Room Service: Hilton Shillim, India

A hilltop escape with that healing feeling

Our driver weaved expertly through the traffic – gaudily painted buses, auto-rickshaws piled high with boxes, mopeds carrying entire families, sacred cows. Finally, we left the cacophony of honking horns behind us and were passing through sleepy villages where women in vivid red, orange and pink saris stood out against the emerald-green, post-monsoon landscape.

A few hours, and a world away from the mega city of Mumbai, Hilton's first leisure hotel in India is an all-villa retreat in the bucolic setting of the Western Ghats, a spiny mountain range cloaked in evergreen forest and surrounded by rice fields and bamboo plantations.

The De Souza family has been acquiring uninhabited land in the historic Maval area for years and now the estate spans 3,500 acres. They had an ambitious vision for a hotel with an emphasis on wellbeing and relaxation, that would also help to preserve the area's ecological and cultural heritage via the Shillim Institute, which offers workshops, courses and discussions as well as cultural exchanges and conservation programmes. However, with no experience of hospitality, they partnered with Hilton to realise their vision.

Banish thoughts of a bland business hotel; the 99 contemporary villas spread across the Spa Zone and Lifestyle Zone were built from local stone and designed to sit comfortably in the environment. There's no ostentation, just clean lines, neutral tones, space and seclusion. No trees were felled during construction, in fact thousands of endemic trees and shrubs were planted to attract hundreds of local bird species.

Shillim's watchwords are conserve, sustain, heal and enjoy. Electronic buggies are available to ferry you back and forth across the hotel's 320 acres. The hub is the Clubhouse, decked out in lots of dark wood with quirky light fittings. It's home to the library-lounge, the indoor-outdoor Terrazzo restaurant, the Valley Bar and The Reserve, which will be India's largest wine cellar when it's fully stocked.

The menus allow you to indulge in rich curries or Mediterranean-Asian fusion dishes, or be health-conscious with wheatgrass shots, vegetables and herbs plucked from the organic farm garden and local produce tailored to your own Ayurvedic dosha at the Spa Zone's Green Table. Cocktails strike a happy balance, such as the detoxing cucumber ginger martini.

In the vast Spa Zone there are 17 therapy rooms and a list of around 150 treatments that tick off massages, scrubs, wraps and facials, as well as Ayurveda, acupressure, yoga and meditation and longer courses with visiting masters skilled in pranic healing and hypnotherapy.

You can start the day with a class at the open-sided yoga pavilion and end it staring into the flickering flame of a candle in the estate's contemporary take on a meditation cave. Sweat it out in the steam room, sauna and hot tub or cool off in the huge swimming pool. For the active, there's biking, riding and trekking.

Early one morning, I trekked up to Shillim Peak, the estate's highest point, arriving on top of its grassy plateau to find breakfast laid out with a background of show-stopping views.

Location

It's a three-hour drive south-east from Mumbai, if you avoid the rush-hour. Once you pass Lonavala, a hill station on the road to Pune, the road becomes incrementally more scenic until you're in the midst of the northern reaches of the Western Ghats. You don't have to leave the estate to go mountain biking, hiking, horse riding, paragliding or fishing in the lake, and ancient hilltop forts and Buddhist caves are a short drive away.

The estate has a helipad for jet-set arrivals and sea plane transfers – landing on Lake Pavna, within the estate – are in the pipeline, which will cut the journey time to under an hour.

Comfort

There are 99 spacious villas: Spa Pool Villas, Spa Villas, Forest View Villas and Valley View Villas. They all come with private decks or balconies, spa treatment areas and floor-to-ceiling windows. My Spa Pool Villa was a picture of exposed rough stone walls, polished stone floors, white ceilings and dark-wood furniture. Along with all the hi-tech kit – a 42-inch TV, iPod dock and espresso machine – the bed was four-poster, the living room's contemporary furniture was covered in tactile materials and billowing white curtains lined the windows. The sleek, grey slate bathroom's made-for-sharing bath and open shower looked out over a garden complete with loungers, an alfresco shower, and a heated pool where I tried out Watsu, a touchy-feely, water-based Shiatsu.

Travel Essentials

Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat Pawana Nagar Taluka Maval, Pune, Maharashtra, India (00 91 21 14712 468; shillimretreatandspa.hilton.com).

Rooms ****

Value ****

Service ****

Villas start at US$400 (£267), with breakfast.

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen