Jungle & Seaside Retreats
The different brands collectively known as Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces have dramatically tweaked hotel choices in India and abroad since their first, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Bombay, opened in 1903. These brands have also made their way to some of India’s most popular leisure destinations, including Kerala and Goa. Besides the luxury Taj properties, for instance, there’sTaj Exotica, which focuses on resort-and-spa experiences; Taj Exotica Goa overlooks the Arabian Sea and offers plenty of outdoor activities in the form of cycling and boating, an activity center for kids and an Ayurveda-focused Jiva Spa.
There’s also the Taj Safaris line, a joint venture with andBeyond that features rustic-luxe wildlife lodges in national parks. Mahua Kothi, in Bandhavgarh National Park, features kutiyas (village-style huts) with private courtyards, yoga amenities and bikes for exploring one’s surroundings. Guests will enjoy dinners al fresco and plenty of wildlife viewing on twice-daily 4×4 vehicle safaris, and the occasional elephant safari should one prefer.
Goa is also home to the small but charming Fort Tiracol Heritage Hotel, a former fortress of just seven rooms—named after each day of the week—that takes full advantage of its Portuguese heritage and spectacular views of the Arabian Sea. Embellished with warm colors, roomy sundecks and an enchanting courtyard, this inspiring getaway also lets guests use its speedboat to explore their surroundings.
Park Hotels, which has made a mark in India with boutique properties in some of its most important cities, ventures out to Kerala’s backwaters with The Park on Vembanad Lake. This tiny place of just 10 rooms is big on personality, with a pillow menu, elegant furnishings and an entertainment deck for special performances. Each stay here comes with a complimentary massage and a half-day rice boat cruise on the backwaters. In the future for Park Hotels: properties in Jaipur, Kolkata, Pune and Kochi.
Some of the state of Kerala’s most extravagant and beautiful stays are courtesy of KTDC Hotels & Resorts. Bolgatty Island Resort in Kochi has rooms and lakefront cottages plus an Ayurvedic center, with boating and sightseeing tours available; Lake Palace Thekkady, meanwhile, offers a completely different experience in a jungle-like setting. Located on an island in the middle of Periyar Lake, inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve, this was the summer palace of the King of Travancore. It features just six rooms adorned with antique furnishings and innumerable possibilities to spot elephants, bison, deer and maybe tigers, leopards and bears. Another beautiful choice: Tea County in Munnar, where quaint cottages with amazing views and surrounded by green allow for days of scenic trekking, trout fishing or cycling along mountain trails. Not far are Eravikulam National Park and Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Visitors heading much farther north will also be thrilled by the majestic stays in store. In the quiet foothills of the Himalayas they’ll find Ananda in the Himalayas, a spa retreat for those seeking to focus and re-energize. This quiet spot, the former residence of the Maharajah of Tehri-Garhwal, is world-renowned for its complete spa program, customized for each guest and offering full guidance on yoga, Ayurveda, cuisine and all other aspects that work together toward optimal mind-body health. Beautiful rooms and suites come equipped with Kurta pajamas that can be worn during one’s stay, a selection of aromatic baths and a pillow menu for the utmost comfort. To reconnect with nature, guests can go on trekking excursions or visit Rajaji and Chilla National Park for elephant safaris.
Treasures of Rajasthan
Most of those dreamlike hotel-palaces we’ve heard about are located within Rajasthan. The state’s capital is Jaipur, otherwise known as the Pink City and home to a few regal properties that rival one’s imagination. There’s The Oberoi Rajvilas, a multiple award winner, featuring villas with private pools and luxury tents with teak floors and patios, all ensconced within 32 acres of landscaped gardens. Picture four-poster beds, claw-footed bathtubs, and cozy reading areas by the windows, all wrapped up in the ambiance of another era.
Another stunner here is the Rambagh Palace. This Taj hotel dates back to 1835 and began as a much smaller pavilion for Maharani Chandrawatji’s favorite handmaiden long before it became the eventual home of the Maharajah of Jaipur. Its gardens are certainly fit for royalty and welcome a variety of bird life, including peacocks, as well as nightly performances from folk dancers and musicians. Inside, life-sized portraits of local royals, the most intricate of craftsmanship and Rajasthani artwork can’t help but impress even the most jaded of travelers.
In Jodhpur, known for its blue houses, forts and temples, another Taj property shares living space with local royals. Built for the grandfather of the present Maharajah, the Umaid Bhawan Palaceis a sandstone beauty and one of the world’s largest residences, combining both Eastern- and Western-style architectural motifs for incredible effect.
Jodhpur is also home to WelcomHeritage Bal Samand Lake Palace, which is built in red sandstone and overlooks Balsamand Lake. Constructed following the Rajput style, its structure was first conceived as the summer home of the local Maharajas; today, terraced gardens and 10 suites designed following local Old World touches embrace visitors looking for an indigenous experience. Onsite activities include yoga and croquet, and there are plenty of easy-to-arrange offsite excursions like horse riding, birdwatching and buggy rides.
Stunning stays are also the norm in Udaipur, the City of Lakes. There’s The Leela Palace Kempinski Udaipur on the banks of Lake Pichola, with the Aravali Mountains standing tall on the other side. All elegantly appointed rooms and suites overlook the lake, with butler service at the ready. Guests here enjoy Rajasthani folk dances and history sessions, plus yoga, boat rides and cooking classes upon request.
The village of Delwara, just north of Udaipur, is home to the 18th century Devi Garh, a fort palace of just 39 suites built in local marble and the Devi Spa by L’Occitane. Streamlined accommodations bring modern features into a classical stay and have the unique distinction of being adorned in semi-precious stones. The Devi Garh Complex, which combines the Devi Garh and Palace suites, boasts a black marble swimming pool and celebrates the Hindu concept of the male and female energies of Shiv and Shakti.
Lake Pichola safeguards the Taj Lake Palace, built in the 18th century on a tiny island. Seemingly floating amid tranquil waters, this is an all-white marvel that offers incomparable views from its rooftop deck, cultural shows on the courtyard and impeccable rooms and suites with ‘round-the-clock butler service and both pillow and quilt menus. Guests can embark on a sunset cruise or take a heritage walk, bubbly in hand, with a royal escort.
As India continues to boom, more international brands are looking to move in or expand. Starwood will add Aloft and Four Points by Sheraton properties and debut the W brand in Mumbai, Goa and New Delhi. St. Regis, meanwhile, will make its first foray into the country with the St. Regis Noida, Delhi in 2016. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is set to open its first Indian hotel in Bengaluru this year, while Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts will soon debut the Shangri-La Hotel, Mumbai. And lebua Hotels & Resorts, already famous thanks to lauded hotels in Thailand and New Zealand, has just moved in with the lebua New Delhi.
For more information on accommodations in India, visit fhrai.com.