The Leela Palace Chennai
The Leela Palace Chennai sits beside the Adyar River as it reaches the Bay of Bengal, making this the only 5* hotel in Chennai with a seafront location. There are 326 comfortable rooms and suites in total, designed in contemporary style and with marble bathrooms, and spread across 11-storeys.
The hotel has a reputation for some of the best food in the city, with pan-Asian, Indian and Italian all on offer. China XO is the spot for fine Chinese cuisine, and the restaurant serves regional classics such as Szechuan beef and Peking duck as well as high class dimsum. The restaurant has an al fresco dining area with views out to sea. Meanwhile, Jamavar is the signature Indian restaurant at the hotel, serving excellent dishes from across India. For a more global gastronomic experience head to Spectra with its multi-buffet concept offering cuisine regions as diverse as the Mediterranean, Japan, South East Asia and the Middle East cooked in seven open kitchens for a fun, buzzy atmosphere.
Away from the restaurants, the Lobby Lounge is somewhere to relax with a cup of mid afternoon tea (Indian, naturally) or coffee, while the Cake Shop offers a naughty but nice range of goodies from macaroons to Swiss chocolates. For evening drinks, head to Library Blu for a cocktail or fine selection of malt whiskies.
The Leela Palace's Spa, by ESPA, has a wide range of facilities including several well-appointed treatment rooms where guests can enjoy therapies from ESPA facials to aromatherapy and Balinese hot stone massages; as well as vitality pools, a sauna and an aroma steam room.
Why We Love It
The Leela Palace is the best hotel in Chennai, and lovers of Chinese food might want to make sure they're in town on a Sunday when the hotel's China XO restaurant lays on a mean dimsum brunch.
Svatma is a new hotel in the city of Thanjavur, which was formerly known as Tanjore. The hotel is a wonderful old family residence that has been lovingly restored in traditional Tamil style and there are just 38 rooms in total, seven of which are in the original building.
No two of the rooms are the same, with some having verandas or sitting areas, but all have lovely wooden floors and an attractive blend of antique and contemporary pieces and paintings.
Despite the intimate scale of the hotel, there are still two restaurants and a lovely veranda café. The main event is Aharam Restaurant, which serves high quality tapas-style vegetarian Tamil cuisine from an open kitchen with views over the pool. Nila is a more relaxed restaurant on the roof terrace specialising in light, healthy and again vegetarian cooking. Palaharam is the place for proper coffee and Tamil tiffin snacks such as delicious dosas, served on the lovely veranda.
The Arogyam yoga centre is staffed by an expert team of instructors who can look after expert or novice yoga practitioners alike and create a programme of asanas or meditation techniques accordingly. Meanwhile the Soukyam luxury spa has four treatment rooms where therapists offer a range of massages and other treatments. After a pampering session guests can also use the Jacuzzi.
Last but not least, the passionately owners lay on a range of classes, talks and even themed stays about Tamil Nadu's rich cultural heritage from dance to the state's excellent cuisine.
Why We Love It
Because even the most committed carnivore will quickly learn that vegetarian cooking can be completely delicious.
Rajakkad Estate, or more correctly the Pallam Palace that sits within the Rajakkad Estate, is a wonderfully tranquil place to stay in the beautiful hill country of Tamil Nadu.
The 18th century building, complete with the original beams, has just seven large bedrooms with en suite bathrooms leading off a courtyard, and each room has its own access to the lush gardens. The interiors themselves are an exercise in understated elegance, complete with colourful Uzbek carpets and Indian cotton towels.
The chef at Rajakkad specialises in delicious dishes fusing southern Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, mainly using ingredients from the farm on the estate, and served either on the shaded terrace or in the dining room, and there are few better ways to kick start the day than with a freshly brewed coffee using freshly ground beans from the estate coffee plantations while enjoying views of the surrounding hills.
Activities on offer at the estate include yoga and meditation classes, walks around the estate's many pathways, visits to the coffee factory, lake and village, swimming in waterfalls and bird watching for the 200-plus species indigenous to this part of Tamil Nadu. Further afield (but very doable as a day trip) is the culturally fascinating city of Madurai, while nearer at hand is the charming hill station of Kodaikanal.
Why We Love It
The entire main building - built to a traditional Keralan design and consisting of 20,000 pieces - has twice been taken down, moved and reconstructed in a different location over the past two hundred years. It would be harder to find a more picturesque spot than where it is now, 3,000ft above sea level in the Western Ghats's foothills.