Seven of India’s real-life ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotels’

written by James Shackell March 5, 2015

Okay, we can’t boast Judi Dench or Richard Gere. And hiring Maggie Smith to accompany you on your trip is a little out of the Intrepid budget. But when it comes to hotels in India, there are plenty of real-life examples to beat even the Best Exotic Marigold.

In fact, India is littered with incredible places to stay. Not the generic, big name resorts, but the ancient forts, old palaces and heritage-listed castles that dot the landscape – architectural wonders of Rajputs and old Jaipur dynasties. Some of these are royal residences – literally, noble descendants still live there – but equally cool are the little homestays in places like Kerala, where local life has gone on unchanged for centuries.

And the best part? You can stay at all of the below on Intrepid trips.

Fort Madhogarh

Sitting high on a hill above the village of Madhogarh, this fort is over 400 years old. It was built by the Maharaja Madho Singh to see off Marathas armies, but fell into decay over the centuries until a descendant of the original Rajputs decided to renovate the interior and turn it into a heritage hotel. When the sun sets, you can head to the roof patios for a drink and watch the village children below flying their kites in the evening breeze. You can stay here on Intrepid’s Classic Rajasthan trip.

Ishwari Niwas Heritage Resort


One of the legacies of the British Raj is the blend of colonial and old Indian architecture you find in buildings like Ishwari Niwas. The Haveli is still the royal residence of Raja Shri Ranjit Singh ji, perched on a hill above the little town of Bundi. Approaching from the valley floor, it looks like a massive castle protruding from the cliff. Wake up in your heritage room, then head out for a day exploring the nearby Bhimlat Falls or Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. Want to visit? Hop on our Classic Rajasthan trip and experience it for yourself.

Castle Bijaipur

castle Bijaipur - credit Frank Boyd

Image c/o Frank Boyd, Flickr

It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting. Castle Bijaipur sits high in the Vindhyanchal Hills, surrounded by forests of Jacaranda trees and rolling farmlands down in the valley below. It’s a 16th century castle, fortified walls and everything, but was converted to a hotel in 1991 by the old Rajput family who still live in the grounds. The days pass quite smoothly here. Ride horses in the surrounding forest, go on a jeep safari, or dine under stars in the old courtyard surrounded by Queen of the Night flowers. Take the Intrepid Real Food Adventure in India and spend a night in Castle Bijaipur.

Osiyan Safari Camp

osiyan desert camp - credit Ivan Lian

Image c/o Ivan Lian, Flickr

Just outside the ancient Thar desert town of Osiyan you’ll find the Osiyan Desert Camp. The land here is dotted with exquisitely sculpted temples – legacies of the Jains who once dominated these dunes – and even today it’s a popular pilgrimage for the more religiously inclined. The camp itself sits among the sands; the perfect base for a sunset camel safari or a tour of the local desert villages. Spend a night as the Osiyan Safari Camp on Intrepid’s Rajasthan Adventure trip.

Bhanwar Vilas Palace

Karauli is way off the typical tourist trail. It’s famous for its red-sandstone quarries, lac bangles and fantastic architecture. There are castles, forts and shrines galore (including one very pretty one, Timangarh, overlooking a lake of water lilies) but your home while in Karauli is the colonial Bhanwar Vilas Palace. Built in 1938 by Maharaja Ganesh Pal Deo Bhadur, the hotel is more like an old country manor, with fabulously lavish art deco interiors and some beautiful grounds. Head off on our Golden Triangle trip and enjoy a stay here yourself.

Jungle Retreat

Tamil Nadu is the home of one of the very few living classical civilisations, not to mention thousands of miles of dense jungle. And among the foothills of the Nilgiris, among the trees of Tamil Nadu, is the Jungle Retreat. It’s a family run safari camp – 24 cottages with sprawling views of the nearby mountains, and some great wildlife viewing in the neighbouring Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The Mathias family set up the camp in 1996, and it’s thrived since then, partly due to its commitment to sustainable environmental practices. Want to visit? Then our Southern India trip is the one for you.

Ayana’s Pampatheeram Homestay


Image c/o Amanda Linardon, Flickr

Kerala is a world away from the hustle and bustle of most of India. It’s a knife-like province, a little sliver of green among the browns of southern India. And a homestay here is a great counterpoint to some of the more illustrious heritage hotels we visit in the rest of the country. There’s no better way to get a feel for the backwaters, canals and little rivers, the Arabian Sea coast and tea-covered hills than to sit back with a local, sip a glass a chai, and chat. Taveller’s love Ayana’s Homestay in particular for the warm hospitality and the mouth-watering food. Jump on South India Unplugged and enjoy a night at Ayana’s Pampatheeram Homestay.

This is just a small slice of our best exotic Indian accommodation. Head here for more info on the latest Indian trips. 


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