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I love to travel. I could re-discover Rajasthan every time I visit. Work sometimes sees me travel across a couple of continents in as many days. Ergo, I am a hotel junkie. With umpteen hotels around, I know a great hotel as soon as I see one! They are boutiquely experiential, define service-nirvana and never fail to surprise. Great hotels make you want to come back for more.

Luxury in hospitality needs to be grounded with expertise, a distinctive tradition and unique quality. Simply put, a luxury hotel is always more perfect than perfect, unquestionably beautiful and has a strong heritage.

And who does it better than the Mandarin Oriental, Paris. On Rue Saint Honoré, this spanking new hotel is set in a 1930s art deco building renovated to magnificence. Designed around an expansive inner courtyard, the breath-taking interiors are by Sybille de Margerie (Concorde, De Crillon...). The cuisine has been created by Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx and can be enjoyed in the restaurants designed by Patrick Jouin (previous laurels at Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée) or al fresco.

A couple of hours away from Paris lies Épernay, home to Dom Pérignon. I took the hallowed pilgrimage a few years ago and stayed at the Château de Saran. There are hotels and there are hotels. And then there is the private château of the House of Moët & Chandon, which owns Dom Pérignon. (The author works for LVMH, which owns Moët & Chandon.) The château was once a hunting lodge for Champagne's royal family. One of its rooms has a mahogany sleigh bed dating from the First Empire. With the windows flung open, vines of the Côte des Blancs are at your feet. The château now allows a select few to sample life among the vineyards and at the table of Chef de Cave Richard Geoffrey. A meal here can result in a magical tasting of chosen vintages (I tried the '85, '73, Dom Pérignon Oenothèque and the 1990 Rosé!). Intimate, personal and by invitation only (yes, you need to know someone who knows someone to secure an invitation) Château de Saran is as luxe as it gets.

A world away from this decadence is a beautiful secret garden — Sonya's Garden in Tagaytay, the Philippines. This boutique hotel on rolling hills is a hidden jewel. Sonya, the charming owner, has created this haven of cottages amidst an English rose garden she tends to herself. The menu is limited but freshly created with a secret salad recipe that is worth driving down for. The country cuisine is simple yet incredibly filling, made with fresh, organic ingredients from the garden, served in fine china that complement the idyllic setting. The handmade soaps, linens and objects d'art from Sonya's collection, make this a quirky delight. A place to propose, be touched, soothed and healed.

They say great hotels are mirrors to the societies they service. In India, the Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, is the answer to today's penchant for luxury. In 1884, the building took nine years to complete. Whether it is the famed 100-seater dining table, the library with a walnut wood carved roof or the unique jade collection, this rare blend of Italian-Tudor architecture with its stained glass-windows throwing a riot of colours is trés dramatique. The distinction between art and luxury diminishes here. A massive restoration later, staying is believing.











AT YOUR SERVICE: Darbar Hall at the renovated Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad (top). The Mandarin Oriental, Paris, set in a 1930s art deco building, has breathtaking interiors (Courtesy; Taj Hotels & Resorts)


A list of my favourite hotels cannot be complete without the Samode Palace, Samode, Rajasthan. Quiet luxury, magnificent elegance, deeply sublime — this 17th century marvel is my favourite palace hotel in India. It is also where I got married. So, my own fairytale is woven into it. You can lose yourself in the maze of bougainvillaea-covered aangans, connected with quaint staircases leading to the magical Sheesh Mahal or intricately frescoed Darbar Hall. The India of yore, of mystery, of drama. Many trips later, I still have secrets to discover.
"There is no such thing as too much luxury," said Oscar Wilde. I agree.

All these hotels transcend the de rigueur. And it is not just because there is a Bentley waiting at the foyer to whisk me away. I am enamoured by their splendour, fascinated by their elegance and inspired by their savoir-faire. Each of these hotels take the term ‘hospitality' very seriously and will go that extra mile to ensure that you are well-rested, pampered, rejuvenated and delighted every time.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 26-09-2011)