Five of the Best: Hotels of the New India

From lakeside retreats to beach hideaways, check out India's new wave of hotels


By Chris Caldicott

The trickle down from India’s booming economy over the past decade is regenerating whole neighbourhoods, and sparking a cool new design aesthetic. Welcome to the hotels of the New India


Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg


Perched high in the lush, rain-forested hills of Coorg, famed for its coffee and spices, sits Vivanta by Taj Madikeri. Nothing quite prepares you for the spectacular view as you arrive, and this ground- breaking hotel has been carefully designed to embrace it to the max, clinging to the hillside and open to the elements with muted, grey, minimalist interiors that blend rather than fight with the scenery. The 63 villas are discreetly hidden in the rain forest with wrap- around glass walls, huge marble tubs and a roaring fire in the living room for chilly nights. Way down in the valley, a five minute stroll down a winding path, surrounded by rice paddy fields, the pool offers sanctuary from the heat of the day. Guided treks teach the secrets of the forest and reveal hidden ancient temples. Adrenalin junkies will enjoy the hair-raising, off-road, guided bike rides and zip wire rides above the dense tree canopy, and if pampering is more your thing, the enormous, 30,000 sq ft Jiva Spa ‘with a view’ offers sumptuous treatments blending ancient Ayurvedic traditions with contemporary therapies. Relieve tired muscles with Summardana deep tissue massage or smooth skin with a masala spice scrub. The extraordinary Gudda bath, a wood-fired, copper bath experience, in an outdoor pavilion, complete with massage, bodyscrub and ladlefuls of steaming hot water, is just too good to miss.


Vivanta by Taj Maderkeri, 1st Monnangeri, Galibeedu,

Karnataka, +91 8272665800,

Doubles from £80, B&B.

Getting there: Vivanta by Taj Maderkeri is a windy, three-hour drive from Mangalore airport. The hotel can advise on transfers



Neeleshwar Hermitage, Northern Kerala

Leave the crowds behind in southern Kerala and head with a handful of intrepid travellers to Neeleshwar Hermitage on the blissfully unpopulated sandy shores 250 miles north of Cochin but only 60 miles south of Mangalore airport. This is barefoot luxury at its best, its 18 cottages tucked away in a sleepy coconut grove with far-reaching views of the wild deserted coast beyond, all are simply but stylishly furnished with contemporary, locally made furniture. The luxurious indoor-outdoor bathroom is filled with 100% natural Ayurvedic products and the in-room iPod dock loaded with cool chill out tracks to match this serene resort. You can spot dolphins diving in the sea while reclining by the infinity pool and on long beach walks along the almost deserted beach, right outside the resort, watch gangs of seabirds swooping over the ocean. The sea is clear and calm enough for easy swimming near the shore and the beach safe enough for a short daylight stroll in a bikini. Doze in a comfy hammock in the dappled shade, take a a shirodhara hot oil treatment (£45) or meditation session in the Ayurvedic spa, feel the sand between your toes at the excellent seafood restaurant as you feast on Malabar crab curry and lobster and saffron broth, then while away the rest of the evening on your veranda with the sleep- inducing sounds of the sea.


Dist.Karagod, Northern Kerala, 671314 , +91 (0) 467 2287510,

Doubles from £140, including breakfast, bed tea, fresh fruit throughout the day, complimentary 45minute consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor and daily 45 minute shared yoga session.

Getting there: Neeleshwar Hermitage is an easy two-hour drive from Mangalore airport, 60 miles away and only three miles from Neeleshwar railway station.



Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

As you climb into the ornate horse and carriage to carry you from the gate house to the former home of the last Nizam of Hyderabad, perched 2000 feet above the city below, you know you have arrived somewhere truly special. A shower of rose petals confirms it as you enter the white Italian marble beauty Building started in 1884 and it understandably took nine years to complete this crazy blend of Renaissance, Baroque and Italianate architecture, which is packed to the rafters with Venetian chandeliers, frescoes, sweeping staircases and objets d’art. It is an absolute privilege to wander through the vast, immaculately restored rooms and marvel at the opulence of its colourful past. As a keen traveller, the Nizam brought back inspiration from wherever he went, and even recreated Windsor Castle’s library, ordered the same billiard table as Buckingham Palace and famously installed a dining table to seat 101 guests. Taj have skilfully managed to create a fantastical 60 room hotel from all this, rather than a museum piece, and at night, as melodic ragas drift through the columned corridors and the lights twinkle in the town below, it is impossible not to feel blessed.


Engine Bowli, Hyderabad, 500053 , + 91 040 6629 8585 Doubles from £199, room only

Getting there: Taj Falaknama Palace is a 45 minute drive from Hyderabad airport.



Lakshman Sagar, Pali District, Rajasthan


Tucked away in a rocky oasis, deep in the desert of Rajasthan, Lakshman Sagar is well and truly off the tourist trail near the village of Raipur in Pali District, a two and a half hour drive east of Jodhpur. The 19th century hunting lodge, on the shores of a dammed lake, is divided into male and female wings (now open to all) funked up by local designers with pink and powder blue, to create small pleasure palaces. They are full of hidden nooks and crannies where you can lounge and watch peacocks swooping over the lake below, and even rare blue bull taking a drink. The 12 cottages scattered around the lakeshore have been built with a Zero Kilometre (ie all local) design, using traditional methods to create ethnic-chic interiors fashioned from mud, stone and thatch. Mirror work cushions adorn the huge plinth bed and ethnic paraphernalia like tiffin tins and bangles from the bazaar fill brightly painted alcoves. The local village is a short walk away for a true insight into day-to-day Rajasthan life, or ride or ride on horseback ( arranged by request from a local stable) out into the desert; cool off later in the hotel’s huge, swimming pool cut out of the rock, before local herb hooch sundowners around the fire.

Raipur, District of Pali, Rajasthan, +91 1126 494531,

Doubles from £100, full board, inc local drinks

Getting there- Lakshman Sagar is a 2 ½ hour drive from Jodhpur airport


Vivanta By Taj Srinagar, Kashmir


After a long delay caused by 23 years of regional conflict, designer luxury has recently returned to the Vale of Kashmir, courtesy of Taj, who have just opened one of their contemporary cool Vivanta Hotels in the foothills of the Zabarwan Mountains, above Dal Lake. There are spectacular views from all the 48 rooms and public areas over the mirror-calm lake, towards the ancient city of Srinagar, a couple of miles away across Dal Lake. Luxuries like a gorgeous heated infinity pool, fabulous Kashmiri and Indian food and a good wine list, make this place is a magnet for the Bollywood stars and film crews who have started making movies again in the Pir Panjal Mountains, around the nearby ski resort of Gulmarg.

Dal View, Srinagar, Kralsangri, Brein,

Srinagar 191121, Jammu & Kashmir, +91 194 2461111 Doubles from £135, room only.

Getting there: a 45 minute drive from Srinagar airport

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