Top 10 hotels in and around Delhi

Delhi is boomtown, but the choice of hotels is still limited to palaces or pits — unless you know where to look. Amelia Gentleman leads the way …….. Amelia Gentleman of Guardian Unlimited, Tuesday January 8 2008

Most hotels in Delhi are breathtakingly expensive. The country’s economy has gone from near-hibernation to frenzied growth in the space of little more than a decade and Delhi can barely accommodate the constant arrival of business delegations from around the world, let alone tourists. In peak season, between October and March, when the temperatures are bearable, it is hard to get a room unless you’ve booked in advance and are prepared to pay extortionate prices. There is still very little in between the mammoth five-star establishments, groaning with obsequious staff and offering you £15 glasses of wine, and the backpacker dives near the railway station, where you pay by the hour to turn on ear-splittingly noisy air-conditioning boxes, share showers with fellow tourists and cockroaches, and cook your own meals in the corridors. But, with some advance planning there is a third way. If the big city becomes intolerable, it is worth driving an hour outside Delhi to take refuge in some of the forts and palaces on the city’s fringes.

Pataudi Palace

Once owned by the aristocratic cricketer Mansur Ali Khan “Tiger” Pataudi, this palace built in the 1930s is full of cricketing memorabilia, as well as faded remnants of high-society Indian life. It feels quite musty and creaky in the billiards and games rooms, but this is part of its charm. Several of the rooms have four posters and interesting paintings by modern Indian artists. The building has beautiful white terraces looking out over the pool. Only a little more than an hour from Delhi, and minutes from the hi-tech hub city of Gurgaon, the palace is surprisingly peaceful. There’s also a cricket pitch, and the Indian food is fantastic.

Tickli Bottom

Owned by two British former diplomats who never wanted to go home after their India posting, this is another country retreat, an hour from the city.

A neo-Lutyens mansion built around a courtyard, with pretty rooms, the house has its own farmyard next door and children are invited to go and play with the animals once they’ve tired of the swimming pool.

Beyond the city centre

Neemrana Fort Palace Hotel

An hour and a half’s drive from Delhi, this recently rebuilt fort is a wonderful place to spend a night. If you are feeling rich, ask for the room Kate Winslet stayed in, but even the cheaper rooms are lovely. It has a pool and great views over the local countryside. There’s not much to do nearby, so it’s best not to plan to stay too long, but use it as a half-way stop off on the way to Jaipur, or as a one night escape from Delhi.

The Manor

One of Delhi’s very few boutique hotels, The Manor was originally conceived in the 1950s as a country hotel on the outskirts of Delhi. Such is the pace of urbanisation here, that the hotel now feels pretty central. It has a beautiful garden, a restaurant on the terrace, and roaring fires in the winter.

The Imperial

Only stay here if you have a big budget, but if not, you can drop in for a drink on the lawns for an hour’s peace after trinket shopping on Janpath or sight-seeing at the nearby India Gate. Designed by Lutyens, the hotel’s art deco inspired architecture is unforgettable, and the garden, lined with tall palm trees, is a rare stretch of green near the crowds of Connaught Circus.

Inside is equally lavish, with white marble and heavy teak but the jasmine-scent sprayed throughout the corridors is a bit overpowering. The water-colours painted by colonial British soldiers which line the walls are interesting and it’s worth peeping into the vast ballroom where Indian society weddings have taken place for decades. If you eat breakfast or lunch on the lawns, watch out for huge crows and kites which hover above to steal food from your table.

Park Hotel

With its bright pink sofas, lounge music and urban chic furniture in the lobby, it can feel more like stepping into a Clerkenwell bar than a central Delhi hotel. The Park is not cheap, but it has a lovely pool, a good Italian restaurant (which Antonio Carluccio helped launch a few years ago, although standards have perhaps dipped a little), and the fashionable Fire bar frequented by Delhi’s rich, young professionals. The main attraction is the Indian restaurant, Agni, which has the best Indian food in any five-star hotel in Delhi. Try their version of Indian street food (which is the best way for newly-arrived visitors to try it, because the real version needs a strong stomach), the chaat platter. Also good is the slow-cooked, minced lamb stew, halim and the fish cooked in banana leaves.  It has the quiet feeling of a grand Indian home rather than a place to brush shoulders with business delegates from Chicago. The white Lutyens-style terraced building is beautiful, but the hotel’s three main attractions are its location right in the heart of New Delhi; its room prices, which are much lower than the big corporate hotels; and the presence of one of Delhi’s best restaurants on the ground floor. With its sister restaurant in Mumbai, Olive is probably India’s most fashionable restaurant, a good place to go and see young Delhi elite hanging out in the late evening. It serves Mediterranean food in the garden and in a breezy white courtyard inside. The food is good (but best to avoid the peculiar bananas wrapped in parma ham for a starter).

Ahuja Residency

Right in the centre of Delhi, this is a no-frills guesthouse, which comes highly-recommended. The 1950s home is located in one of the city’s upmarket residential enclaves, Golf Links, and family-owned and run. It’s very central, and best of all walking distance from the extraordinary shopping arcarde of Khan Market, where you can buy everything from £15,000 antique pearl necklaces to jars of Marmite imported from the UK. Chelsea Clinton bought pashminas here and Cherie Blair came here to get cheap sunglasses.

The Maharani Guest House

Simple, quite unglamorous, but cheapish and clean, this hotel has the advantage of being located in the reasonably central, prosperous, tree-lined residential complex of Sunder Nagar, walking distance from the Sunder Nagar antique market, (which also offers Baci, an Italian restaurant with late night drinking and dancing). It’s close enough to the zoo to hear the howls of the caged animals, and only a few minutes drive from Delhi’s excellent, underrated, craft museum.

Delhi government bed and breakfast home stays This is a new initiative launched by the government as an imaginative way of coping with the dire shortage of hotels in the city. The Tourism Ministry has advertised for “friendly families” willing to take in tourists on a bed and breakfast basis. These families are interviewed and their linen supply/bathrooms checked out before they are added to the lists. It’s still a very new idea, but the tourism minister hopes it will take off. As a very broad rule, Indian families are tremendously hospitable and Indian food cooked at home is usually far better than anything that you get in restaurants here.

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