Now that the festive season is underway, holiday plans are on the front burner. The best winter destinations in India are well-known, but the choice of where to stay and where to get an exceptional experience that lifts it above the rest is the tough part. Here are a few suggestions
A Beach Symphony, Kerala
Winter is when Kerala unveils its natural charms, whether it is the Western Ghats or the backwaters. The state has upped its tourism quotient in recent years to showcase its attractions from backwaters and beaches to spice gardens and tea plantations, traditional wellness therapies and wildlife. It is now one of the top winter holiday destinations in India and the trendy destinations are Kovalam, Thekkady, Alappuzha, Vembanad, Munnar and Alleppey. The last named has become popular because of the Marari beach and its access to the backwaters. The hidden gem in Alleppey is A Beach Symphony, an exclusive, boutique-type four-cottage resort located on the pristine Marari beach. It was previously a cluster of fishermen homes till a Belgian couple brought the property in 2007 and refurbished the homes into themed luxury cottages. The two-room cottages accommodate four people each. Two face the sea, one has a plunge pool and the fourth has a private garden. The food is superlative and served by candlelight in the resort’s garden. The showers are alfresco, which makes an interesting change. This place is ideal for relaxing in a hammock or loungers scattered across the property or on the beach. The resort also organises boat rides in the backwaters.
Devi Garh by Lebua, Rajasthan
Those who frequent Bangkok will know one of its most popular attractions—the Skybar at the top of the Lebua hotel. The Lebua group has now taken over the management of three hotels in Rajasthan, including Devi Garh, one of the most gorgeous boutique properties in the state developed by the Poddars. Devi Garh by Lebua is a stunning hill-top fort palace that has been beautifully restored into a luxurious, sophisticated and romantic retreat. Nestled in the Aravalli hills, an hour’s drive from Udaipur, this all-suite resort lays emphasis on design and detail. The interior is contemporary while conserving the ancient exterior. All the raw materials used are local, with white marble dominant. The two 12-feet-high standing blocks of uncut white marble at the entrance are symbolic representations of the stone in its purest form. The piece de resistance is the food in the restaurant, a choice of European or Indian, but cooked with panache and the service is quite exceptional.
Pousada Tauma, Goa
This boutique property is now a favourite with the international jet-set and it’s easy to see why. Located in Calangute, less than a kilometre away from the beach, it is sheltered from the high-season madness by thick, verdant vegetation and feels totally isolated from the crowds on Calangute beach. The main attraction is the stunning design and feel of luxury and elegance, while retaining its local character with the use of Goan laterite stone. The all-suite resort is set around a gorgeous pool and each of the 12 air-conditioned suites are uniquely styled and themed with eccentric Goan antiques (a cradle-turned-table, a dentist-chair-turned-recliner, among others). Each has its own balcony, overlooking either the garden or pool.
Pousada is the perfect getaway for those who like to be in Goa for the peak winter season, but away from the noise and crowds, and cocooned in sophisticated splendour. The resort also offers an Ayurveda centre for wellness therapies. The variety of flora and fauna enhance this other-world charm. There is a choice of Standard, Superior or Deluxe suites. Each suite has its own private dining area, though there is an excellent restaurant on the property and also a private space on the beach, Pousada by the Beach, which has a deck area with sun beds, shower, changing rooms and a day bar and restaurant. It’s also centrally located in buzzing north Goa where the Christmas and New Year celebrations are legendary.
The Khyber, Gulmarg
Kashmir is back on the tourist map and the result has been some new hotels and resorts, but easily the most luxurious and with an amazing view is The Khyber in Gulmarg. In summer, the meadows and the highest golf course in the world, nestled in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, attract hordes of visitors, but the time to go is winter—Gulmarg is rated as Asia’s best ski destination. The Khyber is the latest addition to hotels ranged around the skiing area and is the highest, close to 9,000 ft above sea level. It is also an epitome of luxury, from the wood-floored lobby to the restaurant and the high-class rooms fitted with every mod con. The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, to give its full name, is spread over seven acres and the view from the rooms is spectacular, with snow-topped fir trees as far as the eye can see and a majestic view of the Affarwat Peaks. It’s a three-hour drive from Srinagar through the valley and if you like adventure, the skiing is fantastic, as is the Gondola ride up the mountain, but even otherwise, a stay at the Khyber is an experience by itself.
Fortune Resort Bay Island, Andamans
The Andamans is fast becoming one of the top winter destinations and attracting tourists and hotel chains alike. The Fortune Resort Bay Island is an ITC property designed by Charles Correa and its location and layout are quite spectacular. The Andamans is one of the world’s last outposts of virgin, natural rainforest islands and the sparkling, crystal-clear sea, pristine beaches and marine life add to its unique charm. The Fortune Resort Bay Island in the capital, Port Blair, overlooks the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal and is built on levels on the hillside, so most of the rooms overlook the sea. It has been constructed almost exclusively with the native ‘Padouk’ wood, beautiful red timber that is found only on Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The resort offers great seafood, cozy rooms, a glorious view, natural light. It also arranges glass-bottomed boats for guests to view marine life or go snorkelling.