A capital city of close to 13 million people, Delhi offers a rather limited choice of hotels. True, there is a new Shangri-La, and the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Oberoi New Delhi are both admirably professional, if slightly anonymous, places. However, for leisure travelers seeking charm and a sense of place, The Imperial remains our recommended address.
A brief taxi ride from the grand monuments of Lutyens' New Delhi, The Imperial is surrounded by gardens and offers a green and manicured refuge at the heart of the city. A dramatic avenue of imperial palms leads up to the striking, white art deco building. Although The Imperial was included in Lutyens' master plan for the city, it bears absolutely no resemblance to his architectural style and was not completed until 1931, just 16 years prior to India's independence. Nonetheless, its interior is a museum to the British Raj and is adorned with an astonishing array of paintings, sculptures, prints and old black-and-white photographs. Indeed, the collection is so extensive, it has a full-time curator who gives guided tours to guests.
The accommodations are stylish, comfortable and well-appointed. Spacious "Heritage Suites" offer good value for money (but be sure to insist on one with an exterior view). The property's casual restaurant, 1911, is a local institution and social hub, while The Spice Route enjoys a deserved reputation for its delicious South Indian and Thai cuisine. The Imperial's only real failing is patchy service, with some junior employees tending to loiter in search of tips.
In complete contrast, the new Aman New Delhi is an austere contemporary structure designed by well-known Australian architect Kerry Hill. Both the nine-story building itself ("a moving tribute to the genius of Albert Speer," according to one aggrieved Delhi acquaintance) and its location (too close to a four-lane highway) are extremely controversial. However, the hotel does offer enormous, superbly appointed rooms and suites, a fine spa and a choice of restaurants for pan-Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. If you are in search of a modern boutique hotel from which viceroys and maharajahs have been utterly banished, then the Aman may fit the bill. But on a recent visit, we found the property lacking in the humanity and cultural finesse invariably displayed by Amanresorts elsewhere.
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