India is awash with dazzling hotels from glittering palaces to heritage havelis, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Luckily, our India expert, Louise Dean, just returned from India’s Golden Triangle route (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) adding on Jodhpur and Udaipur for an extra dose of magic. Here she divulges her favourite six properties all imbued with that sense of romance and splendour for which the country is so well known. Whether you want to channel the gilded glory of maharajas, Best Marigold Hotel, or even a bit of both, you won’t be disappointed. The best bit? Experts like Louise can weave an itinerary that’s finely tuned to your preferences. This is just a taste of what’s to come:
Best for atmosphere – Delhi
In the tangle of Old Delhi’s narrow streets, Haveli Dharampura feels like you’ve stumbled across something special. This family-run restored haveli might be 200 years old (it’s UNESCO accredited for cultural heritage conservation) but there’s a modern edge to its historical arches and courtyards. In many ways, the rooms felt more luxurious than some of the 5-star hotels in Delhi with ornate wallpaper and beautiful inlay work. Aside from fabulous architecture, there’s bags of local charm. From the rooftop you can watch kite flying and take in panoramas of the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. The balconies then transform into intimate performance spaces where colourfully dressed kathak dancers cut graceful moves to the sounds of traditional music. You can gaze up at them from the courtyard below while dining on plates of addictive papri chaat – cripsy pastry and potatoes layered with yoghurt and sweet, sticky tamarind – and melt-in- your-mouth kebabs.
Good for: those who are well-travelled and not afraid to dive into the culture
Avoid if: you need a swimming pool (although there are talks about a spa on the horizon)
Mediterranean vibes – Jodhpur
A vision of pink sandstone, minimalist design and beautiful balconies that open up to the looming Mehrangargh Fort, RAAS Jodhpur ticks every box. For immersion into culture, the location couldn’t be better. You’re right in the thick of its old labyrinthian lanes yet through the door, you’re transported to an oasis of calm. Gauze curtains, a deliciously blue swimming pool and background modern music give it a Spanish beach club feel. Saying this, it hasn’t lost its traditional fabric (it was originally an 18th-century haveli) from lattice screens to a 16th -century stepwell right outside where people take respite from the heat. Plus, the food is delicious – I had a lifechanging risotto.
Good for: people who want a hip hotel yet with an injection of culture
Avoid if: you want tradition to a T
Best for bragging rights – Jodhpur
On the outskirts of Jodhpur, Umaid Bhawan Palace is a living, breathing palace where the royal family still live. Even the arrival was extravagant with champagne, a fanfare of trumpets and a shower of rose petals which felt befitting of the epic structure. Despite the immensity, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a big, shiny hotel though. Everything branches off from the lofty Art-Deco designed lobby and the huge and beautifully designed rooms to the divine spa with candles everywhere and wafting aroma – a godsend after hours on my feet. You can expect nothing less than pampering Taj service – the members of staff were so accommodating. Even our laundry was presented in a big velour box!
Good for: people who want to escape the maddening crowd and indulge in old-world opulence
Avoid if: you want to be within walking distance of Jodhpur’s sights
True escapism – Udaipur
Ethereal, glamorous, palatial are all words that come to mind when I think about The Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur. Right on the water overlooking the city, it’s an oasis from the madness with gorgeous landscaped gardens, swimming pools that seemingly reflect the beauty of the lake and the loveliest of outdoor restaurants where you could spend all day. Semi-private pool rooms book up quickly for their stunning views which you can absorb as you sunbathe. But it’s more about the vibe than the wonderful rooms. The smiley staff members couldn’t do enough for us and the service was faultless. The bar would make delicious berry compotes from the herb garden which they would infuse in cocktails. They also suggest various interesting local activities.
Good for: Oberoi fans – this is the crowning glory – and anyone after heightened pampering
Avoid if: you need larger swimming pools, spas and facilities
Best Marigold Hotel vibes – Jaipur
Samode Haveli in Jaipur was originally home to an aristocratic family and has managed to retain that tasteful regal style; hand painted murals, mosaic flooring and a leafy courtyard, the epicentre for candle-lit soirees. Like many old havelis, windows are limited, and balconies often shaded but the lovely rolltop baths and double vanity sinks make up for it. Facilities include a gym and the prettiest pool (the highlight) with comfortable day loungers. The breakfast buffet served everything you could imagine – pancakes, pastries, muesli, Indian curries, even champagne on tap! The magic happens at dusk when everyone gathers for drinks at the rooftop bar for the most vivid sunsets over Jaipur’s tangle of streets and buildings.
Good for: down-to-earth city slickers
Avoid if: you’re thing is light-filled rooms
Best for authenticity – Jaipur
For something a little different, nothing throws you into the culture more than a homestay. In a quieter residential area next to a leafy park, Ikaki Niwas in Jaipur offers 14 charming rooms, a small outdoor pool and a huge rooftop terrace where you can dine with views over the city canopy. When you arrive, you’re welcomed into the family – grandparents, siblings and children – who’ve created an unmatched positive vibe. They also have an organic farm on the outskirts of the city and have been known for their delicious home cooking. We learnt how to make pakoras and various curries on the roof under the glow of festooned lights. Sadly we couldn’t stay but if you’re someone with a sense of adventure (and an appetite) this could be just the tonic.
Good for: those keen to immerse themselves in the culture
Avoid if: you need facilities and elevated service
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Malcolm, who's travelled extensively in your chosen destination. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - guides who can give you genuine insights into local life and culture, chefs who can teach you how to rustle up the local cuisine and safari rangers who'll ensure you'll spot the best wildlife.
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