated according to a different color scheme and successfully meeting the self-stated aims of intimacy, style, and charm. Despite the hotel's diminutive size, it provides a host of services, including in-room massage, taxi bookings, use of a local cell phone, and a round-the-clock kitchen that serves up substantial breakfasts and dinners. Conveniently situated for the airport, it's a 15-minute walk to the trendy shops and cafés of Hauz Khas village, and a short drive to Delhi's southern sights, such as Qutub Minar. If the Haveli is fully booked, you might want to try Amarya's equally endearing second property, the Amarya Villa in the Safdarjung enclave, just over a mile away.—Vanessa Able
Sujan Singh Park
Tel: 91 11 2463 2600
Run by the Taj group, the Ambassador, near Lodhi Gardens and Humayun's Tomb, is set on well-kept grounds. It lacks the colonial elegance of some of the grander hotels, but the service is excellent. The 88 rooms have modern furnishings. Ask for a "superior" rather than a "standard" guest room: The latter are small, but the "superior" rooms have balconies. Guests may use the health club and pool at the nearby Taj Mahal Hotel (owned by the same group). There is a bar, H20+, a Chinese restaurant, Larry's China, and the diner-like Yellow Brick Road, a sunny all-day coffee shop. The hotel has various small shops selling books, garments, and souvenirs.
Pench National Park , Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 91 921 230 5607
A co-venture between the Taj Resorts and Palaces hotel group and CC Africa to establish a five-park "tiger circuit" in Central India aims to elevate the overall experience (and price) of game watching in India to the level of the best that Africa has to offer. The first two of the five planned lodges combine CC Africa's game-watching expertise (luxe four-by-four jeeps, English-speaking drivers trained as naturalists, and outreach to local people on whom survival of the wildlife depends) with Taj's local roots and culinary expertise. Baghvan, in Pench National Park, offers in its 12 bungalows with walled courtyards a post- and late-colonial style with outdoor showers, mosquito-netted beds, and a machan, or lookout area, to scan the darkness for tiger eyes burning bright. Its main lodge is more funkily and distinctively designed, mixing colonial-style architecture with an eclectic selection of Indian antiques. Mahua Kothi in Bandhavgarh National Park comprises 12 kutiyas, mud-walled cottages si
Kanha National Park
Tel: 866 969 1825
The latest of a quartet of luxe lodges set up by Taj hotels and safari experts &Beyond in the game parks of Madhya Pradesh, Banjaar Tola is also the most authentic-looking and most beautifully sited, along the banks of the forested Banjaar River, adjoining Kanha National Parkone of the best places in India to spot tigers. Eighteen large guest huts with jaunty green tent roofs are laid out in two settings, East and West, both with their own simply furnished bar, terraced lounge and dining room, and pool. Pampering by dedicated butlers (who bring you tea in bed, escort you by flashlight to and from dinner) is complemented by expert guides who immerse you deeply into the jungle. The guest huts include a tub with a jungle view and a walk-in shower; wall coverings are of woven palm leaf; the tables are bleached tree trunks; and distinctive metal sculptures are inspired by the art of the local Bastar people. A tasty light Indian fusion cuisine is provisioned by the lodge's organic garden and served on the communal terrace or on your own private one. The view of the river might reveal local women beating their wash on the rocks while their children splash in the water or, possibly, a glimpse of the leopard that has been sighted perched high in a tree on the far shore.
Tel: 91 2953 289 211
On the outside, Devi Garh, with its towering walls of yellow sandstone and multitude of turrets, looks every bit the desert fortress it was when built in the 1760s. Inside, though, are 39 contemporary white-on-white suites that would seem at home in South Beach. Of the palace suites, each with its own eccentricities of shape and decor, our favorite has a freestanding, entirely wall-less shower that offers spectacular views of the Aravalli Hills. As with Amanbagh, which is north of Jaipur, one of the draws of Devi Garh's location—30 minutes outside of Udaipur—is its rural feel. We suggest going out and exploring: The hotel happily organizes day trips. And once you've been to the restaurant a time or two, stake a claim to one of the many public, but secluded, nooks and crannies for the most romantic private dining this side of the Taj Mahal.
Udaipur , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 294 3290228
Until now the best places to stay in Udaipur have been the princely piles on Lake Pichola's shores or its fairy-tale island palace. Fateh Garh offers something different: "Heritage Renaissance" style. Perched on a hilltop 20 minutes outside the city, this newly constructed 51-room hotel incorporates local stone and antique architectural elements culled from abandoned historic buildings. A confection of bulbous domes, sugar-white pillars, crenellations, and intricate jali screens, it escapes the kitschy through its graceful proportions and airy reception areas, courtyard, and verandasall of which are graced with antiques and delicate frescoes inspired by the style of Rajput miniatures. Lie by the infinity pool, listening to the sound of splashing fountains mingling with live classical shehnai music. The hotel kitchen does best with local Mewari dishes, which are a welcome change from standard Indian hotel fare.
Tel: 91 832 564 5858
Constructed on the site of a 16th-century Portuguese fort on Calangute Beach, this resort commands a gorgeous view stretching all the way to Baga. There are 145 centrally air-conditioned rooms, including 24 suites. Il Camino specializes in Italian cuisine, while the Sea Shell Restaurant offers Indian, Continental, and Goan specialties. The resort has a Children's Activity Center, where adults can deposit their cherubsperhaps so that Mom and Dad can enjoy a plantain-leaf body wrap or bio-marine facial at the hotel's Spa Aguada. The Biotique Private Spa Collection combines traditional European treatments (algae, mud, hydrotherapy) with Asian methods. A specially trained doctor manages Ayurveda treatments, helped by traditional therapists who were trained under masters in Kerala.
114, Dr E Moses Marg
Tel: 91 22 2481 8000
The first Four Seasons in India is also, at 33 stories, the tallest hotel in the country. Its location in the up-and-coming Worli section, halfway between the airport and the heart of the action on Nariman Point (where the landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is situated), conveniently splits traffic-choked traveling distances. Worli's makeover has a way to go yet, however, and hotel guests may be discomfited to see slum dwellings at their ultra-luxe doorstep. Exuberant abstract art in the lobby and elevators sets a modernist tone that melds with indeterminate pan-Asian touches to create a pleasant if slightly unremarkable ambience. The streamlined decor is better in the 202 spacious and luxurious guest rooms, whose cool contemporary design is enriched with luxurious locally inspired fabrics and ornate bed runners. Dine on fusion Asian at oh-so-now San-Qi, and have drinks and snacks on the outside pool deck adjoining the well-run two-story day spa.
Tel: 91 832 246 3333
Fax: 91 832 246 3300
The Marriott Resort is one of Goa's newest five-star city hotels. Located at the mouth of the Mandovi River, it features a small riverside beach, and the newly renovated rooms (equipped with modern conveniences) are furnished in a simple contemporary style. One restaurant serves Goan and international specialties, while a Szechwan eatery has a Chinese courtyard setting. The convivial Waterfront Terrace and Bar, decorated with a gorgeous mural of crimson flowers on a deep blue background, has a lovely river view. The best thing about this place, though, is the staffa friendly bunch that will remember your favorite drink or arrange anything else you need.
5 Battery Street
Tel: 91 22 2287 1122
Tucked away just off Colaba Causeway, downtown Mumbai's main shopping and nightlife thoroughfare, this charming, popular boutique hotel is a welcome alternative to the city's standard five-star options. The 28 rooms are split into three loosely themed floors: The Mediterranean level has bright stucco walls and Provençal color schemes, the Country rooms have gingham lamp shades and patchwork quilt wall hangings, and the Scandinavian suites combine clean-lined furniture with black-and-white photography. What can be jarring, however, is the music pumping till 3 am in the hotel's nightclub, Polly Esther's, which is usually packed on weekends with Mumbai's retro-obsessed partyers. Insist on rooms on the left side of the building on a higher floor to keep the revelry at bay. Avoid, too, the hotel's restaurant, All Stir Fry, which often teems with unruly children, and choose instead from one of the neighborhood's culinary marvels.
Off Western Express Highway
Santa Cruz East
Tel: 91 22 6676 1234
A growing number of visitors to India's financial capital are choosing to stay within striking distance of the city's new business district, the Bandra-Kurla Complex, about an hour from downtown. The Grand Hyatt is the best luxury option nearby, with 547 plush, modern suites, a beautiful spa, and a top-notch martini bar that draws in wealthy patrons from across the city. Some of the finest examples of contemporary Indian art and sculpture adorn its Jaisalmer stone walls. But the real buzz is around China House, a decadent split-level nightspot with a Szechuan specialty restaurant upstairs and a basement lounge that pulls in movie stars who frolic in private enclosures, as regular-joe millionaires pretend to look away. However, the long row of tarpaulin-roofed houses facing the hotel from a distance are a reminder that this is a city of sometimes grotesque contrasts.
Vasant Kunj, Phase II
Nelson Mandela Road
Tel: 91 11 2677 1234
In a city where international flights have a tendency to arrive and depart during the most unsociable hours of the night, deluxe digs with easy access to the airport are a boon. Located in the fancy residential neighborhood of Vasant Kunj, across the road from the sparkling new DLF Promenade Mall, and close to Indira Gandhi International, the Grand may be a good 45-minute taxi ride to the city center, but it's also an excellent high-ender tagged at a competitive price. With enough space to stretch out on the city's outskirts, the hotel has 390 rooms and suites, all decorated in simple modern style and painted in shades of beige and brown. In-house dining options include Italian and pan-Asian restaurants, while the breakfast buffet on the lower level of the expansive lobby is worth getting out of bed for, jet lag notwithstanding.—Vanessa Able
Jaipur , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 44 141 230 4371
Accommodations in Jaipur's Old City are thin on the ground, which makes the Bissau Palace, situated just outside the Chandpole Gate and within walking distance of the city's major sights, all the more welcome an option. The Muslim quarter has a bustling market lined with meat stalls, and though it's not for the fainthearted, it provides an exhilarating slice of everyday life in the Old City. By contrast, the verdant grounds of this 51-room hotel just beyond its gates are a haven of peace set within a slightly faded heritage property. Don't assume the higher-priced larger rooms are best; some of the cheaper ones are not only excellent value, but in many cases they are more aesthetically pleasing. Guests less disposed to sleeping under the frozen stare of a stuffed tiger's head or within firing distance of a wall-mounted bayonet might also be a little picky about exactly which quarters to opt for. As a rule, choose a room closest to the reception area, since they appear to be the freshest off the renovation list, with lively murals and heavy wooden furniture. Ground-floor rooms tend to be cooler than the higher ones during the hot season. A plus of this property is the popular lounging area around the pool. A downside is the breakfast buffet, which will leave you wishing you ordered à la carte.—Vanessa Able
29 Marine Drive
Tel: 91 22 2285 1212
This exclusive luxury hotel is on prime real estate right on Marine Drive, commanding a view of the Arabian Sea. The hotel is small, with a glass-fronted exterior and a modern marble lobby. Two capsule elevators flank a shell-shaped interior waterfall. From the lounge, you can gawk at guests swimming in the glass-bottomed pool on the fifth floor. The 68 rooms are small but comfortable; 40 of them are suites.The Oriental Blossom restaurant serves excellent Chinese food. The hotel service is efficient and courteous. The only drawback is that on weekends, the lobby lounge can be crowded with sightseers from Marine Drive.
D-257 Devi Marg
Jaipur , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 141 220 2292/3
This highly ornate heritage-style hotel with latticed terraces and canopied archways is located in Jaipur's quiet Bani Park residential district in a former 1950s family house. The 38 rooms range from simple doubles to Royal suites (several of which have small, private terraces). But we suggest you opt for one of the eight Shahpura suites, on the top floor, which have large, modern bathrooms and a fresher, minimal take on the heavy wooden furniture and embroidered velvet bed coverings in the older rooms. A swimming pool is situated in the small outdoor garden, and the inner courtyard has a colossal chandelier, mirror-tiled ceilings, and a series of colorful murals painted in the Shekhawati style. Dinner on the hotel's roof is served up alongside the spectacle of live traditional Rajasthani music and dancing.—Vanessa Able
Sahar Airport Road
Tel: 91 22 5696 1234
The relatively new Hyatt Regency, close to the airport, delivers serious bang for your buck. The dramatic lobby has glass walls and an Italian marble floor, and the guest rooms have a hip, minimalist design, with a neutral palette, teakwood floors, glass desks, and white marble bathrooms. Room rates include breakfast and airport transfers. It's worth paying a little extra for a Regency Club room, which comes with use of a private lounge, a special concierge, all-day tea and coffee service, and cocktails and canapés. The hotel's Club Prana spa is the perfect place to recover from jet lag or decompress after a day of sightseeing in frenetic Mumbai.
Tel: 91 11 2334 1234
Built in 1936, the Imperial is one of the city's classiest hotels, and such a perfect blend of Victorian and modern styles that one almost expects to see Rudyard Kipling sitting in the lobby, working on his laptop. Inside, the hotel has Italian marble floors, teak and rosewood furniture, and high ceilings. The 231 rooms and suites have all mod cons, including spacious bathrooms. The Deco suites are particularly beautiful. Superb works of art hang in the hotel's corridors and public areas (the resident curator will take you for a tour, if you wish). The hotel's new Imperial Spa is scheduled to open by the end of 2007. The restaurants include the Spice Route, offering incredible southeast Asian food in an unbelievably rococo interior. The hotel is a short walk from Connaught Place, the city's downtown shopping area.
1/1 Swami Vivekananda Road
Tel: 91 80 2555 8888
It seems appropriate that the new Ista hotel chain makes its debut in Bangalore, a city that epitomizes modern India's cosmopolitan youthful energy. This business hotel sports a clean minimal look, with white walls, splintered glass accents, stainless steel fixtures, and enough bedside buttons to make a couch potato rejoice. The 143 rooms feel tight given the prices, but they have large windows even in the bathrooms and an ergonomically designed bed that is touted—somewhat exaggeratedly—to be the most comfortable in the city; the Penthouse Suites are sublime. The spa, though decent, has a long way to go before it reaches the level of the Ananda spa, Ista's sister property in the Himalayas.
Road Number 2
Tel: 91 40 4450 8888
The crowd at Ista, drawn partly from the booming IT park nearby, includes plenty of young and hip business types, but there are as many savvy leisure travelers, attracted by the proximity to Hyderabad's new airport and golf course. The 164-room hotel and its pool and spa have been designed to blend harmoniously with the 16 arid, boulder-strewn acres that surround it and to evoke Hyderabad's Persian-derived aesthetic tradition. A sheet of water cascading behind glass in the lobby creates an inviting ambience, which is extended outside by reflecting pools and waterfalls. Although their walk-in closets and bathrooms are niftily designed and the decor is elegant and uncluttered, the rooms can be on the small side—except for the rooftop suites with private terraces, which are immense. Dining is casual at Collage, which serves an international menu, and more dressed-up at Deori, where the specialty is Hyderabad's famed cuisine. Like the Indian economy, the Ista chain is undergoing rapid expansion, but in Hyderabad—despite a minor wobble or two soon after opening—it is upholding the high aesthetic values and standards of service it is becoming known for.
Jacob Road, Civil Lines
Tel: 91 141 222 3636
www.tajhotels.com/Leisure/Jai Mahal Palace,JAIPUR/default.htm
The cream-and-pink former palace of a local aristocrat is set on 18 acres of landscaped gardens. "Its history enhanced the luxe ambience and the feeling that we were guests of royalty." Rooms with Rajasthani decor have miniature paintings and "a marble bathroom with a bathtub in the middlesomething you remember for a long time." Cinnamon prepares Punjabi specialties.
14 Lal Ghat
Udaipur , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 294 241 1103
The next best thing to having a room at the Taj Lake Palace is having a view of that hotel and surrounding Lake Pichola from the shore—and for a price that won't break the bank. The Jaiwana Haveli is a great option if you're traveling on a shoestring but still want to be in the thick of things. Close to Lal Ghat, the 24-room hotel is in a brand-new building that nonetheless has all the architectural flourishes of an old haveli. The rooms are simple and clean, with AC, Wi-Fi, and flat-screen televisions. The higher up you get, the better the views of the lake are, and some of the corner rooms even have little alcove balconies. Be sure to book well in advance, as the hotel fills up quickly, especially during high season. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served at the rooftop restaurant, and the hotel's ever helpful owner provides an excellent concierge service.—Vanessa Able
1 Jaymahal Road
Tel: 91 80 2333 1321
Tel: 91 80 4153 5715
The Jayamahal Palace Hotel wears its decidedly unmodern stamp on its sleeve. You won't find broadband or even an elevator in this former private residence. Of the 37 guest rooms, the 11 suitesbearing imprints of the Gujarati, Wadiyar, and colonial erasare at the top of a magnificent wooden staircase. Architecture buffs will relish the classical proportion and elegant crown moldings. The bathrooms are big, and although the hot water can take several minutes to kick in, the rooms have an atmospheric lived-in quality that no fancy design can duplicate. There's a certain informalityno room service, for example, although the chef will prepare something upon requestand in a sense the Jayamahal is really a palace masquerading as a hotel. The food is spiced to the Indian palate, and the sprawling grounds are untamed.
Udaipur , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 294 320 6638
Tucked away at the top of Lake Pichola, the Karohi Haveli is a 200-year-old traditional home that has been converted into a hotel by its namesake family, which excels at making guests feel welcome. Its position, on a small hill just a couple of minutes outside the bustle of the tourist center, makes it one of Udaipur's more tranquil accommodations. Out front is a manicured lawn (which you might end up sharing with the odd monkey) that looks onto a corner of the lake. A fountain stands as the centerpiece of the inner courtyard, which is surrounded by 26 rooms and suites on three levels. The prize rooms are the corner ones facing Lake Pichola and the City Palace, which have cushioned alcoves, draped saris, and little stained-glass windows. All rooms have AC for the summer months, and don't be shy about asking for a heater during the chilly winter evenings. A buffet breakfast is included in the price and is served on the hotel's rooftop terrace.—Vanessa Able
Ranthambhore National Park
Tel: 91 07462 252099
At the entrance to Ranthambhore National Park—famous for its tigers and tenth-century fort—this all-inclusive 15-unit camp on ten acres delivers a truly authentic safari experience. You'll meet an interesting international crowd, as well as Delhi's movers and shakers, over evening cocktails by the private lake or at organic vegetarian meals taken family style in classic game lodge fashion (ask for an Indian menu—the Western dishes aren't always successful). The experience is sybaritic too, as the main lodge is furnished in stunning Rajasthani style, with Anokhi hand-block printed quilts and cushions adding gorgeous colors. There are rooms within the lodge as well as tents, and six luxe thatched-roof cottages come with a massive stone tub in a private courtyard, illuminated by candles in rose petal–strewn bowls. Evening game drives, jolting about on pitted roads, bring you close to wild boar, sloth bears, and alligators as well as the park's famed leopards and tigers.
1/315 Church Square
Vasco de Gama Square
Tel: 91 484 221 7181
With the assistance of the Neemrana group of heritage hotels, John Persenda, a collector of colonial art, has undertaken a labor of love to restore this sixteenth-century Portuguese governor's residence as an exquisite eight-room hotel filled with antiques and museum-quality art relating to India's colonial history. The house's exterior and overall proportions, including walls as much as three-and-a-half feet thick, have been painstakingly conserved, and there has been no compromise on the quality of replaced materials, which include teak doors and floorboards. The bathrooms are sumptuous, with top-quality fixtures and fine art on the walls. Meals can be taken in the shaded walled garden overlooking the small pool or in the formal dining room. The public rooms are resplendent with invaluable colonial-era art, including seventeenth-century Dutch oil paintings, portraits of East India Company men such as Robert Clive, French cartoons, and Daniell watercolors. Renowned Cartier-Bresson photographs of Nehru and the Mountbattens provide a coda and silent commentary on the colonial era.
23 Airport Road
India 560 008
Tel: 91 80 2521 1234
"The highlight is the servicethey treat you like royalty." Done in the Indo-Saracenic style of the Mysore Palace, the hotel has arches and copper domes, while the nine acres of "park-like grounds" include waterfalls and lily ponds. "Great rooms" have tray ceilings and look onto the pool or gardens. The multicultural Citrus offers "a fantastic, option-filled buffet."
India 313 001
Tel: 91 29 4670 1234
The newly built Leela is even more flamboyantly domed and landscaped than the 20-acre Oberoi Udaivillas, its rival faux-palace hotel on the shores of Lake Pichola. The high-ceilinged reception rooms with silver settees and the dazzlingly tiled open courtyard with a wall of water are gorgeously evocative of Mogul style, as are the canopied dining terrace with reflecting pools and the pool and tented spa areas. The 72 rooms are comparatively simple, furnished in dark wood, with beige and pewter silks, and marigold-colored armchairs and pillows; there are also eight suites. Breakfast and meals of both Western and Asian styles are served in the Dining Room; the place to be in the evening is Sheesh Mahal, which serves refined local cuisine by the lake with an utterly romantic view. You'll not lack for service, be it from the butler hovering near your door or the thoughtful pool attendant. Your comfort is less assured when reaching the hotel by boatturnaround time is a half hour, which can make for a chilly wait in the early morning or the evening. Road access through the city is even slower.
Tel: 91 11 3933 1234
The Leela Palace opened its doors in October 2011 and has quickly established itself as one of the best hotels in the city. On offer here is a virtually flawless package of service and comfort. From a dedicated airport concierge to the hotel's fleet of white BMWs and the cutting-edge iPod-controlled technology in the bedrooms, hardly a trick has been missed. Mother-of-pearl inlay furniture and flowery carpets give the 260 rooms a lavish feel that's counterbalanced by large plasma TVs and original artworks. Depending on your sensibilities, the staff is highly proficient or verging on unctuous; the genuinely useful butler service makes up for the excessively saccharine arrival ceremony. Dining options include the glass-fronted Qube, providing breakfast and lunch buffets with a view on the garden, the Leela's signature Indian restaurant, Jamovar, and the sublime Japanese Megu. But the ace in the pack is Le Cirque, imported from , on the tenth floor.—Vanessa Able
Bandhavgarh National Park , Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 91 921 230 5607
A co-venture between the Taj Resorts and Palaces hotel group and CC Africa to establish a five-park "tiger circuit" in Central India aims to elevate the overall experience (and price) of game watching in India to the level of the best that Africa has to offer. The first two of the five planned lodges combine CC Africa's game-watching expertise (luxe four-by-four jeeps, English-speaking drivers trained as naturalists, and outreach to local people on whom survival of the wildlife depends) with Taj's local roots and culinary expertise. Baghvan, in Pench National Park, offers in its 12 bungalows with walled courtyards a post- and late-colonial style with outdoor showers, mosquito-netted beds, and a machan, or lookout area, to scan the darkness for tiger eyes burning bright. Its main lodge is more funkily and distinctively designed, mixing colonial-style architecture with an eclectic selection of Indian antiques. Mahua Kothi in Bandhavgarh National Park comprises 12 kutiyas, mud-walled cottages similar to many Indian village huts. Meals at both lodges are taken family style, but the refinement of the cooking will hereafter ruin ordinary Indian restaurant fare for you. The extraordinary service, especially at Mahua Kothi, will so pamper you that your return to real life may be a rough awakening.
Amar Sagar Gate
Jaisalmer , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 299 225 2788
If you want to stay in a real Rajasthani palace without having to pay a king's ransom, then look no further than the Mandir Palace, tucked into the edge of Jaisalmer's Old City next to a small temple and a horse stable. The 26-room property is a maze of wings connected by corridors that open onto beautiful courtyards and terraces, and is still partly inhabited by Maharaja Hukam Singh, a descendant of the family that originally constructed the building more than 200 years ago. The intricate carving that appears throughout the property, from latticed stone screens to decorative arches, is one of the hotel's most impressive features. The cheaper rooms are clean but bland, so if you can stretch your budget, or if low-season vacancies throw a bargain your way, opt for a suite such as the 1914 Surya Mahal suite: Almost covered in intricate stone carvings, the room is divided by a series of decorative arches separating the bed from the living room area, and there is a striking terrace with carved arches and columns. The swimming pool is hidden away at the back of the hotel (unfortunately, it doubles as a drinking hole for a population of local pigeons). Be sure to visit the roof terrace to catch a terrific view of the Jaisalmer Fort at sunset.—Vanessa Able
77 Friends Colony (West)
Tel: 91 11 2692 5151
Cloistered within the privileged Friends colony compound and set among verdant, geometric greenery, the Manor offers that rare Delhi luxury: serenity. Inside, the lobby has an Italian mosaic floor and rich wood paneling. There are ten rooms (in four sizes, including one suite), decorated in soothing caramel and beige. All accommodations have en suite bathrooms finished in emerald granite, each with a separate bathtub and shower room. The Manor is a no-smoking zone, except in the Onyx Bar and on the patios, where a crowd gathers day and night. The excellent restaurant, Restaurant 77, makes exquisite Masala Dosas (thin and crispy rice pancakes rolled with spicy potato and served with lentils, curried vegetables and coconut sauce). A refurb of the interior is planned for this year (and a spa and restaurant for 2008), so be prepared for a possible departure from the usual sedate atmosphere.
India 324 001
Tel: 91 291 2431161
Like an intricate sand castle rising out of semi-desert wilderness 45 minutes south of Jodhpur, this architectural gem was built as a labor of love out of mud and lathe work by the owners of the neighboring acclaimed heritage haveli, Rohetgarh. Mihirgahr is ingeniously crafted to provide each of the nine huge guest suites (over 1,700 square feet each) with private views and outside space. There are also alluring common areas: three courtyards with splashing fountains, several lounges and bars, a public terrace perfect for watching sunsets, an infinity pool, and a Jacuzzi atop a turret. The rooms and common areas are furnished imaginatively and colorfully using Rajasthani antiques, carved wood, and embroidered and mirrored fabrics. Fireplaces, created by local women, glitter with mirror work. International cuisine is on offer here, but the local dishes outclass what's found at most other Indian five-star hotels. At the end of a bumpy country road, Mihirgahr is ideal for those who wish to be away from it all while feeling like guests at a country house. There are even horseback safaris and jeep visits to local villages that include one to an opium ceremony in which you can participate.
Nadesar Palace Grounds
Varanasi , Uttar Pradesh
India 221 002
Tel: 91 542 2503 001 19
You're given a royal welcome at the Nadesar Palace with garlands and a delicious thandai drink. It's a greeting befitting the magnificently porticoed, pillared, and verandaed Nadesar, built for the East India Company in the eighteenth century. The four guest rooms and six suites are extravagantly sized, with high ceilings and luxurious bathrooms, each with a claw-foot tub and marble seating in the walk-in shower. The subtly woven fabrics chosen for the refurbishment unfortunately tend (with exceptions) to muddy shades that create a more glum ambience than one would like in one's bedchamber. However, the handsome architecture overcomes all with the assistance of impeccable service; terrace dining by the pool, where you are serenaded by Indian classical musicians in the evening; and the 40 acres of grounds. A golf course and decorative lake are being added to the mango orchard, jasmine and vegetable fields, and beds of marigolds and roses.
Kasaragod , Kerala
Tel: 91 467 2287510
Complementing the unspoiled beauty of Kerala, these 16 traditional thatched-roof cottages with verandas are dispersed like a fishing village along a long sandy beach and are furnished in a rustic style, with boxy hardwood and cane furniture and cotton spreads and shades. There are iPod docks but no TVs, and the large bathroom is partially open to the sky. Drawbacks are opaque blinds that don't let you look out during the day, and hot water and air-conditioning that can have a perverse will of their own. Such glitches do little to impair an experience that is paradisiacally relaxing, especially if aided by sybaritic spa treatments, lounging by the infinity pool, and the delightfully attentive service. The restaurant cuisine is almost entirely Kerala style, with an emphasis on locally caught fish and fresh coconut.
India 400 021
Tel: 800 562 3764 (toll-free)
Tel: 91 22 6632 4343
Reopened in spring 2010 after a multimillion-dollar makeover helped erase the damage caused by the 2008 terrorist attack, the Oberoi, a Mumbai landmark, has been reinvented as the city's most tranquil hotel. The reception area—a light-filled atrium of white Thassos marble punctuated only by a red lacquer grand piano, sets a serene tone that's continued in the well-appointed spa, 24-hour fitness center, and three restaurants. (At Ziya, Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia blends northern and southern flavors into a contemporary take on Indian cuisine.) All 287 of the renovated guest rooms seamlessly pair soothing, contemporary decor (teak floors, an ivory and moss palette, white leather headboards) with elegant Indian accents (cabinets and mirrors inlaid with mother of pearl, Agra marble tables, lithographs of local landscapes). The glass-enclosed marble bathrooms star freestanding ceramic tubs, and in the rooms, tech updates pop up everywhere, from Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations to flat-screen TVs. There's butler service, too, but the best accessories, if you book one of the front rooms, are the expansive picture windows, which make you feel like you're in a ship floating on the Arabian Sea.—Raphael Kadushin
Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg
Tel: 91 11 2436 3030
One of New Delhi's most elegant hotels, the Oberoi has 279 luxurious rooms and suites. Fine as the accommodations are, they suffer somewhat (and they are not alone in the city in this regard) from being in a building constructed in the 1960s, when men, and not women, still had most of the say about how much space should be allocated to a hotel bathroom. Rooms overlook either the Delhi Golf Course or Humayun's Tomb. They are furnished in contemporary Indian style and have granite bathrooms. The spa has a range of massages, masks, and scrubs, including Chakra head-and-shoulder massage. The most popular of the hotel's several excellent dining alternatives is the fusion restaurant Threesixty°; locals say they come for the sushi but really are there to let the rest of the city know they have arrived. Service at the hotel is excellent but verges on obsequious at times.
Taj East Gate Road
Tel: 91 562 223 1515
The grounds at this Moorish-Mogul hotel 650 yards from the Taj Mahal are "impeccably manicured," and have geometric pools and terraced lawns. Rooms have dark-wood floors with light-colored throw rugs and Greek marble bathrooms; interiors also make use of marble inlay and bead embroidery. Esphahân is a traditional Indian restaurant with red sandstone walls. The spa uses Omorovicza products from Hungary.
Tel: 91 141 268 0101
The 71-room Rajvilas was the first of India's newly built modern luxury hotels, and it was so revolutionary when it opened in 1997 that less than a year later, it was featured on the cover of Architectural Digest. Although it has 13 very popular air-conditioned tents spread among its 32 walled acres, the focus of its style might best be called postmodern Rajasthani fort. The use of traditional materials and building techniques creates the appearance of a pink-walled citadel, yet one incorporating decidedly contemporary touches such as glass-walled bathrooms that look out onto private gardens. The rooms, all with four-poster beds and sunken white tubs, are in clusters of four to six around serene courtyards. Rajvilas is just five miles outside of Jaipur, close enough that you can easily dip into the anarchy of the city, perhaps to shop for gems or to see the Palace of Winds. But the sanctuarylike setting mostly encourages happy, slow hours among the gardens, decorative pools, and fountains. Take a novel to the main pool, preferably one large enough to cover your face while you nap. Or dine alfresco in the courtyard of the resort's Surya Mahal restaurant, perhaps on vegetarian kebabs as penance for indulging in the far-too-available Indian sweets. Or wander to the spa and give yourself over to an ayurvedic massage treatment. Chances are, none will disappoint.
Haridasji Ki Magri
Tel: 91 294 243 3300
If you've got the audacity to build a hotel within sight of the Taj Lake Palace, you'd better come up with something spectacular. And that's just what P.R.S. Oberoi (Biki, to his friends) did in 2002 when he built the 90-room Udaivilas. With its toadstool-like profusion of turrets and cupolas, hand-sculpted columns and graceful arches, and pale gold exterior—all set in a soft green landscape that rises above the shore of the lake—this may be one of Rajasthan's best examples of contemporary Indian architecture. The domed lobby, with its white marble fountain, and the spa, which looks like a temple, are so beautiful they belong in a museum. (After a day on jarring Indian roads, you'll appreciate the spa for other reasons.) Set on 30 acres, Udaivilas's grounds and rooms have a more spacious feel than those of its famous neighbor just across the water (of which, one suspects not by accident, there are few good views).
Tel: 91 746 222 3999
What more fitting way to begin a quest for tigers in Ranthambhore National Park than to step from the folds of a tent? "Tent," though, is such a modest word, even when it's also called "luxury," as is the case with the 25 tents at Vanyavilas. Three and a half hours east of Jaipur by car, and just outside the park boundaries, these are actually permanent, immovable accommodations inside a walled compound that also shelters more solid structures, such as the grandiose dining room. The tents are air-conditioned and have polished hardwood floors, four-poster king-size beds, and freestanding bathtubs inside the attached oversize bathrooms. And should the quest for tigers prove fruitless? The ever-attentive staff will commiserate, suggesting a dip in the pool, or, if you've had enough of the great outdoors for the day, a drink or game of billiards in the Library Bar before moving on to the dining room, its walls hung with hand-painted frescoes, to debate the merits of guinea fowl versus mutton curry.
Jodhpur , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 291 329 3328
Though located next to the Clock Tower and Sadar Bazaar, the Pal Haveli has high walls that insulate it from Jodhpur's bustling historical center. Enter through a grand triple archway of impressive latticework into the quiet courtyard of this family-run hotel, which is one of the best mid-range options in the city. Dating back more than two centuries, the building has its own museum that features, among other treasures, a 460-year-old portrait of the goddess Chamunda, an antique palanquin carriage, and a gilded hindola (swing). Most of the 21 rooms are decorated in the elaborate haveli style with antique furniture; ask to look around before you choose a room, since some are a bit sparse, with upholstery in need of an update. The rooftop restaurant, Indique, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is one of the best in town and has views over the Clock Tower, the nearby Gulab Sagar, and the Mehrangarh Fort.—Vanessa Able
15 Parliament Street
Tel: 91 11 2374 3000
At 220 rooms, the Park, centrally located at Connaught Place, is too big to justify its billing of itself as a boutique hotel. And the screen of clear glass beads meandering through the lobby—an attempt at urban chic, Delhi style, by Sir Terence Conran and his makeover team—suggests there's a leaky ceiling rather than being a testament to design genius. Get beyond first impressions, though, and the design whimsy, liveliness, and (not least) the 35-foot bar that ends with a dance floor make this a fun place to stay.
Panna National Park , Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 91 11 26807744
Pashan Garh extends the tiger reserve circuit created by &Beyond (formerly CC Africa) and Taj Safaris, joining the two supremely comfortable lodges in the parks at Bhandavgar and Pench. The stone walls and tiled roofs of the 12 scrub junglesurrounded cottages evoke the local architecture, and the rugged interior decor features coarse-weave hemp and cotton furnishings, saddle-stitched leather accessories, and wildlife photographs; the aesthetic is slightly marred by incongruous African design touches. On the terrace, a maachan (a raised platform on which you can recline under a tiled roof) is embellished with a racy pottery frieze inspired by the temples of nearby Khajuraho. The camp takes on a romantic cast in the evening, when candles are lit and lamps illuminate the pathways leading to the lounge, where you can join the naturalists for dinner (your personal butler will escort you there).
Tel: 91 832 227 9061
More private villa than resort, Pousada Tauma is run by Neville Proenca, the delightful hands-on owner. Built of laterite and other local materials, the eco-friendly Pousada, designed to use minimal resources, features traditional tile-roofed stone buildings set around a pool with a swim-up bar and waterfall. The roomseach featuring a private terrace or garden, satellite TV, and direct-dial telephoneare simply decorated with cotton bedspreads, copper-pot lamps, and colonial-style furniture. The playful, Gaudí-esque bathrooms are covered in shattered, brightly colored tiles. There's also a small Ayurvedic spa run by professional Keralan therapists, and the Copper Bowl restaurant serves good European food and superlative Goan specialties.
Pushkar , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 145 277 3001
The Pushkar Palace is a 48-room, five-suite hotel located right on the lake, with fantastic views. The guest rooms, with tiled floors, four-poster beds, and antique furniture, are in need of a spruce-up, even though it's considered the best accommodation in town. While the hotel can feel a bit abandoned off-season, during the annual camel fair, it's the place to be and prices triple to reflect that. Booking ahead is essential, as is producing printed confirmation of your reservation when you check in.—Updated by Vanessa Able
Near Tunvarji ka Jhalra
India 342 001
Tel: 91 291 2632207
It's a challenge to get to Raas through the confusion of old Jodhpur's narrow, congested streets. You at last reach an unprepossessing door in a cement facade that opens onto a leafy courtyard and a modern structure housing 39 guest rooms and suites. Through the alchemy of inspired design, the bold lines of this new building blend harmoniously with the elegant remnants of the eighteenth-century haveli (courtier's palace) on whose grounds it is sited. Through minimalist decor, the accommodations make adroit use of space, texture, and pattern (including pink sandstone lattice screens that, recalling traditional jalis, bring shade and privacy), which compensates for the fairly modest size of the rooms and bathrooms, with handsome tubs set in stone. Room terraces offer not just a view, but grand theater: In the foreground, a swimming pool with gauzy-curtained cabanas is set in a garden, and reflecting pools lead up to a graceful old pavilion, now the dining room. To your left, an ancient structure accommodates pillowed seating alcoves. And as the dramatic backdrop looms the Maharajah of Jodhpur's massive pink sandstone Mehrangahr Fort. The quality of the cuisine, with both Indian and international offerings, can be uneven, and the calls to prayer from the minaret next door can be jarringly loud. Mercifully, double glazing and the hum of the air-conditioning silences the 4 a.m. loudspeaker crackle.
Nagaur , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 11 4603 5500
This heritage hotel opened by the Maharaja of Jodhpur consists of the zenana (women's quarters) of the Garden Palace that dwells within the giant Nagaur Fort complex two hours north of Jodhpur. Ranvas's 33 rooms inhabit the ten havelis (residences built around courtyards) where the maharaja's queens lived in the eighteenth century. The zenana's restoration and decoration have been completed with scholarly care and exquisite taste. Subtle lighting enhances the carvings, sculptures, and traditional designscalloped archways, delicate latticework, colonnaded courtyards. In guest rooms, fine antique beds and furniture are accented with perfectly chosen fabrics and accessories, while intelligent works of art and Sufi poetry line the bed stand. However, this is not a place for those unwilling to embrace simplicityrooms lack TVs, phones, and tubs. Guests are encouraged to bathe Indian-style (seated on a stool, using a water-filled pitcher), though bathrooms do come with showers. Service is sensitively unobtrusive, as at dinner, when refined versions of North Indian dishesincluding heavenly light vegetable pakorasare served in the pillared baradari (pavilion) overlooking a swimming pool screened by pomegranate bushes. The lighting of innumerable candles and lanterns all over the property creates a fantastical setting.
Osian , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 291 243 7023
About an hour outside of Jodhpur is the desert pit-stop town of Osian, where Reggie's Camel Camp, a hotel comprised of 30 furnished luxury tent rooms, sits perched on top of a sand dune on the quieter side of the railway tracks. Nestled inside its protective compound walls is a desert-oasis-cum-colonial-hunting-lodge, complete with mod cons as well as relics from Raj era Anglo-Indian hunting expeditions. The camel racing track at the front of the hotel and the relaxing pool area at the back accentuate the surreal juxtaposition of worlds. Forget the hardships of camping: These tents have electricity, comfortable beds, and en-suite bathrooms with running hot water. The prize accommodations are the ones built into the mud huts just outside the walls of the camp, which have small private terraces overlooking the dunes. Nightly prices include three meals, an hour-long camel ride just outside the grounds, and a music and dance show in the evening. Reggie and his team of talented PR ambassadors do sterling work in providing a personalized experience for guests, and you're likely to end up feeling like one of the family after a couple of days, especially after one late-night cognac too many.—Vanessa Able
Bandhavgarh National Park , Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 91 142 324 0014
Tel: 91 141 263 2407
From the dirt approach road winding through the jungle at the edge of Bandhavgarh National Park, this lodge initially appears as a group of unprepossessing buildings. But when you reach its vast upstairs drawing room/reception, spectacularly raftered with rough-hewn tree trunks and with French doors on all four sides, its prospect grows from favorable to sensational. Grounds encompass 12 local-style villas, an infinity pool and solar-heated whirlpool with canopied daybeds, a spa, and 11 grassland acres near the less-trafficked Kothi entrance to the park, where guests take twice-daily game drives to spot tigers. Sensitivity to the environment is at the forefrontpains were taken to avoid felling any trees during construction, the building materials are local, rainwater is harvested. Light Mediterranean-style lunches are served under a capacious mahua tree strung with cowbells; Indian dinners are given on a dining terrace warmed by flaming braziers. Shady courtyards in front of the 1,500-square-foot adobe-walled, tiled-roof villas lend them privacy. But the accommodations' tour de force is their indoor-outdoor bathroom (separated by a glass wall), notable for a giant forest-scene mural painted by a local Gond artist, and an immense stone tub with views of the stars above.
Near Panna Tiger Reserve
Khajuraho , Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 91 968 529 3130
Tel: 91 124 235 6004
It's not every day that you sit down to dinner with a hero of the Indian tiger preservation movementthat is, unless you're staying at this six-cottage eco-lodge belonging to big-cat biologist Raghunandan Singh Chundawat and his wife, wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist Joanna van Gruisen. Perched high above the River Ken near the Panna Tiger Reserve, and accessible only by a monkey-frequented rope-bridge, the rustic lodge minimizes its impact on the environment through the use of traditional mud-based insulating construction, tin-and-grass roofing, solar and biomass power, and spare landscaping. The large rooms and bathrooms are economically but elegantly designed, with glossy, mineral oxidefinished floors and traditional Indian fabrics. Typically, a stay starts when the couple warmly greet each guest, a precursor for the easygoing, low-key service. Meals and drinks are served outside overlooking the riverbreakfast is a delight, with purple-headed parakeets foraging in the grass and wild mint around the tables. Dinners are memorable for the company of other guests and lantern-lit meals of homestyle Indian dishes cooked by Chundawat himself. Wildlife viewing ranges from game drives on which, if you're very lucky, Chundawat will join you, to fantastic bird-watching by rowboat on the river, but just as alluring are the intricately carved temples at Khajuraho, an hour away.
India 345 001
Tel: 91 11 4606 7608
Tel: 91 11 4616 3718
A 45-minute drive from Jaisalmer's beautiful pink-sandstone fort city, The Serai features 21 grand campaign-style tents tightly arrayed in rows like a colonial encampment amid scrubby, featureless terrain. Each 1,100-square-foot suite is pitched on a raised stone base, with its own enclosed veranda, in-room seating, and a bathroom with a walk-in shower but no tub. A heater, towel warmer, and hot-water bottles keep you cozy in the desert's chilly night, although other typical basics are oddly absent from the elegantly spare accommodations: A hair dryer has to be requested, as well as the services of a staffer to whisk one's valuables away for safekeeping. Guests while away the time by taking a sunset camel ride over the sand dunes on the far side of Jaisalmer accompanied by a hamper of sundowners. Afternoon tea and drinks are served in the Library Bar Tent, and come nightfall, drinks and snacks materialize around a fire where local musicians serenade. Served in the Dining Tent, organic produce grown on the grounds yields a light international menu providing relief to a traveler's overtaxed digestion. (The more durable will enjoy the well-prepared rich and spicy Indian dishes.)
Next to the Mali Ka Mandir
Pushkar , Rajasthan
Tel: 91 145 510 5455
Most of Pushkar's lodging options reflect the town's status as a major draw for pilgrims and backpackers, and there has been little inspiration for the kind of mid-range converted haveli hotels that are plentiful in Rajasthan's other tourist towns. However, the Seventh Heaven Inn is an exception. This simple, four-story hotel is located in a century-old traditional building centered around a verdant courtyard. The rooftop Sixth Sense restaurant also happens to be the best in town, and a laid-back travelers' sanctum complete with board games, books, and a giant wooden swing is a good spot to kick back in. The hotel's 12 rooms are simply furnished, clean, and excellent value for money. The higher up they are, the larger they are. Not all have AC or heating, so be sure to check before selecting a room. Booking ahead is definitely recommended, and you'll have to do so through the hotel's Web site, which annoyingly insists on PayPal and a minimum two-night stay.—Vanessa Able
Road Opposite Bank of India
Nerul , Goa
Tel: 91 832 671 4141
Tel: 91 95 521 32132
Thanks to clever architectural angling, this 20-room newcomer is just off Goa's main drag, yet free of honky-tonk mass tourism. Its guestsmostly stylish young Indian couplesinstead enjoy the tranquil views over rice paddies and the Sinquerim River to Candolim church. The hotel's architecture celebrates Goa's colonial heritage: Three-story whitewashed wings punctuated with dark-wood windows and shutters frame a leafy central courtyard. Interiors by Indian fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani continue the colonial theme, but update it. Each room's antique four-poster bed is draped with mosquito netting (although the rooms have AC and come with electric mosquito coils), historic photogravures and mezzotints of Portuguese-era trading ports line the walls, and silk cutwork and silver-threaded fabric on cushions lend an air of elegance. (The marble bathrooms, on the other hand, lack tubs and could be a bit brighter.) There's an intimate dining room, but most guests prefer to eat on the terrace outside the bar-lounge, where lanterns create a seductive atmosphere in the evening, and the menu includes Goan, North Indian, and Thai dishesthe local ones are the most authentic. Service is eager but not always speedy, a failing that's apropros given the relaxed setting. The hotel's most conspicuous drawback is the tiny (and shade-covered) courtyard pool, though there are tentative plans to open a larger one with direct sun exposure.
Tel: 91 8386 257132
On India's west coast, Gokarna was until recently known to few outsiders apart from visitors to its temples or hippies seeking secret beaches. Now CGH Earth's latest ecoresort makes it possible to experience this spectacularly rugged stretch of coast in a more complete fashion. Perched above Om Beach, SwaSwara is constructed of bricks baked from local laterite in a thatched-roof style. Arranged around a planted courtyard, each of the 24 suites has an open-air shower stocked with natural products, a bedroom with air-conditioning, and an upstairs room open on all four sides for stargazing. No red meat or hard alcohol is served, but the menu includes seafood and wine. If doing yoga under the meditation dome or blissing out by the pool proves too tame, there are also kayaking and mountain biking as well as touring the temples, forts, and wilderness in Karnataka's hinterland.
Tel: 91 83 2668 3333
Set on the southwest coast of Goa, this outpost of the Taj chain rests on 56 acres of exquisitely landscaped lawns, complete with tropical plants and graceful palms. There are 140 centrally air-conditioned rooms, including two presidential villas with private plunge pools. All rooms are spacious, luxuriously appointed, and feature a private veranda or balcony that looks out on the Arabian Sea. The Exotica has three highly rated restaurants: Miguel Arcanjo, a Mediterranean restaurant serving Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Provençal fare; Allegria, a Goan establishment; and Li Bai, a Chinese restaurant.
Hyderabad , Andhra Pradesh
Tel: 866 969 1 825 (toll-free)
Tel: 91 40 6629 8585
At this palatial 32-acre hilltop estate with fragrant gardens and views of Old Hyderabad, all guests get an unforgettably personal welcome: Because cars aren't permitted beyond the front gate, visitors arrive at reception in a golf cart or, for VIPs, a horse carriage. In lieu of a formal check-in desk, a standard bearer greets guests by militarily clicking his heels before leading them under a shower of rose petals and into the former ruler of Hyderabad's neo-Palladian palace. The museum-quality reception rooms are furnished in late-Victorian style, gleaming with burnished wood and leather, glittering with chandeliers. Beyond, the gracious garden courtyard with trees and fountains is flanked by two wings housing most of the 60 rooms. (Just beyond one of the wings, the suites faithfully decorated in a grand Edwardian manner surround a smaller, star-shaped courtyard.) Two accomplished restaurants sit at the other end of the main courtyard, one the Mediterranean Celeste, the other Adá, whose forte is highly refined Hyderabadi slow-cooking. Between these, on a terrace under the colored-glass canopy of the belvedere, guests take cocktails as the sun sets, appreciating the subtly shifting colors of the palace and skywitness the meaning of falaknuma ("mirror in the sky" in Urdu).
Tel: 91 832 564 5858
A 45-minute drive from the airport, the Taj Holiday Village offers 140 rooms in terracotta-roofed Portuguese-style cottages set amid palm-fringed landscaped gardens. The interiors have rustic, vaguely tropical decor, and it's worth springing for one of the Garden View Deluxe Cottages, which have balconies and private lawns as well as DVD players. Better yet, Sea View Cottages have hammocks and outdoor seating as well. The plethora of restaurants includes Caravela, a mecca of delectable fresh seafood, and the Banyan Tree, which serves Thai cuisine.
Tel: 91 294 252 8800
Tel: 866 969 1825
One of the most photographed hotels in India, the 83-room Taj Lake Palace rises from a rock foundation within the green waters of Udaipur's Pichola Lake. The 250-year-old former palace, one of India's best heritage hotels, is built of polished white marble, but as seen from the shore of the lake, it looks like a painted ship upon a painted ocean. Guests arrive in grand fashion aboard a shiny, polished hotel launch with a scalloped sun canopy. (Make an even grander entrance by rolling up to the boat in the hotel's chauffeured vintage car, on call for airport and train station pickups.) The Taj Lake Palace's unique location doesn't limit guest activities: There's a pool, a spa, and all manner of shore excursions, from shopping for Udaipur's famous miniature paintings to horseback riding in the Aravalli Hills. For romantic lake dining, opt for a private dinner on a pontoon platform anchored some distance off the hotel (that way you can enjoy the views of the hotel, too). When choosing your accommodation, enhance the feeling of being at sea by opting for an outside room, facing the city. Even the smallest, trimmed in natural wood, are reminiscent of the glory days of the P&O steamers.
1 Mansingh Road
Tel: 91 11 230 26162
Guests are welcomed with fruit and chocolate at this sandstone block near the President's Estate. The "large and very active lobby" is decorated in white, with Mogul architecture, marble fountains, and gold-colored inlay. House of Ming's dishes range from Cantonese to spicy Szechuan. "It's the best hotel in Delhi."
Tel: 91 22 6665 3366
The 107-year-old Florentine-influenced palace fronted by the Gateway of India"the best location in Mumbai" fully reopened in August 2010 after suffering damage in the November 2008 terrorist attack. Interiors still display alabaster ceilings, silk carpets, and onyx columns. Rooms offer either colonial or contemporary decor and, in some, "amazing views over the water." Wasabi by Morimoto serves Japanese. "Staff are so good, you can't imagine staying anywhere else."
90 Cuffe Parade
Tel: 91 22 5665 0808
This five-star hotel has 292 rooms, including 20 executive suites. The standard rooms are decent, but it's worth springing for one of the executive rooms or suites, all on the higher floors. These come with breakfast and offer a breathtaking view of the harbor or city. The hotel service is excellent, as is the buffet breakfast. There is an Italian restaurant, the Trattoria, as well as a coffee shop. The pretty pool is a great place to relax after a tiring day bargaining for souvenirs. The hotel has an excellent location, conveniently close to the city's main business district and a short taxi ride from the Gateway of India.
Bhawani Singh Road
Tel: 91 141 221 1919
Tel: 866 969 1825
An eye of calm nearly at the center of the whirlwind that is the city of Jaipur, this 172-year-old palace was the first in Rajasthan to be converted (in 1957) to a heritage hotel. While the family of the Maharaja of Jaipur still owns it (the Queen Mother lives in private quarters in a separate property at the back), the Taj Group has managed the 85-room hotel since 1972. A variety of room styles reflect its long history of continuing renovations. The best rooms, on the second floor, feature high ceilings and wood floors, with views of the gardens, but even the more ordinary rooms are palatial in size, at more than 500 square feet. Bathrooms are a bit decadent, with black marble, chrome, and glass in some rooms—they may be too discordantly modern for some tastes, however. In a former palace, you want your decadence to have a more historical feel, as it does in the Prince's Suite, where two long-legged metal birds daintily drink from a tiled fountain in the living room. The public areas are satisfying grand, especially the ballroom-size lobby (don't try any dance steps on the slippery marble floor…) and the expanse of green lawn one can admire while sipping afternoon tea. Oh, and in that photo in the Polo Bar, of a couple of ladies having a laugh at Jaipur's royal polo grounds? That's Mrs. Jackie Kennedy.
Tel: 91 291 251 0101
Tel: 866 969 1825
If your invitation to overnight at Buckingham Palace has not been forthcoming, take solace that the welcome mat is always out at this equally royal residence. (Well, not quite equally, as royal titles were officially done away with in India in the 1970s.) While 64 of the Umaid Bhawan Palace's 347 rooms are now given over to hotel guests, it is still home to the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who, it seems useful to know, has dogs named Gimlet, Tia Maria, and Pepsi yipping about the property. The largest and most recently constructed of Rajasthan's palaces, the Umaid Bhawan was completed in 1944, with a golden sandstone exterior in a style sometimes called Indo Deco. It's been a hotel since 1972 and recently became part of the Taj Group, which added an outdoor pool (there was already one indoors), and upgraded the rooms with new fabrics and furnishings, including the requisite flat-screen televisions, while retaining the bold patterns and colors of the Art Deco style. Among the grander rooms is the Maharaja Suite, with murals depicting leopards, tigers, and the Jodhpur sport of pigsticking. This does raise the question, "Where does the Maharaja sleep?" For an answer, follow the sound of the dogs.
Tel: 91 484 301 1711
CGH Earth—known for its eco-friendly, less-is-more heritage approach—has refurbished a magnificent mansion as a 15-room hotel in Tamil Nadu's intriguing Chettinad area of 74 villages of exuberantly ornate nineteenth- and twentieth-century mansions. The Art Deco–style Visalam, built in the 1930s behind a pond of blue lotuses, is a later example, but like earlier mansions, it has a colorful frieze of gods above its entrance, as well as mighty pillars, doors, and rafters of teak, huge rooms with soaring ceilings and shuttered windows, and broad roofed verandas. Meals of Chettinad cuisine (eaten with one's fingers) are served either family style in the upstairs dining room or out on the large terrace, next to the swimming pool, or in the kitchen, where you can learn the famed spicy cooking techniques. A guided tour of the local mansions and temple is a must, as is one to see the handloom weaving of intricate Chettiar cottons and the traditional Authangudi tile making that has refurbished Visalam's handsome floors. At the end of it all, cool off in the 40-foot pool in a walled garden filled with bougainvillea.