Alastair Sawday's first trip to India, several years ago, was to Goa and since then he has been back many times, developing a particular love affair with Indian food. On his travels from Dehi to Almora in the Himalayas, Goa to Kerala, through Rajasthan and into Mumbai and beyond, he has of course, managed to track down some fairly magnificent places to stay. Here he picks out his top ten places in the third edition of his popular guide to India, published this October.
1) Yogamagic Eco Retreat
, 1586/1 Grand Chinvar, Anjuna, Bardez, Goa.
Rs5,000-Rs6,500. Suites from Rs5,000. Plus 8%-10% tax. Peak season: mid-December to mid-January. www.yogamagic.net
Spot the tents and flags from a distance – splashes of colour amid the palms, paddy fields and strolling buffalo. British Phil and Juliet greet you warmly. In the restaurant, relax on soft cushions and enjoy delicious organic treats – from fresh juices and perfect eggs florentine to generous vegetarian buffets. The peaceful and luxurious suite is inside, while the recently upgraded Rajasthani hunting tents have comfy beds, wardrobes, terraces and composting loos. There’s yoga by day (should you choose it) and a pool; fires and musical performances by night. A small piece of paradise.
2) Yangsum Farm Homestay
, Yangsum Farm, Rinchenpong, Sikkim.
Full-board Rs4,200. Singles Rs3,000. Plus 10% tax. Peak season: January-June; September-November. www.yangsumfarm.com
Near the small bazaar village of Rinchenpong, a tranquil farm growing cardamom, ginger, mangoes, peaches and tea is run by Thendup Tashi and his sister – warm and gracious hosts. No mobile reception here, just birdsong. The simple bedrooms are bright with Sikkimese fabrics and family photos, and bathrooms are spotless and new. There’s a communal sitting room, a traditional Buddhist altar room and a courtyard where you can sit in the sun. The food is superb and vegetables organically grown. Thendup and Pema can show you some great walks, including those to a rhododendron forest, an aristocratic Lepcha house and a Buddhist monastery.
3) Hotel Mandawa Haveli
, Near Sothaliya Gate, Mandawa, Rajasthan
Rs1,950. Singles Rs1,250. Suites Rs3,250. Plus 8% tax. Peak season: October-February. www.hotelmandawa.free.fr
A wonderfully preserved 1980s merchant’s haveli, the first frescoed building en route into the old town. Cultivated, delightful Dinesh knows all the history. Lower your head and step over the sill into a mysterious and magical interior largely unadapted – though they have managed to sneak in an up-to-the-minute bathroom. Rooms on each floor lead off the richly decorated central courtyard; many have windows to the streetside, small and low, but the quietest are at the back. All are refreshingly uncluttered. The garden is lovely. Buffet meals are local, traditional, with organic produce from Dinesh’s Pushkar farm. And there’s ayurvedic massage on an authentic wooden Kerala table. A heavenly haveli with a homely feel.
, Om Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka
Full-board €900 per person per week. Plus 12% tax. Includes transfers & activities.
SwaSwara prizes environment, solitude and the self. The Konkani stone cottages are simple but spacious, each with a small garden, open-air sitting room and a rooftop meditation hideout. Your own slumber, behind drawn muslin, challenges notions of space in probably the largest beds in India. Enjoy baked pastries or dosas for breakfast, a prescribed ayurvedic thali for lunch, and finally with a four-course seafood dinner on the beach (no meat, and wine the only type of alcohol). The chefs offer private cookery lessons, while delightful manager Anjali will help walk off excess. There are classes every day in hatha yoga, chanting and laughing, led by the swami. Pampering has never been so pure.
5) Singinawa Jungle Lodge
, Village Kokha, PO Baihar, Tehsil Baihar, Madhya Pradesh
Full-board Rs29,820. Singles Rs18,750. Includes 2 safaris & lodge activities.
Set among 50 acres of regenerative land under their protection, Nanda and Latika’s safari lodge is the realisation of a dream. It’s easy to get caught up in their passion for tiger conservation and empowerment of local tribes in pulsating Kanha. Safe inside your own vehicle, you are in sure hands, right down to the coffee and samosa of a jeep-bonnet breakfast. Back in your stone cottage, slip into unassuming luxury of sound beds, crisp cottons and bathrooms with rainwater showers. Food is the best of Indian and Nepalese. Cocktails, hot water bottles and a stone pool are further treats. Take time to wander birdwatching trails, nestle into viewing hides and admire Nanda’s stunning wildlife photography.
6) Coco Shambhala
, Coco Beach, Nerul, Bardez, Goa
£1,185–£1,995 per villa. Prices per week. Daily maid service included. www.cocoshambhala.com
This villa collection is sequestered away in the untouched village of Nerul, a mile or so inland from Candolim Beach. With two floors, two bedrooms, a huge veranda and a state-of-the-art kitchen apiece, these tropical villas, in beautifully landscaped gardens, are the result of meticulous planning. The striking angular architecture makes good use of light and space; the glass and the shutters are matched by exceptional interior design. Chic-sleek bathrooms feature al fresco showers surrounded by fragrant frangipani. Make the most of your dedicated driver for day trips, throw extravagant dinner parties on your private terrace, walk to Coco Beach, or hang out by the black-tiled pool after a late night out.
7) The Kandy House
, Amunugama, Walauwa, Gunnepana, Kandy, Central Province
Built for the Chief Minister in 1804, this is a rare structure, an architectural wonder; there’s no older house in Kandy. Its graceful melding of ancient architecture, colonial furniture, hand-woven silks and paintings by artist Raju makes it Kandy’s chic-est (and most charming) hotel. Bedrooms lie mysteriously behind double wooden doors, reached by open balustrades and a cascading stair; the finest suite leads to a hammock and private garden. More beauty in the gardens, dotted with glass tables and chic canvas, resplendent with bright butterflies and twilight candles. The infinity pool, dropping into the sweeping paddy field, is set in a huge lawnscape. Kandy has Buddhist sites dating back 25 centuries.
8) The Mud House
, Pahaladuwelweva, Anamaduwa, North Central Province
Full-board $180. Singles $110. Most guided excursions included. www.themudhouse.lk
Under a hat of palm thatch sits a mozzie net-swathed bed, a lantern to peer by and a branch for your clothes. Nearby is a western sink and loo, a dining hut just for you, and a shower and hammocks in open grounds: a cluster of eco huts is allotted to each couple, far enough apart to ensure privacy. Earthman Kumar (the manager) will lead you to giant crocodiles and purple herons, white-throated kingfishers and bright butterflies, take you swimming in local rivers and bike or tuk-tuk you to historic temples. Delectable Sri Lankan curries are served with oodles of love. Staying here is like diving into nature ….just avoid harvest times when a neighbour’s tractor works through the night.
, TP111/185 Kannamkara PO, Muhamma, Thaneermukkom, Kerala
Full-board €350-€450. Peak season October-April. www.malabarhouse.com
Explore Kerala’s loveliest watery corners on a rice boat turned chic houseboat, non-polluting and almost noiselessly powered. There’s a decked sun terrace for lounging, a sitting room with a sofa (that converts into beds), and a super-sleek white-walled suite. (The four staff sleep in separate quarters.) Luxuries include a polished teak floor for a queen-size bed, hot showers and Khadi toiletries, striped sunloungers bedecked with cushions, and gorgeous Keralan-Mediterranean cuisine. Owned by Malabar House, this stylish little boat – 75-foot from top to toe – is moored at Privacy at Sanctuary Bay, on the idyllic shores of Lake Vembanad, nudging the backwaters of Alleppy.
10) Kalmatia Sangam Village Trek Kalimat Estate
(near Kasar Devi), Almora, Uttarakhand.Full-board for 6 days: 3-day trek & 3-day stay at Kalmatia Sangam, Rs34,500 p.p. (minimum two people). Plus 8.75% tax. www.kalmatia-sangam.com
If, while staying at Kalmatia Sangam, the lure of Nanda Devi and the Kumaon range becomes irresistible, have a word with Dieter; he has used his intimate knowledge of the area to put together a gentle six-day trek. Along the way you are treated to 1,200-year-old temples and picnic lunches beneath the austerity of snow-capped peaks. But what makes this trek really special is where you stay. Dieter has carefully tweaked designated village houses en route so you can experience authentic Kumaon village life, meet the people and discover their hospitality. Creaky stone houses with thick slate roofs and intricately carved doors, hot bucket baths and welcoming family dinners... Unforgettable.
Alastair Sawday Publishing
14 October 09