With a flood of long weekends coming up, this is the perfect time to pack your bags and get out for some R&R. Dusshera is on Thursday, October 22nd (if you take Friday off, you get a four-day weekend). Monday, November 9th is Dhanteras (combined with the weekend, that gives you a three-day weekend). And finally, Friday, November 13th is Bhaidooj, followed by the weekend. Not sure if Bhaidooj is a legitimate holiday or anything, but it depends on where you work! Either way, you have no dearth of options.
If you’re thinking of certain five-star escapes on the beach in Goa, or by the backwaters of Kerala, it’s time you think again. Cookie-cutter five-star hotels are stale, sanitary and boring. Boutique hotels are where it’s at. They’re the chalk to the quintessential five-star’s cheese. They’re small, intimate, have a strong sense of character, and themes that set them apart from big chains—think vintage furniture, custom made artworks, a strong focus on eco-awareness and organic farming perhaps. Basically, they’re eccentric and offer you things that five-star chains cannot, whether it’s tea picking in the hills, or getting your hands dirty with the local farming community, for example.
In the first of a two-part series, we’ve handpicked some lust-worthy boutique hotels across the country for you to experience. From a private island retreat on Kochi’s Vembanad Lake that’s surrounded by lush paddy fields, to a luxury lodge high in the hills of Kumaon that’s so discreet you have to walk to it (talk about working for your luxury) and even secret steals in otherwise overpriced Mumbai and Delhi, we’ve got you covered.
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I. Abode, Mumbai
A hidden gem in Mumbai where you can actually buy and take home the furniture, if you like it
Abode is one of those places that’s hard to find—in the sense that if you don’t know where it is, you won’t be able to find it. And if you haven’t heard of it yet, consider this to be your initiation into one of Mumbai’s best steals. Sitting pretty in the chaos and cacophony that is Colaba, Abode is a beautiful boutique property housed in an antique building near Indigo Deli. Its 20 rooms are choc-o-bloc with restored vintage furniture and original artworks, and the flooring is original Burma teak that’s been salvaged (If you live in Mumbai, you know the frenzy that the words ‘original Burma teak’ can inspire).
The rooms at Abode aren’t huge, but they’re comfortable—and decked out in a perfect balance between ‘home away from home’ and ‘hotel’. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this hotel is the fact that almost everything you see has a price. If you like a chair in the lobby or the nightstand in your room, just ask the hotel and they may be willing to sell it to you. Another plus point: unlike most hotels that are sticklers for meal timings, breakfast at Abode can be enjoyed languorously up to midday. The café also has a great selection of books that you can flip through as you eat.
Cost: Unbelievably cheap at Rs. 4,000 for a Basic room. That’s right. Now pick your jaw up off the floor.
II. Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling
Go tea-picking and learn how to taste tea
A Scottish company started this gorgeous property high in the Himalayas overlooking Kanchenjunga in 1859. Today, Glenburn is owned the Prakashes, a family that has immersed itself in all things tea-related for generations. The estate has two bungalows with four suites and common areas (including verandas with sweeping mountain views).
At Glenburn, you can do everything outdoorsy that you can imagine: hike, bird-watch, and fish. But the USP of this property is the Tea Experience, which takes you through the entire process of tea-making. It starts with a short film on the history of Glenburn and a brief explanation of the process. After, you are taken for a walk through the tea plantation where the processes of withering, rolling, fermenting, drying and sorting are explained. Finally, you wind up in the tasting room, where you taste Glenburn’s range of white, black and oolong teas. There are also on-site cookery classes available and Glenburn is more than happy to organise day trips to Darjeeling town or Kalimpong if you want to get out for a bit.
Cost: A stay at Glenburn sets you back a cool Rs. 30,000 per room per night
III. Jamtara Wilderness Camp, Madhya Pradesh
Where ‘sleeping under the stars’ takes on a whole new meaning
One of the newest glamping options out there, Jamtara Wilderness Camp is located on the outskirts of Pench National Park and has only 10 luxury tents. Each tent is light and airy, but if you feel like you shouldn’t be separated from nature by even so much as a sheet of canvas, you can roll up the front of the tent, giving you a view of the jungle from the comfort of your bed. If you’re a little more adventurous, the staff will even organise an outdoor bed for you on your tent’s veranda, with a mosquito net and hot water bottles in case it gets too cold.
However, if there’s one thing that sets Jamtara apart from every other boutique property on this list, it’s their stunning Star Bed experience—and it’s something we seriously recommend you try. It’s one of those experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. The Star Bed experience takes you out into a nearby field, where a machaan, or stilted platform is erected. On this machaan is a beautiful four-poster bed, complete with soft linens and mosquito nets. If you really want to know what sleeping under the stars is like, this is the experience handed to you on a silver tray.
While you have to pay an additional price for the experience, the bulk of your payment is given to the farmer whose field you’re technically renting for the night.
Cost: Cough upwards of Rs. 20,000 and you can have a wilderness experience you’ll never forget
IV. Kayal Island Retreat, Kochi
A private island getaway down south
Kayal Island Retreat is a beautiful property located on an island on Vembanad Lake, India’s largest lagoon. The island itself is called Kakkathuruthu, which means the island of crows, and this is where Maneesha Panicker decided to build this luxe escape. The idea behind it was to have a place untouched by the manic march of modernity—a place where time moved slowly and one could live a slower, simpler life. All of Kayal’s cottages are built using reclaimed and recycled materials, and produce is only sourced from local fisherman and farmers—think local pokkali rice, clams, crabs, pomfret and prawns caught right off the island, and traditional Kerlan food served on a banana leaf, giving this resort a big plus for sustainability and responsible tourism.
Kayal only has two cottages, so it’s pretty much as exclusive as it gets. With yoga, Ayurveda, cycling, and experiences where you can go out fishing with fishermen or go out into the fields with the farmers, Kayal Island Retreat is a self-contained wonder and definitely a place you need to strike off your bucket list.
Cost: At only Rs. 10,000 per room per night, it might be one of the sweetest deals on this list.
V. Nimmu House, Ladakh
For a dose of history and culture high in the hills of Ladakh
If you’re looking for a stay peppered with the right amount of personal history, Nimmu House is a sure fire bet. Spread out over nearly 13,000 sq ft., this 30-room property used to belong to a noble family that was related to the former king of Ladakh. Till 2012, this house was in a state of disrepair. It was only when Lobzang Punchok Shamshu, a Ladakhi entrepreneur, and Alexandre Beuan, a travel professional, visited the house and saw its potential that they got in talks with the family and work began to restore this noble estate to its former glory.
Keep in mind that Nimmu House is a cultural getaway. If you’re into sustainable tourism and are keen to see a different way of life, you’re guaranteed to have a good time. While it’s more than comfortable, there’s no television and Wi-Fi is only available in the dining room. There’s no 24/7 room service or in room dining either. It’s definitely the kind of place to go to get away from it all and immerse yourself in something different. Walk through the on-site fruit orchards, go rafting and cycling, breathe in some clean air and marvel at the clearest skies you’ll probably ever see.
Cost: They have two, three, four and seven-night packages. The two-night package starts at Rs. 15,800 per person.
VI. Primrose Villas, Chikmagalur
Coffee country’s newest, most exciting property with views to die for
Primrose Villas is one of the newest resorts in the rising hill destination of Chikmagalur, a three and a half hour drive from Bengaluru. Each villa here is spacious and measures over a thousand square feet— add to that the twenty-foot-high ceilings and the floor-to-ceiling windows, and you feel a sense of openness that’s best described as liberating. The décor is something that struck us as being quite incongruent with its surroundings. On one hand you have these beautiful contemporary windows that almost seem to bring the outdoors in, and on the other, you have heavy Jacobean and Victorian furniture indoors. While we’re not sure if sleek, modern furniture would have made us feel any different, it’s still pretty clear that we’d drop a few big bucks to spend a couple of nights here.
Mountain treks, coffee plantation tours, and even a trip to the Bhadra Tiger Reserve can all be enjoyed at Primrose. With only five standalone villas, each with enviable views of the Western Ghats, a long weekend at Primrose Villas should be on the cards for anyone who calls themselves a hill person.
Cost: This Instagram goldmine will set you back by Rs. 20,000 per night for a room for two.
VII. Scarlette, New Delhi
A South Delhi hideaway that oozes charm
Scarlette skirts the fine line between a guesthouse and a small, cozy boutique hotel. Started by a French woman named Pauline Bijvoet—who came to India to work but fell in love and stayed—this little South Delhi gem is extremely charming. Scarlette only has four guestrooms, but what it lacks in space, it makes up for with taste, with vintage prints lining the walls and antique furniture dotting the premises.
Pauline calls her little establishment a ‘boutique homestay’, and her French roots have clearly mixed beautifully with her love for India—it’s evident everywhere. While meals other than breakfast are not usually included, you can get home-cooked food on request. There’s also free Wi-Fi throughout. Bijvoet has bought practically everything you see at Scarlette—from fabrics to paintings and even some furniture— during the five years she has been in India. She picks up anything that catches her fancy, and Scarlette is where she keeps it.
Cost: A room for two costs a very affordable Rs. 7,000 per night.
VIII. Shakti 360 Leti, Uttarakhand
Luxury you have to work for, high in the hills of Kumaon
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that this mountain getaway in the hills of Kumaon is one of the most stunning holiday retreats we’ve ever seen. Built using a beautiful blend of local, traditional materials and contemporary design, Shakti 360 Leti is all glass, wood and stone. This is the kind of place you come to with your most intimate group of friends, to sit, reflect and ponder about life as you look at the snow-clad peaks—there’s something about being high up in the mountains (and at 8,000ft, this place is high) that makes you feel very tiny and inconsequential.
There’s plenty to do, too. You can go on village walks accompanied by a guide, visit a nearby shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, picnic in the valley, and walk to the foothills of the region’s most famous peak, Nanda Devi, India’s highest peak. But the best time is at night, when you’re sitting outside by the campfire with a drink in hand with nothing but the sounds of the crackling flames and the incredibly starry sky above you.
Getting to Shakti 360 Leti may be quite an ordeal, but it’s worth it. You’d be hard-pressed to find another property like this in the entire country.
Cost: Luxury in every sense of the word, at Rs. 1,74,637 per person for a three-night stay
IX. Shreyas Yoga Retreat, Bengaluru
Peace for the mind, body and soul in South India’s poster city
Getting away from the city and hitting the beach doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes, you want to come back from a holiday feeling rejuvenated and at peace—not sluggish, like when you’ve had too many drinks and overloaded on fried food for five days straight.
This is where a wellness holiday can really help. And Shreyas Yoga Retreat in Bengaluru is one of the best there is. If you think this is going to be one of those ‘hardship’ holidays where you’re going to have to rough it, you’re wrong. Shreyas Yoga Retreat has everything you’d expect from any luxury hotel: top-notch rooms, great food (although, vegetarian only since it’s a wellness retreat), and plenty of facilities aside from the yoga-related ones, such as a pool and Jacuzzi, a library, gym and home theatre. Choose between Poolside Cottages, Garden Tents and Three Bedroom Cottages. All rooms come with complimentary Wi-Fi.
As far as their wellness services go, Shreyas has a range of treatments to pick from, but we suggest the traditional Abhyanga massage.
Cost: Wellness doesn’t come cheap at Rs. 27,822 per night for a room for two
X. Sukoon houseboat, Srinagar
It’s hard to beat Kashmiri kahwa on the rooftop overlooking the Dal Lake
If there’s one heavily romanticised holiday experience in India, it’s the Kashmiri houseboat. We’ve all grown up on stories of how many would head to the former British summer playground and hire houseboats on the Dal Lake before India-Pakistan relations soured and Kashmir turned into a conflict zone. For years, business dwindled, but Kashmir has seen a rise in its tourism over the last few years and the houseboats are doing brisk business again—Sukoon is one of our favourites. Built in 1979, the cedar wood Sukoon has five guest rooms and a staff to cater to your every whim.
The houseboat has its own speedboat on call to take you for joy rides if you like, but we recommend sticking with authenticity and opting for a lazy shikara ride instead. The rooms on board are adequately spacious and even come with Wi-Fi. But hopefully, you’ll be spending the least amount of time in your room because there’s plenty to do: explore Srinagar, visit the 16th century hilltop fort, go on a guided hike to the Himalayas, or simply relax on Sukoon’s rooftop terrace with a cup of traditional Kashmiri kahwa. Autumn is the perfect month to visit, so we suggest snapping this one up quickly.
Cost: Rs. 9,400 per night for a room for two, which is incredible for this sort of experience.
XI. The Corner Courtyard, Kolkata
Its quirk will captivate you in a heartbeat
A former home-turned-boutique hotel, The Corner Courtyard is young, quirky and fun. Its seven rooms all portray a different aspect of Kolkata through the medium of colour. Our favourites are Indigo, inspired by the East India Company’s love for the dye; Vermillion, which tells the story of Durga Puja through its décor; Cadmium, for paying tribute to the city’s Ambassador taxis.
But the piece de resistance is, quite naturally, its large, central sun-drenched restaurant and patisserie with its white exposed brick walls and black-and-white chequerboard floor. It’s pretty safe to say that we bet you’ve never experienced this young, hip side of Kolkata.
Cost: The City of Joy at Rs. 5,000 for a room for two? Why not.
XII. The Machan, Lonavala
Treetop life never looked so good
A wonderful tree house resort, there’s a reason Machan finds its way into so many of our stories. An off-the-grid property that prides itself on its eco-consciousness, Machan uses renewable energy for power consumption and dedicates 10 percent of its profits towards protecting the plant and animal life of the Western Ghats.
The resort has five different types of tree house accommodation—Heritage Machan, Canopy Machan, Forest Machan, Jungle Machan and Sunset Machan. Each one caters to a different sensibility so pick the one best suited for you. There are also cabins available if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground. It’s also interesting to note that though the property does not have a swimming pool, it does have a seasonal dam that fills up during the rains and guests are allowed to swim in it.
Cost: Tarzan would move here if he could at Rs. 12,000 per night