Margot B
Margot B
Portland, Oregon, USA
Travel journalist and guidebook author.

Opulent India

While many people explore India backpacker-style on a shoestring budget, this enchanting country can also be visited in serious style. It's home to some of the most opulent hotels on the planet, and visitors willing to fork over a lot of cash can literally live like royalty (by that I mean staying in real palaces).    

Working as a guidebook author in India for Moon Guides and Fodor's, I visited everything from $2/night guesthouses to over-the-top luxury digs and dined at both roadside eateries and snazzy restaurants. If you've got some extra cash and want to have a lavish Indian holiday, here are a few spots to consider.  
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ITC Maurya, Sardar Patel Marg, Akhaura Block, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Delhi 110021, India

One of Bill Clinton's favorite restaurants (presumably from before he went vegan), Bukhara serves some of the richest, heaviest food in all of Delhi. They specialize in NW Frontier cuisine, which has its origins in NW Pakistan. Most of the dishes here are based around meat, but as with most restaurants in India, there are plenty of veg options. Note that although this is one of the finer restaurants in town, guests are expected to eat with their hands, traditional style (although silverware is available upon request).

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The Imperial Hotel

1 Janpath, New Delhi 110001, India

I love this elegant old dates back to 1931, and it may very well be the oldest hotel in town. It certainly has all the "old world charm" you could ask for, plus courteous, non-intrusive staff and a few great restaurants, including an exceptional pan-Asian eatery. The pool is the best in town: it's humongous and has inbuilt fountains. There's also a fantastic spa onsite offering a wide variety of treatments.

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The Oberoi Amarvilas

Taj East Gate, Agra 282001, India

One of the four Oberoi "Vilas" properties, Amarvilas is arguably the most stunning hotels in Agra. All the rooms here have views of the Taj Mahal and the pool is gorgeous. The restaurants on site are some of the best in town, too and there's a lovely little spa (for in house guests only, alas).

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Taj Lake Palace

Lake Pichola,Udaipur,313001,Rajasthan, India

If you've seen the Bond film Octopussy, you may recognize the Taj Lake Palace. This stunning white marble luxury palace hotel stands in the middle of Udaipur's Lake Pichola, and is only accessible by boat. dates back to the 18th century when it was used as a summer home by the then maharaja. It was converted into a hotel in the early 70s (a move that likely saved it from ultimately deteriorating) and in the past four decades has come to be known as one of India's most romantic--and expensive--properties.

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Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur

Near Circuit House, Jodhpur 342006, India

There are few things I find more magical than getting to stay in a real palace! Part of this hotel is a tourist site, part of it is a luxury hotel, and part is still occupied by the Maharaja and his family. The food is excellent and the rooms are elegant, but my personal favorite thing about this place is its gorgeous subterranean swimming pool.

The palace was built primarily in the 1930s, making it a somewhat young palace by Indian standards. Even if you don't end up staying in the hotel, the grounds are worth a visit. There's an interesting museum with exhibits on 20th century India as well as a fine collection of classic luxury cars.

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The Oberoi Udaivilas

Hardasji Ki Magri, Udaipur 313001, India

The Indian state of Rajasthan is chock-full of palaces that have been converted into hotels, and while the Oberoi Udaivilas is a modern, purpose-built property, it has all the magic of an old-fashioned Rajpoot palace. It's across the lake from Udaipur's main tourist area and during the post-monsoon high season you can take a boat directly from the hotel into town. The coolest thing about this hotel is its moat pool that wraps around much of the property's lakefront exterior; guests staying in pool-facing rooms can actually swim from room to room.

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Palace on Wheels

World Trade Center, Fire Brigade Lane, Barakhamba, New Delhi, DL 110001, India

If you have more money then time and want to explore the best of Northern India in style, a trip on the Palace on Wheels may be in order. The train ride spends a week hitting up top spots in Rajasthan (including Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, and Jodhpur) as well as Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and starts and ends in New Delhi. All the rooms have two twin beds and attached baths. There's a snazzy bar and two fine-dining restaurants on board.

City Palace

Jaleb Chowk, Opp Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302002, India

If you want to see how the royals of Jaipur past and present live, head to the City Palace, which is still partially occupied by the city's royal family. The rest has been converted into a popular museum that showcases hundreds of years worth of paintings, weapons, and ornamental arts. The best part about this place is the hall filled with gorgeous costumes worn by the maharajas and maharanis of times past. There's a lot of historical information, and it's interesting to learn about all the old rulers of Jaipur.

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Hotel Himalaya

Kailash Gate, Dehradun Road, Rishikesh 249201, India

Beautiful, quiet spa resort overlooking the Himalayas. The food here is healthy and delicious and they even have dosha balancing Ayurvedic options. There's also a slew of daily activities, including yoga classes, fitness classes, lectures on the Vedas (Indian scriptures), and music classes. The front desk and a few special rooms are located inside the main palace complex, where there's also a small library/business center filled with a beautiful collection of old books.

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The Gem Palace

MI Road, Jaipur, Rajasthan, Mirza Ismail Road, Jayanti Market, New Colony, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India

The most famous of Jaipur's many jewelry shops, the upscale Gem Palace has been in operation since the mid-19th century. They sell everything from antique costume pieces to more modern fine jewelry and their past clientele has included both Rajasthani and British royalty.

Khan Market

61A, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, India

One of Delhi's more upscale markets, Khan Market doesn't look like much from the outside, but the shops here stock a great selection of items, ranging from luxury imports to fine Indian decor items. It's popular among hoity-toity Delhiites and expats living in the nearby diplomatic enclave. The market is also home to plenty of great cafes and restaurants, including two branches of the much-loved Big Chill Cafe. Khan Chahcha, an old-school kebab joint, is a long-time favorite among meat-eating locals. Other popular dining spots include Italian restaurant Amici (who serve the best pizzas in town, in my opinion) and my personal favorite, Mrs Kaur's Crepes and More, which serves up delicious eggless crepes, waffles, pancakes, and even baked beans on toast.

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ITC Mughal, Agra

Taj Ganj, Agra 282001, India

Although the ITC Mughal (formerly the Sheraton Agra) is not the most luxurious property in town, it comes pretty close. This enormous hotel was built to resemble the Taj Mahal and features marble interiors inlaid with colorful stones. Its spa, Kaya Kalp, is the best in Agra, if not in all of India and is reason enough to stay here. The entire spa is decorated in gorgeous red and white curlicue motifs that incorporate images of the pomegranate (considered a royal fruit by the Mughals) and all guests get a glass of fresh pomegranate juice upon arrival. The signature massage is a great stress-reliever and the therapists here use fragrant, all-natural essential oils.

The Oberoi Vrinda

Bristow Rd, Willingdon Island, Kochi, Kerala 682003, India

If you want to experience Kerala's peaceful backwaters in style, there's no better place to do it than aboard the Oberoi Vrinda. This intimate luxury motor vessel features eight guest rooms, all with king beds and outward-facing views. There's also a bar and a restaurant that serves customized meals. Guests can opt from either two-night or three-night trips.

Last updated at Jan 30, 2017