Chill, pump adrenaline or simply go local at these upscale hill resorts

Sterling Mussoorie offers diners a spectacular view under a star-lit sky
Are you the kind who likes to chill out in the mountains, put your feet up and read a book by the fireplace, sip a cup of local tea or taste exotic wines? Or are you the more adventurous type, into horse-riding, trekking or cycling alongside the magnificent cedar trees? There are luxury hill resorts in India that offer both options and a host of other services to make your holiday an endearing experience.

Tourists generally head to hill stations for the fresh air and spectacular view that they offer, says Anurag Dua, COO & Co-Founder, Amatra Hotels and Resort. “They love the closeness of the sky and cherish the moments when the clouds engulf them as they sit in the deck area overlooking the valleys and mountains.” 

However, he is quick to add that hill resorts are no longer just about views, and many guests also go for relaxing spa therapies, savour local cuisines, stay with villagers and explore traditional cultures and history. "Many trek through rocky mountains leading to an old temple at the peak of a hill, and try uncharted routes where the road is not motorable,” says Dua. 

Hotspots for the luxury traveller

There are plenty of options in India, such as Wildflower Hall in Shimla, Glenburn Tea Estate (Darjeeling), Moksha Spa Resort (Parwanoo), Khyber Resort (Gulmarg),  Vivanta by Taj (Madikeri Coorg) and Hilton Shillim (off Lonavala), but since there is plenty of demand, many new names are continuously getting added to the list. 

Relaxation is the operative word in these upscale hill properties. Travellers escape to the hills to have a peaceful holiday that goes beyond sight-seeing and ‘itinerary’, and focuses more on experiences, says Daniel D’Souza, President and Country Head, Leisure, SOTC Travel. These include nature walks and soft adventure like trekking, socialising with locals, native cuisine and farming.

Take the case of Sterling Resorts, which has properties in popular hill stations such as Kodai Lake, Kufri, Ooty ElkHill and Mussoorie. Ramesh Ramanathan, Chairman and Managing Director, Sterling Holidays, says his company offers everything from culture trails to wellness programmes to authentic culinary expeditions, in order to reach out to a growing tribe of experiential and exploratory travellers. All Sterling properties have an activity centre offering activities that cut across age groups. These range from air hockey, arts and crafts, pool table, video games, table tennis and badminton to outdoor activities like Zip lining, archery, trampoline, Aqua Zorbing, camping, bonfire, pottery, Cycling and Freego. 

Food is a big draw

While most of these four- and five-star resorts have a clutch of restaurants serving Indian, continental and pan-Asian fare, there is a sudden interest on native cuisine as well. Local delicacies like Wayanad's famous Bamboo Biryani and the Jackfruit Biryani from Munnar have been a hit among guests and have received rave reviews, says Ramanathan of Sterling Holidays. Likewise, the Kumaoni Thali, which gives the guest a taste of authentic local cuisine, is often coupled with a small tour of the wild produce that grows in and around the resort. 

At Glenburn Tea resort, one can typically expect to wake up to the whiff of delicacies such as tea-leaf pakoras, Tibetan momos and Burmese khowsuey, emanating from their kitchen.

Situated at the highest point in Mussoorie, Amatra Dunsvirk Court provides a 360° view of the Himalayas. The wallclock in the resort's foyer area dates back to early 19th century

Ambience makes all the difference

Bringing alive the countryside feel, often with a raw and rustic and yet warm ambience, many of these hill resorts have spectacular floor-to-ceiling glass panes that open up to nature. Heritage is another big theme. Take the case of Amatra, which was owned by Judge Dunsvirk during the British Raj, and was later bought by the Baroda royal family and used as their summer retreat. Amatra Hotels and Resorts group, which ultimately took over, takes great pride in the 200 years of heritage that attaches itself to the property.

Villa or room with a view?

There are essentially two lodging options available to the traveller. The first is the standard room and the second is the villa within the hotel premises. The latter can accommodate a large family, comes with a private lounge area and is obviously more expensive. The villa is fast catching the fancy of the new-age traveller, who really wouldn't mind digging deeper into his pocket for some extra luxury. Which is why you have resorts offering choices of cottages and villas catering to such a clientele.

Many apps and AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms help customise and create tours matching the precise choices of today’s traveller. "When customers create their own holiday at hill resorts, they invariably go for the best view and top-class facilities, and are ready to spend that extra buck for a more memorable stay," says a spokesperson from Ithaka, a community-driven travel planning app backed by Thomas Cook. Today’s travellers also want sites that make for great Social Media content.

What about high-end international hill stations. Some of the popular picks are St Moritz and Matterhorn in Switzerland, and Mount Buller in Melbourne, Australia. "These destinations are popular with families and group travellers who prefer small, local hills to big high-budget vacations," says Hari Ganapathy, Co-founder, Pickyourtrail. "Apart from being cheaper, they offer you trip passes at affordable prices so you can do everything from skiing and snowboarding, to mountain climbing, to taking cable-car and helicopter rides."

According to Ganapathy, a high-end hill resort without a premium price tag is now possible if you tailor your approach for a particular destination. For example, staying at Warwick’s Garden in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, costs Rs 10,000-12,000 a night, which is cheaper than staying at a hill resort in Gulmarg, Kashmir.

Some of India's leading upscale hill-station resorts
Name of resort Amenities Cost per night (Rs) 
Wildflower Hall, An Oberoi Resort, Shimla At 8,250 feet, the 5-star property is set within 23 acres of  cedar forest. Highlights include Colonial charm, signature massages, afternoon picnic, yoga, outdoor sports 25,000
Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling The small plantation retreat overlooking the  Kanchenjunga mountain offers a “Tea Experience”, cookery classes, fishing by the river Rungeet, hiking excursions, massage treatments 23,000
Moksha Spa Resort, Parwanoo, Himachal Pradesh Wi-Fi, private terrace, mini-bar, complimentary breakfast, Spa 19,000
Khyber Resort, Gulmarg, Kashmir Set in a semi-circle in a valley in the Pir Panjal range, it has one set of rooms facing the snow-covered Apharwat range and another facing Gulmarg town. Carved walnut panels, teak panelled floors, traditionally embroidered bed covers and the classic Kashmiri woven silk carpets give this property an upscale edge 17,000
Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg Nature walks, pottery classes, Jiva Spa, Kodava cooking, Gudda bath, Infinity Pool, lantern dining 15,000
Hilton Shillim, Off Lonavala, Maharashtra Special children’s menu, meditation cave, wine cellar, forex facilities, Spa, nature walks, spectacular view 13,500
Rah Villas, Sonmarg, Kashmir Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, spectacular view, soft treks 11,000
JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, Mussoorie Family-friendly hotel with kid's play area, four restaurants, full-service spa, indoor pool, 24-hour health club 11,000
Banasura Hill Resort, Wayanad
Set amid the Western Ghats and tropical rainforest, the resort has Kerala-style architecture, with mud-rooms built by local tribals for naturally cool environment. Highlights include Ayurvedic treatment,  tour with naturalists, interaction with local tribes,  and a taste of Chukku Kaapi 10,000
Amatra Dunsvirk Court, Mussoorie A boutique hotel on the hilltop with excellent views, traditional architecture and modern amenities 7,000
* Standard rate per night for two guests


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