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Five Best: Indian heritage hotels

Leave the backpack at home - these grand retreats are pure luxury

The Writers' Bungalow, Uttaranchal

The Writers' Bungalow is one of two 19th-century bungalows built in Ramgarh - in the foothills of the Himalayas - for British and Indian officers. Since then, the building has harboured numerous Indian literary stars, including the Nobel Prize-winning Rabindranath Tagore. It is also popular with foodies, since this is the heart of the Kumaon region, known for its apricots, plums, peaches, pears and apples (and its fantastic marmalade). If you don't want to eat, or to write, it's also great walking territory.

Ramgarh Bungalows, Kumaon Hills, Nainital District, Uttaranchal (00 91 11 2435 6145; www.neemranahotels.com). Doubles in The Writers' Bungalow start at 2,625 rupees (£31), including morning tea but not breakfast.

The Malabar House, Kerala

Grande dame of Keralan renovation projects, The Malabar House is an 18th-century Dutch colonial house that was transformed into a 17-room hotel a decade ago. It's decorated in lovely spicy colours, with antiques and art collected by its German owner, but the best thing is the welcome. I checked in with an upset stomach and, without asking, was brought coconut water (it worked!).

The Malabar House, 1/268 Parade Road, Cochin, Kerala (00 91 48 4221 6666; www.malabarhouse.com). Doubles start at €240 (£171), including breakfast.

Judge's Court, Himachal Pradesh

The Indian answer to a diminutive Scottish castle, this fairy-tale building sits 2,000ft up, surrounded by orchards, in the Kangra Valley. Built in 1918 for Justice Sir Jai Lal, it was nicknamed "the Judge's Court", and the name stuck. Now carefully restored to provide modern plumbing while preserving its ancient character, the result is more homely than you might expect. Guests can stay in one of 10 rooms in the main house, or rent a 300-year-old cottage within its grounds. Both are just outside Pragpur, a 16th-century village that was officially classified as a heritage zone in 1997.

Judge's Court, Pragpur, Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh (00 91 19 7024 5035; www.welcomheritagehotels.com). Doubles start at 3,190 rupees (£38), room only.

Chettinadu Mansion, Tamil Nadu

Built by a wealthy Chettiar trader between 1902 and 1912, this huge mansion - extending over 40,000 square feet - may boast 126 rooms, but only seven of them are given over to paying guests. Like the rest of the property, with its succession of quiet, pillared courtyards and grand halls, the rooms boast their fair share of Burmese teak and Italian marble. Staying at Chettinadu is more like being in a stately home than in a hotel: quirky rather than conventional.

Chettinadu Mansion, SARM House, TKR Street, Kanadukathan, near Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu (00 91 48 4232 1518; www.chettinadumansion.com) Doubles start at 4,400 rupees (£52), room only.

Taj Lake Palace Hotel, Rajasthan

Of all the Taj Group heritage properties in India, this white-marble wedding cake in Udaipur, built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II, is the most extraordinary. Not because of its decadently furnished suites, or its elaborate spa, but because of its setting. The hotel spreads across a four-acre island in Udaipur's Lake Pichola but, from a distance, appears to float on the water (especially this year, as the monsoon has provided plenty of water). You'd have to have a heart of stone not to find this place romantic.

Lake Palace Hotel, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan (00800 4588 1825; www.tajhotels.com). Doubles start at US$715 (£397), including breakfast.