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.


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.


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;

Rooms ****

Value ****

Service ****

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


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power