1 The Spice Route, Delhi
1 The Spice Route, Delhi
This dramatic looking restaurant in central Delhi's legendary and fairly newly refurbished Imperial Hotel offers a sophisticated blend of southern Asian flavours and styles. The carved, coffered and columned décor was inspired by the temples of Thailand, India and Indonesia (Bangkok, Guruvayur and Borobudur respectively). In general, the effect works well, although in a few corners the lighting is a little too subtle. Make for a central, well-lit table in order to ponder the extensive and intriguing menu. This features some of the best dishes of a region stretching all the way from Bali to Gujurat. The slick and attentive waiters will inform you that the Spice Route is particularly renowned for its Sri Lankan curries and Keralan dishes, the likes of chammeen thoren, or spicy prawns, and vellayapam, pancakes made with rice and coconut.
The Spice Route is at The Imperial Hotel, Janpath, New Delhi 110001 (00 91 11 2 334 1234; www.theimperialindia.com). Expect to pay upwards of R1,250 (£15) for dinner. Booking advised.
2 The Park Hotel, Bangalore
It is entirely apposite that India's most happening city contains what is probably the country's most vibrant hotel. A sense of energy and urban edginess fills the Park Bangalore, a funky looking white box of a building in the heart of the fashion and business district. It opened five years ago, its interior colourfully designed by Sir Terence Conran's Conran & Partners. Leather-lined lifts shoot you up to aqua-blue, lime, purple and red floors where the 109 bedrooms are decked out in silk, solid wood and more leather. A spa - the Aquazone - is right underneath the temperature-controlled outdoor lap pool. And there's a very cool bar, all pink neon, beanbags and mirrors, as well as a discreetly stylish Italian restaurant. Of the five Park boutique hotels (the others are in Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai and Vishakhapatnam), this one has perhaps the greatest buzz and it has contributed significantly in establishing hotelier Priya Paul as one of today's leading businesswomen in India.
The Park Bangalore, 14/7 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Bangalore 560042 (00 91 80 2559 4666; www.theparkhotels.com) is about a 15-minute drive from the airport. Doubles cost from R7,840 (£93), including buffet breakfast.
3 Ananda in the Himalayas
Lying around in mud is a supremely stylish occupation at this former palace, voted the world's best spa in the Condé Nast Traveller Readers' Spa Awards. About 80 treatments - from Swedish massage to ancient Indian honey and sandalwood rub - are offered in therapy rooms with a view: many overlook the Ganges or offer stunning panoramas of the northern mountains of Uttar Pradesh. Once the residence of the Maharajah of Tehri-Garhwal, Ananda is a 75-room hotel dedicated to the mind and body. Yoga, as well as physical and spiritual fitness training, is offered. An eco-friendly golf course and a theatre are in the grounds.
Ananda in the Himalayas, The Palace Estate, Narendra Nagar, Tehri-Garhwal, Uttaranchal 249175 (00 91 1378 227 500; www.anandaspa.com) offers double rooms from US$390 (£203). A three-night yoga holiday costs from $1,825 (£950), based on two sharing, while a seven-night ayurvedic rejuvenation package starts at $4,875 (£2,535) for two.
4 Trishna, Bombay
In a city where glamour has become a competitive art form, head for the small (and generally crowded) seafood restaurant Trishna to watch the show. Set in the north of the downtown Colaba area, Trishna is where wannabe Bollywood stars rub shoulders with serious big-screen idols and where you can expect to see the likes of Rakshanda Khan (Mallika in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin) sampling beautifully prepared squid. When you've stopped staring at the clientele, you'll realise that the décor is a tad tacky and that the service could be slicker, yet these slight faults are rapidly overlooked once you get down to the food. The fish is simply superb. Signature dishes include butter garlic king crab and tiger prawns, while the pomfret with green masala is exquisite.
Trishna, 7 Rope Walk Lane (next to Commerce Building Fort), Bombay 400023 (00 91 22 267 2176). Expect to pay R300-R700 (£3.60-£8.30) for most main courses, although lobster dishes are more expensive. Booking essential.
5 Hauz Khas Village, Delhi
Even if you don't want to buy a designer sari or a shalwar kameez of the finest cotton, it's fun to see where Delhi's hip crowd hangs out. Set close to Balluchi deer park, about 12km southwest of central New Delhi, Hauz Khas Village contains an array of bo-ho chic boutiques and galleries. It has a slightly ramshackle atmosphere, which adds to the charm. Prices can be high - around R1,500 (£18) for a silk blouse is considerably more than the going rate. Apart from fashion stores such as Samridh (at 24/1) and Kilol (upstairs at 31), there are art and craft shops (Art Bunker at 24/2 and Cottage of Arts and Jewels at 50) and restaurants. The popular Village Bistro is at 12 Hauz Khas, with the Top of the Village restaurant above it. Hauz Khas means royal tank, or reservoir, and the original settlement here grew up around an early 14th century reservoir. In a park beyond the shops are several ancient and impressive ruins you can explore (although some are currently being restored) or simply sit and gaze at, your attention from time to time diverted by chipmunks and bright green parakeets darting among the old stone.
At the Village Bistro (00 91 11 2685 3857) expect to pay around R650 (£7.75) for a meal, and at the Top of the Village (same number) R550 (£6.60).
6 Blue Ginger, Bangalore
India's booming IT city is rapidly becoming a gourmet destination with an impressive gastronomic range: Chinese, French, Italian, to say nothing of the southern Indian restaurants. But the place that really draws the smart set is Blue Ginger in the Taj West End hotel. Occasionally hosting fashion shows, it's a spectacular restaurant, with mood lighting, fire torches, teak floors and a waterfall. The food is sensational. Dishes, looking like works of art, are based on Vietnamese cuisine. Starters include scallops with garlic pepper oyster sauce; mains are the likes of king prawns in tamarind sauce or duck roasted in five spices.
Blue Ginger is at The Taj West End, Race Course Road, Bangalore 560001 (00 91 80 5660 5660; www.tajhotels.com). Expect to pay R2,000 (£24) or more per person for dinner. Book.
7 Trinity, Fort Cochin
Set in the former European sector of Kerala's colourful harbour city, this new villa is an offshoot of Cochin's fabulous Malabar House boutique hotel. Trinity is an almost equally stunning blend of ancient and modern. Antiques are juxtaposed with contemporary art in minimalist-chic rooms. There are unexpected skylights, cantilevered mezzanines and open, airy bathrooms. The rambling building was once an office of the Dutch East India company. It contains one of Cochin's finest shops on the ground floor, with the rest of the space given over to Trinity. Three suites sleep six people in total, and the villa can be rented in entirety or per room. There is a small swimming pool, and guests can also use the nearby Malabar House facilities (spa, pool, wonderful restaurant). Just a short walk away are the canals, spice markets and galleries of this absorbing old town.
Trinity costs from £174 a person, based on two sharing, for two nights' b&b in the Red Suite through Colours of India (020-8343 3446; www.colours-of-india.co.uk). Colours of India also features Trinity in its 14-night Hilltops and Hideaways itinerary to Kerala, which costs from £2,405 per person including flights, transfers and b&b.
8 Hotel de L'Orient, Pondicherry
For all Pondicherry's appealing if faded elegance, not that many tourists venture to the former capital of French India on the Coromandel Coast. Yet savvy travellers beat a path to the Hotel de L'Orient here. This boutique hotel is part of the wonderful (and surprisingly little known) Neemrana Hotels group, which provides atmospheric accommodation in unique properties at good value. Although the 18th-century mansion experienced a prosaic period as the French Department of Education, and subsequently fell into semi-dereliction, the building has been sympathetically converted into a hotel that oozes nostalgic glamour. Furnished with antiques and four-poster beds, each of its 14 bedrooms has been allowed to retain individual character. Downstairs, old-fashioned punkahs stir the air, wafting in from an internal courtyard where a chic little restaurant serves excellent Creole cuisine.
Hotel de L'Orient, 17 Rue Romain Rolland, Pondicherry 605001 (00 91 413 234 067; www.neemranahotels.com). Double rooms start at R2,000 (£24) per night including "bed tea" (delivered to your room in the morning) and evening tea, but not breakfast, which costs R150 (£1.80). Expect to pay around R350 (£4.20) for other meals.
9 The Oberoi arcade, Mumbai
From the silks and silver sold around Colaba Causeway to the handicrafts offered at the Central Cottage Industries Emporium on Chatrapati Shivaji Marg, retail therapy is a serious occupation in Bombay. However, the high temperatures and terrible traffic are aggravating factors. It's no wonder, then, that the Bombay ladies who lunch make for the air-conditioned comforts of the Oberoi's shopping arcade towards the south of the city. There they can enjoy a good choice of cafés and restaurants and, given enough stamina, browse around 250 or so stores. Versace, Prada, Gucci - all the top names are here, with the local outlets often offering discount prices. Cheemo and Jolly are particularly good for leather handbags and shoes, while tiny, classy Christina is a great place for silk blouses and dupattas (long, thin scarves). Elsewhere, pashminas, hand-spun textiles, soft cottons, jewellery and sequinned embroidery are reasonably priced, given the five-star environment.
The Oberoi shopping arcade is at Nariman Point, Bombay 400021, just off Marine Drive. For information call The Oberoi Hotel (00 91 22 563 25757; www.oberoihotels.com).
10 Ahilya Fort, Maheshwar
You sink into well-cushioned sofas on shady verandahs; sit up in battlements to watch river life unfolding below you; take boat trips at sunset, cocktail in hand; and dine outside under neem trees or on one of the many terraces. Perched above the sacred Narmada River, 250-year-old Ahilya Fort is a fascinating, romantic haven set in a little explored part of India. There's a royal touch, too: this is the home of Prince Shivaji Rao Holkar, son of the last Maharajah of Indore. He acts as host and chef for up to 22 guests who stay in wonderfully appointed rooms or magnificent tents. The surrounding area offers the deserted city of Mandu and the island temple of Omkareshwar, while in Maheshwar, are some of the country's most beautiful ghats, as well as the famous weaving workshops which produce fabulous textiles - sponsored by the Holkar family.
Ahilya Fort, Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh 451224 (00 91 11 5155 1575: www.ahilyafort.com) offers doubles from US$225 (£117) per person, based on two sharing. This is an all-inclusive price, covering all meals, drinks, massage, boat rides and more.Reuse content