Immerse guests in India’s rich heritage with a stay at a historic hotel, says Katie McGonagle
There’s no doubting India’s cultural credentials – magnificent mosques and temples, iconic landmarks, or monuments to famous figures seem to hide around every corner.
But what if guests could get a glimpse of that exotic heritage before they step outside of their hotel? From ancient hilltop forts to glittering city palaces, many of the country’s most fascinating properties have been converted into extraordinary hotels.
Find out where to send clients who want to step back in time with our round-up of a few unique choices.
TAJ LAKE PALACE, UDAIPUR
When young prince Maharana Jagat Singh II was forbidden from sneaking off for moonlit picnics with his courtesans, he came up with a royal solution; just build another palace. This white marble edifice (pictured above) on an island in Lake Pichola was completed in 1746, converted into an 83-room hotel in 1963 and shot to fame in James Bond film Octopussy. Luxurious extras abound, from imperial barge the Gangaur to a champagne walk around its four-acre grounds.
Book it: Five nights in a luxury room with breakfast starts at £2,620 with Kuoni, including flights and private transfers in May.
THE IMPERIAL, NEW DELHI
British architect Edwin Lutyens left his fingerprints across New Delhi, and nowhere more so than the art deco Imperial. Offering elegance in abundance, this 235-room property embodies the Raj at every turn, from yellowed photos of beaming cricket teams and British Army medals adorning the walls, to the gentleman’s club-style decor of the 1911 bar or Daniell’s Tavern restaurant commemorating two 18th-century English explorers.
Book it: A night in an Imperial Room starts from £148 in December plus taxes.
WILDFLOWER HALL, SHIMLA IN THE HIMALAYAS
Remember the First World War poster telling would-be recruits Your Country Needs You? Before Lord Kitchener was emblazoned across British Army adverts, he was commander-in-chief of India, residing at this Himalayan hideaway. His portrait hangs above the fireplace which, along with dark wood panelling, rich furnishings and names such as the Lutyens restaurant or Cavalry Bar, is a reminder of its heritage. On top of that, this Oberoi hotel has spectacular mountain views, outdoor Jacuzzi and heated pool, activities aplenty and an Ayurveda spa.
Book it: Hayes & Jarvis offers five nights’ B&B from £1,199 departing March 6 with flights.
SAMODE PALACE, NEAR JAIPUR
Samode Palace began as a humble hilltop fort 475 years ago, but fast-forward to today and it’s a far more splendid affair. Located 25 miles north of the Pink City, standout features include the intricately decorated Durbar Hall and a hall of mirrors. The property was turned into a luxury hotel in 1987, with four royal suites, 20 deluxe suites and 19 rooms, each with four-poster beds and modern touches such as flatscreen TVs, air-conditioning and mini bars.
Book it: Deluxe double rooms start at £220 including breakfast.
MALABAR HOUSE, KOCHI
This unassuming property is part of the historical fabric of Kerala’s trading capital, Fort Kochi, fought over by successive colonial powers. Malabar House was owned by spice merchants, tea traders and bankers, before becoming Fort Kochi’s first boutique hotel in 1996. The Relais & Chateaux property has 11 deluxe rooms, five roof-garden suites and a duplex suite, and is within walking distance of 16th-century St Francis Church and the iconic Chinese fishing nets.
Book it: Western & Oriental’s 13-day Boutique Kerala includes two nights at Malabar House, from £2,249 including flights.
TAJ FALAKNUMA PALACE, HYDERABAD
Falaknuma is said to mean ‘heavenly abode’, which is apt as the palace sits 2,000ft above Hyderabad and was built as a residence for the area’s ruler, the Nizam. It houses an exact replica of the library at Windsor Castle, down to its walnut-carved ceiling, and is home to an assortment of rare volumes including one of the country’s most impressive collections of the Qur’an. It was renovated and opened as a 60-room Taj Luxury Hotel in 2010.
Book it: Rooms start at £287.
DEVI GARH, NEAR UDAIPUR
This 18th-century fort-cum-palace, operated by Lebua Hotels & Resorts, will suit clients who like comfort as much as character. Its heritage is as fine as any of Rajasthan’s palaces, having housed the rulers of Delwara for two centuries. Yet its chic, minimalist design and setting in the heart of the Aravalli Hills make it a nice spot to relax. Guests can chill out at the pool or spa, gaze over green hills from one of 39 suites, or visit nearby temples and villages.
Book it: Devi Garh is featured on Western & Oriental’s Boutique Rajasthan – Hidden Treasure and Cox & Kings’ Princely India tours, or tailor-made trips from TransIndus.
OBEROI GRAND, KOLKATA
Kolkata is intimately linked with the history of British colonialism, becoming the capital of British India in 1772 and flourishing throughout the 19th-century as a centre of trade, industry and arts. It was in that context that this large, stately property was built in 1894, combining Victorian style with classic Indian features in the heart of the city’s shopping district.
Book it: Lead-in rates start from £201 per night.
BHAINSRORGARH FORT, SOUTH EAST RAJASTHAN
This river-front fort makes an impression before guests even get there; it’s perched on a 200ft-high ridge and is visible for
miles around. It doesn’t disappoint inside either – half converted palace and half unrestored fort, visitors get a real feel for the building as it used to be. It’s easy to see why this spot was chosen for the 18th-century stronghold – the views are incredible – and great local recipes mean the food is pretty good too.
Book it: Cox & Kings’ 17-night Forts & Palaces of Rajasthan plus a three-night extension to Bhainsrorgarh Fort costs from £2,640, including Virgin Atlantic flights, breakfast and some meals.
WINDAMERE HOTEL, DARJEELING
As a former boarding house, this isn’t the most extravagant property on the list, but certainly holds its own in the charm stakes. Having housed British tea planters since the turn of the 20th century, it became a hotel in the 1930s as Darjeeling attracted summer visitors escaping the southern heat. It even expanded to take over a neighbouring convent where actress Vivien Leigh stayed as a child. Set atop Observatory Hill, it boasts magnificent views over verdant tea plantations and the third-highest peak in the world, Mount Kanchenjunga.
Book it: Double rooms start at £107 full-board plus taxes and service charge.
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