The lowdown Some seriously luxurious hotels have opened in New Delhi over the last couple of years, each trying to outdo the other in fabulousness. One of the newest is the 260-room The Leela Palace New Delhi, just off Africa Avenue in the city’s diplomatic enclave (Delhi’s answer to Belgravia). The Leela Palace fits perfectly in this manicured area for it, too, is beautifully manicured. Its exterior takes its cue from Edwin Lutyens, who designed many of New Delhi’s most famous buildings, while its interior takes its cue from the dazzling wealth of regal India. The hotel’s lobby alone features acres of marble flooring; Murano glass chandeliers, lampshades and mirrors that must have cost a fortune; Louis XVI-inspired furniture; and velvet-covered Chesterfields. While admiring the décor, do sample the hotel’s award-winning lychee and rose-extract juice, which is served in a coupe: an alcohol-free drink that’s genuinely delicious enough to make you forsake alcohol.
The vibe Eager-to-please thanks to a well-drilled (and flawlessly groomed) staff. No request is too much so do get them to confirm your return flights and reserve seats on your behalf. It will save a lot of hassle at the airport. And do enlist their help arranging shopping and sightseeing tours. There’s so much to see in New Delhi that it’s essential to get the inside track on what’s open when.
The rooms Reputedly India’s most costly hotel rooms, the bedrooms at The Leela are as glitzy as its public spaces. No contemporary minimalism here, instead a theatrically rich red, gold and parchment colour palette; beds as soft as a cloud; and marble bathrooms with a colonial-meets-Art-Deco feel, super-covetable mother-of-pearl accessories and Penhaligon’s luxe Quercus amenities. It’s all as sparkly as a tray of crystal cocktail glasses. Modern intrusions are restricted to a giant flat-screen Sony TV ready-synced to an iPod.
Eating and drinking Although the Leela’s Library bar is inspired by classic British bars, it reminded me strongly of David Tang’s evocative Shanghai-in-the-Twenties bar at The Dorchester. It’s certainly equally atmospheric, with its wooden fretwork on walls and ceilings and cabinets of leather-bound first-editions of Dickens and Shakespeare to browse while drinking gin slings. But the hot ticket is Le Cirque (above), the first Asian offshoot of the legendary New York restaurant, on the Leela’s 10th floor, overlooking the hotel’s gardens. No expense was spared, to beautiful effect: it’s as mirrored, shiny and all-round glamorous as a vintage jewellery box.
Don’t miss Pancakes for breakfast at The Qube, the hotel’s contemporary ground-floor dining room, make a great start to the day. And treat yourself to an ayurvedic or western spa ritual at The Leela’s Espa spa, which is super-glam even by Espa’s own standards. It takes bookings until 10pm so you can indulge yourself even after a long day of shopping or sightseeing.
What to see Musts for culture fans include the grand President’s House, which was designed by Lutyens overlooking a sweeping boulevard that goes all the way down to India Gate, the country’s most famous war memorial; Humayun’s Tomb, now beautifully restored to its original condition of warm, red sandstone; and the ancient Qutub Minar, a World Heritage minaret set in a sprawling ‘Architectural Park’.
What to buy New Delhi has lots of shops, stall and open-air markets, which are fun to explore when you have several days to spare. If time is tight, head for the homewares and exquisite embroidered pashminas at Dili Haat, a fun, value-for-money open-air bazaar five minutes’ drive away from The Leela. Take an empty suitcase for your purchases: I didn’t and still regret it.
By Kate O’Donnell