Top 5 hotels in India
These are my top 5 hotels in India. I have stayed in all of them, and no considerations of sponsorship, price or relationship has influenced my decisions to recommend them. I look for places that combine personality, charm, comfort and integrity. Rooms must be clean, staff must be friendly and the hotels have to offer a little something special — such as extreme helpfulness or impeccable service — to make it on the list. Part two, favourite hotels 6-10, coming soon.
1. The Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling
The Windamere Hotel site. It’s probably the most expensive hotel on the list, and I stayed there as a guest of IndiaTourism, which might cause you to doubt my credibility for recommending it — but I genuinely LOVE this hotel. It’s number one for a reason: it’s my favourite hotel in the world. No, it is not the newest or the sleekest, but the Windamere is a very special place. It’s a near-perfect combination of stunning location, English-cottage-inspired coziness and impeccable service. Originally a home for bachelor tea planters out from England to make their fortune in India in the 19th century, it was turned into a hotel after World War II.
The title of a book about the Windamere sums it up: Bliss in a swirling haze. The Raj-era hotel’s various buildings wind around the top of Darjeeling’s central peak, Observatory Hill. On clear days, hotel guests are afforded panoramic views of the ramshackle city below, the verdant, rolling tea gardens in the middle distance and the far-off, white-peaked Himalayan mountain range. But on many days, the hotel is socked-in by mist and haze, giving it a romantic, other-world ambiance. There is nothing to do but sink into over-stuffed chintz-covered sofas and take tea in one of the drawing rooms, in front of the fire, or on one of the well-placed terraces. White-gloved waiters to serve four–course meals at three set times per day in the dining room; and friendly, professional staff serve the Windamere’s own blend of Darjeeling tea in the drawing room at four in the afternoon; light coal fires in the heritage rooms at dusk; place hot water bottles in the beds during dinner; and return carefully folded laundry in silk embroidered cases.
Here’s my article, Darjeeling: Steeped in stories, with more pictures of the hotel.
2. Hotel Ganges View, Varanasi
Hotel Ganges View site. The prices have sky-rocketed and it’s almost impossible to book — it’s always full — but the Hotel Ganges View is a very special place. For one thing, the location is ideal. The hotel is in Assi Ghat, which is the very first (or last) of the many ghats that line the river for a full six kilometres. It is at the edge of the action, close enough to get to, but far enough away from the crowds, the aarti, the cremation ghats and the central bazaar to be relatively peaceful. Varanasi is an intense place, so being able to find some breathing room is essential. The hotel itself is in what appears to be a former mansion. All the guests eat together in the beautifully appointed living / dining room, and the owner — who I never met — is very culturally minded: he often holds music sessions in the hotel. Upstairs, there are a series of terraces with stunning views along the scythe of the ghats and the sunset across the river. I would not want to stay anywhere else in Varanasi, and I was willing to splurge when I was there in 2009 and go well over my budget for my room. I wrote about my room at the Hotel Ganges View on my old blog at Travelblog.org.
3. Casa Cottage, Bangalore
Casa Cottage site. Jai’adore this cozy cottage in Bangalore! I stayed there as a guest of Benjamine and Bhushan when I was researching my cover story on Bangalore for Discover India magazine (there’s a PDF of this article on my About Mariellen page). This hotel is not on the list because of my complimentary stay: Bangalore is another one of those crazy-busy Indian cities, but then you get into a back lane in an old residential neighbourhood, and behind the gates of Casa Cottage, and aaahhhhh, peace! About 10 or 12 lovely rooms in a charming heritage house sit behind a front lawn and casual open-air cafe. It is honestly like staying with friends. In fact, Benjamine has a way of making friends with just about everyone. She is a very warm, helpful and hard-working woman, originally from France. I wrote about Casa Cottage in my blog A garden oasis in hectic Bangalore.
4. Jas Vilas, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Jas Vilas is an oasis in Jaipur. A wide expanse of lawn out front, and rooms ranged around a cool blue swimming pool, give the Jas Vilas a feeling of luxury and spaciousness. It manages to find the sweet spot between elegance and comfort, something not easy to do. (It’s the way I try to dress, actually, so I know how hard it is …) Plus, it is owned and operated by a charming couple who know everyone, and everything about Jaipur. It is another one of my splurge places as their prices have gone way up, too. But you could spend an entire day there, and even though it’s a small place, you would not feel the need to leave. I wrote about Jas Vilas, and my first trip to Jaipur, on my old blog on Travel.blog.org
5. Inn Seventh Heaven, Pushkar, Rajasthan
Whenever I think of Inn Seventh Heaven, I think of relaxing on the rooftop restaurant, swinging on one of the Rajasthani-style chair swings, staring out at the view of the hills surrounding the small town of Pushkar and enjoying the friendly hospitality and tasty food. I stayed on that rooftop for about 10 days in March 2009, when I was recovering from heart ache, and I grew very attached to the place, and the staff. I am also very fond of the owner Anoop, and his family. It’s another one of those places that passes the I-could-stay-here-all-day-and-not-feel-the-need-to-go-anywhere test. These are my favourite kinds of places: Small and intimate, but interesting and diverse enough to hold your attention. The Inn was a grand haveli in a Pushkar back street until Anoop took it over and made it what it is today. The rooms are in the traditional Rajashtani style, on about four floors, all facing an inner courtyard. On the ground floor is a small boutique, an internet cafe and a lovely fountain that attracts small song birds. On the roof is the Sixth Sense restaurant — the best place to eat and chill out in Pushkar. Service is slow, but who cares? I wrote about Pushkar and Inn Seventh Heaven on my old travel blog at Travelblog.org.
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