Coming in at first place is the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai. If the English dictionary had one picture to describe the word sophistication, The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai would be upfront and center. Few hotels, are there in the world, that really hit the nail on the head. The George V in Paris, The St. Regis in New York, the Peninsula Hong Kong all have it down, and now that I have stayed in the Taj Mumbai, I realize why it has stood the test of time. From the moment you step in, you feel that you are in a sophisticated European home. It is not until you leave the front door that you realize where you really are… India. The restaurants are fabulous, the service is impeccable and the decor is wonderful.Eat at the Arabic restaurant on the top floor of the Tower wing. It has amazing views and unbelievable Middle Eastern food, which is my favorite. Who knew you had to go to India for good Persian cuisine? You must stay in the Palace Heritage wing, the original building, to really experience it the right way. I give this hotel an A plus. Other great hotels in the city include the beautifully restored Oberoi, Mumbai, with great Italian and Indian food, as well as the Four Seasons with its magnificent rooftop bar.
Coming in at second place is the The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur. The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur can only be described with one word… Crazy! I wish I had a more eloquent way of putting it, but this hotel is bananas! It is like Hotel du Cap on steroids. Aside from La Mamounia, I don’t think I have ever stayed in a more opulent property. The money spent on building this place is unfathomable and it is in one of the prettiest settings I have ever seen. I give this hotel two thumbs up! This property really is a utopia and will surprise even the biggest hotel snobs. Check out the rooms facing the lake with their private plunge pools.
Tied at number two is the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur. I have never seen anything like this in my life. Built in the art deco style, this orating twenties art deco palace is as magnificent as the Oberoi Udaivilas, except of a different vintage. Even more so than the Rambagh Palace, this hotel is more impressive than some of the palaces I have seen in Vienna and the Loire Valley. Unmistakably, this is one of the finest pieces of architecture I have ever seen. If you are a fan of Art Deco, trust me, you will go crazy. There is nothing in any city I have ever seen like this. If you were to reproduce this structure today, it would cost three billion dollars. Two thumbs up!!!
At number three is the Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur. There is nothing normal about the Taj Lake Palace. I love hotels that are unique and have something that other hotels can’t offer. This is not just a hotel alongside a lake, but rather it is a floating palace in the middle of a man-made lake. Built as a palace for the Royal Family, the property has functioned as a floating pool for decades. I learned of the hotel originally when i watched the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy. The Taj Lake Palace was Octopussy’s home. The hotel feels like a luxurious villa out of a seventies or eighties Bond movie, and has that charm of yesteryear. I love everything about this hotel and all that it has to offer. The view out to the water is every bit as magnificent as the Shangri-la Resort in Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman, one of my favorite hotels in the Middle East.
At number four is The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore. By far the best service I have ever had in a hotel was at The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore. The hotel is made up of twenty five luxury tents and the property holds a maximum occupancy of 50 people at one time. Every single person in the hotel knows your name and it feels like there are ten people attending to you always. The general manager of the property, Ratna Malhotra, in my opinion, is what makes this property run so smoothly. She runs the show there and she is more like a major duomo running a house. That property is her baby and you can tell no one could do her job like her.
Tied at number four is The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur. Contrary to the Taj Rambagh Palace, The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur is like a luxurious villa rather than a palace. It is everything the Taj is not. Where the Taj is grand and opulent, The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur is intimate and understated. The service is impeccable and the grounds are amongst the most beautiful I have ever seen. Aside from The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore, this is amongst the best service i have ever had in a hotel. Note: Make sure you opt to take the horse drawn carriage to your room. It really is a great way to start off your trip. Also check out all the peacocks on the property and the two in house elephants that will take you around the grounds!
At number five is one of the most beautiful examples of contemporary architecture I have ever seen. The Aman, New Delhi is striking! The hotel which will be rebranded as the Lodhi in February, has some of the best food I have ever eaten and some of the most unique rooms I have ever seen. My room which was a kind of junior suite had a heated pool on the terrace! I remember sitting on the bed and looking over to Colton and asking him, “Dear, is that a pool on the terrace?” After staring at it a few moments in disbelief we jumped right in.
At number six is the Imperial New Delhi, which is exactly what it sounds like. Its kind of like the London Ritz of New Delhi, very formal and very grand. The restaurants are magnificent, (some of which are rated the best in Asia) and the grounds are beautiful. The building is quite interesting because it is Art Deco. I strongly urge you to try the spa at this hotel, even play a little Raquett Ball on their court. If you like old world European hotels, this is the place to stay. Also check out the vintage cxar parked in the driveway at all times. The hotel was very similar to Rocco Forte’s The Charles Hotel, in Munich which has a deco flare. By the way, off topic, stay at The Charles next time you are in Munich if you want to experience a treat.
At number seven is the Taj Rambagh Palace. The Taj Rambagh Palace is exactly what it sounds like. It is a palace. From the minute you walk in, you feel like the Maharaja. At the front gate, you get into a vintage 1940s four seat American convertible that slowly drives you to the front door. There the hotel throws rose pedals on you and makes you feel at home. The restaurant, especially the vintage train, is fabulous. Have the pizza there. The grounds are magnificent and the indoor and outdoor pools are magnificent. Check out the spa here for a treat.
At number eight is the Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad The Taj Falaknuma Palace is a colonial revival structure painstakingly restored in a beautiful setting. Very similar to that of Raffles in Singapore, this hotel has that feeling of a time that has long passed, but with the conveniences of today. An applause to this hotel for their marvelous restoration of this property. Make sure on your way back up to Delhi from Hyderabad you stop in Shimla. The Oberoi Wildflower Hall in Shimla is a magnificent castle like home set in the middle of the Himalayas. In the summer, the trees are green and you feel like you are in Alpine country. In the winter, it is a snowy wonderland ideal for skiing. I could not help feeling how similar this setting was to the Swiss Alps.
Coming in at nine is The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra. By far one of the most beautiful pools I have ever been to, The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra also boasts one of the best views I have ever seen… That of the Taj Mahal. Every room looks out onto the pool, grounds and the magnificent Taj Mahal. Watching the sun rise and set from your room is one of those moments you have to experience in your life. Eat in the Indian restaurant for a wonderful experience.
Coming in at number ten, and rounding-out India’s best-of-the best is The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda, Backwater Cruiser, Kerala. The backwaters of Kerala are amongst the most picturesque settings in the world. To see the backwaters in its finest, you must stay on a boat and what better way to travel than by Oberoi. Similar to their vessel in Egypt, The Oberoi Zahra Luxury Nile Cruiser, but smaller, this eight cabin boat takes you on a two or three day journey through this amazing location.
On a side note, I stopped off in the Middle East on the way back. Check out the swimming pool at the St. Regis Doha, Qatar. I think it might be the biggest pool i have ever seen in my life. I had the pleasure of staying in a bunch of other fabulous hotels in India while I was gone on my 30 day trek, however if you have to pick the top ten, there is no way to deny that the above hotels are the best hotels in that region of the world. Have a safe flight!