In my ignorance I’d never really considered India as a ‘luxury tourist’ destination. Colourful – yes, intense – certainly, energetic – without doubt…but luxurious? However, this pre-conceived notion could not be further from the truth; during my brief trip, India waved numerous 5 star, residences under my nose, alongside a selection of some of the best food I’ve ever tasted.
But the best thing about India’s luxury market? Put simply, it is quite unlike anything you will find elsewhere. Magnificent resorts are over flowing with cultural relevance and character. A hotel is not merely a well-built structure, but a 230 year old fort, sympathetically revived with the strictest of architectural care and attention, or a floating water palace situated in the centre of a lake.
The historical ruins that form the very backbone of India’s landscape are beginning to be utalised up and down the country for luxury accommodation. This could be a dangerous path, with stunning heritage remains being ripped apart and commercialised but so far India has paid strict attention to the details and authenticity, creating a virtual trip through Mughal history on your visit. Aside from the luxury accommodation India is a holiday of plenty – tastes, sunsets, vistas, baazars and temples punctuated by some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet.
India is a country so deep and rich in personality that a ‘holiday’ there barely scratches the surface, but with help from some fantastic local sources we have tried to bring you a suggestion of what this magnificent country has to offer.
Delhi’s narrow streets stand in vast contrast to the wide tree lined roads running around the city. In the centre Jaisalmer’s avenues are bustling with vendors trading in handmade leather, eye-catching fabrics, jewellery, spices and trinkets. Busy, yes, but also vibrant and exciting and overwhelmingly friendly. With such a dramatic and stark history, Delhi hides crumbling forts and tombs around every corner. Stand out sights for us were; Humanyu’s Tomb – inspiring the building of the Taj Mahal with its palm tree lined elegance, the dynastic Red Fort that housed the last Mughal emperor of Delhi and Ghandi’s memorial for a stringent reminder of India’s struggle for independence.
Where to stay? Andaz, Hyatt
Located in Aerocity next to Indira Gandhi International airport, Andaz Delhi is a popular haunt for the travelling business crew. Despite this, the hotel is brimming with individuality and character. The Andaz prides itself on being unique where people can be themselves, unexpected for somewhere in the business zone. From the spectacular gin bar, Juniper to the distinctive art work; the Andaz fights for its place in Delhi’s cosmopolitan market. Keeping it in the spotlight is surely the outstanding dining experience offered at AnnaMaya – the brunches are not to be missed.
The ‘Pink City’ is truly as charming as its name. Glimmering rose in the morning before fading to a dusky hue at sunset, the pink walls of Jaipur create a soft and inviting atmosphere to this busy and popular destination. No other building epitomises the grandeur and delicacy of the architecture here than the Hawa Mahal. Constructed to imitate the crown of Krishna, countless winking windows intricately designed look out on the busy street below, originally allowing the Royal ladies to watch the daily proceedings in modest privacy. India’s many imposing forts are a manifestation of its struggles and triumphs , these more than anything else on the trip captivated my imagination, and none more so that the Amber Fort. Carved silver doors, radiant mirrored chambers, towering monsoon turrets and improvised air conditioning curtains are all concealed inside thick sandstone walls.
Where to stay? Alila Fort Bishangarh – Jaipur
Seamlessly sculpted from the granite hill, this imposing and significant fort is more than just a hotel. Clean lines, sandstone and exquisite taste saturate the Fort in true Alila style. The soul of the fort has been restored tenderly and with care with attention to given to each historic element. Allow yourself to be whisked away on a signature Alila experience to truly appreciate the local surroundings.
Don’t tell Delhi, but of all the places we visited in India I think I liked Mumbai the most. Maybe it is the closeness of the ocean or just the palpable happiness that it creates in Bombayites, who were spotted gazing out at the waves despite the imminent heavy downpour. Maybe it is the mix of old and new the saturates every street with Chattrapati Terminus nestling next to towering glass high rises. But most of all I think it is the people. As in coastal areas across the world, Mumbai draws people from all over India creating a hive of cultures, foods and customs. This permeates the atmosphere so that all visitors ae instantly made to feel at once welcomed and unheeded. In a city so full of visitors one is able to instantly fit in.
Where to stay? The St Regis
From the countries tallest hotel tower you could easily forget that you are in the bustling intensity of Mumbai. Start you day with an unforgettable breakfast before investigating the in-house art exhibitions and unwinding in Iridium spa. In the evening take in the live pianist as you sip champagne in the signature St Regis lobby overlooked by the grand staircase before retiring to the Sahib bar and Kipling bar for an exquisite taste of Indian delicacies.
It is hard to find a bad angle in Udaipur, every glimpse is a picture, every vista a magazine cover. But when viewing beautiful sights it is important to remember that distance can often amplify their splendour. In this way viewing Udaipur from above at Fateh Garh allowed us to gain an unseen viewpoint of the city. A splattering of mirrored lakes adorned by a floating palace, surrounded by a labyrinth of alleys and watched by an imposing Monsoon palace perched gravely atop a hill. Out of all the cities, Udaipur had the slowest pace, here it was all too easy to while away an afternoon haggling over textlies and sipping chai at the side of the lake. But if you are craving historical input wander over to the 16th century City Palace to marvel at the fusion of Rajisthani and Mughal styles.
Where to stay? Fateh Garh
A pioneer in sustainable, ethical and responsible tourism the Fateh Garh brand stands out amongst a multitude of corporate brands. The architectural style is based around restored antique pieces reinstated with designer precision into newer buildings. This contrast of old and new characterises Fateh Garh as does the presence of spectacular views in each of their hotels. Without doubt an Indian luxury brand with a difference, service with a smile is a given here.
The journey from Mumbai to Pune alone is a spectacle as you dart along the mountainside road, flashing in and out of tunnels watching waterfalls snake towards you. Monsoon season might be bad for somethings but waterfalls it is not. Pune itself is a University town, not your typical tourist destination, it also provides far less in the way of ‘sights’ with only a handful of forts to be found. The wonder of this city lies in its natural beauty, after the hustle and bustle of the big cities Pune is a welcome escape into the countryside. Hillside panoramic views convince even the most determined city dweller of the benefits of rural life.
Where to stay? Armantan
Looking for an unmissable view to soak in as you unwind, detox and recuperate? Then Atmantan is the place for you. Restore your inner peace after the commotion of India’s bustling cities with finely crafted dining, holistic healing practices and sensational spa treatments. Atmantan goes the extra mile to ensure that you’re every need is cared for, both physically and mentally. From one-to-one consultations to a finely designed timetable of physical and spiritual activities, this resort can truly act as the starting point for which to change your lifestyle.
Looking for something different?
As you dart between major tourist destinations the drive can often become a chore, so why not plan some stop offs between cities? Neemrana Fort Palace is a perfect detour between Delhi and Jaipur. Providing an unforgettable foray into Rajasthani history, this 15th century fort is uniquely styled to merge culture and luxury. Built in tiers around the original fort site it is easy to lose yourself as you explore the sprawling resort; getting lost amongst the ruins. Spend a night here on route, be sure to give yourself time to enjoy the view from the pool and experience the traditional dining.