When Antonia, one of my oldest and dearest friends from London emailed to say she’s finally visiting India, for the Art Fair held annually in Delhi, the dates were immediately pencilled in my diary and a flight from Mumbai booked.
My previous visits to the capital have been quite short, revolving mainly around seeing friends, family and dining at Indian Accent (possibly my favourite Indian restaurant of all time). So the excitement around my upcoming trip soon started to bubble on several counts, not least because we’d be staying at the Imperial – a heritage hotel steeped in history and old-world charm…
Tracings its roots back to 1931, the hotel was built by D.J. Blomfield – a close associate of Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect of New Delhi – in the colonial and Victorian schools of architecture, with subtle Art Deco elements.
It’s a rather grand property – all dark wood and gleaming marble corridors that reflect the soft lights of the Murano chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings overhead.
The real draw though, is the expansive series of art, artefacts and antiquities (part of the personal collection of the family owning the hotel), occupying all the open spaces and lining the walls.
Known as a museum hotel, you’ll find works here dating back to the the late 17th and early 18th century including etchings, wood engravings, lithographs and life-size oil paintings portraying the Princely Rulers of India.
Each piece tells a story chronicling a timeless moment in history, from the vintage photographs commemorating ceremonies such as the Delhi Darbaar, to original sketches by the officers of the English army sent home to their families, to tell them of their life in India.
The connect in the stories continue through the corridors, each whispering tales of a bygone time…
I was visiting with my friend from Bombay and the hotel had thoughtfully put us up in an “Eliza room.” Housed in a “Single Lady Corridor” on the third floor, these rooms have been designed around the safety and comfort of female travellers, with CCTV cameras included so that guests are aware of their surroundings.
With its king-sized bed and feminine touch (think pastel towels, silk kimono robes and a complimentary manicure set!), we found the spacious room much to our comfort and liking, especially with its cosy sofa sitting. It was perfect for curling up in, a cup of tea in hand and a little room service on the side, to recharge between events!
Over the course of the three days, we found ourselves spending much time in the hotel itself, taking advantage of the various facilities and dining experiences offered.
I sadly wasn’t able to make it in time for the yoga sessions held in the dedicated studio, but I did manage a fitspiring start to the mornings nonetheless with satisfying workouts in the well-maintained techno gym.
It was then on to breakfast in 1911 – the all-day dining restaurant, adorned with colourful murals illustrating an aesthetic view of Hindustan…
We loved the restaurant’s sun-lit marbled verandah too – an ideal spot for tucking into the considerable breakfast spread, featuring a hearty selection of breads, pastries and parathas (Indian flat bread), freshly cut fruits, yogurts and smoothies, eggs-to-order and even a South Indian option – crisp dosas and fluffy idlis.
And to think, we were sitting by the very same turquoise pillars around which the partition talks were held decades and decades ago!
Quite conveniently, the Sotheby’s soirées that we were attending for Art Fair, were hosted in the hotel’s ballroom – a grandiose setting where many dances have been famously held. The wooden floor boards have quite a spring to them even today…
In addition to the preview for Sotheby’s upcoming Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art auction (to be held in New York this March), we also spent a glamorous morning at a champagne brunch hosted by their Jewellery department, where we heard the the captivating stories behind some of the world’s most dazzling jewels and learned about the “power of the paddle” in acquiring rare and unusual gems!
Between all the parties and previews, it was lovely to catch a breath over a cup of coffee in the atrium or over a bellini in the 1911 bar. With its period portraits, stained glass details and regimental theme, the moody ambience here evoked a deep sense of nostalgia for the charm and grace of another era…
We ended up having a staycation in the hotel on our last day and were delighted to be led on a dedicated art tour to explore in depth, its cultural and historic treasures… mesmerised with a new discovery at every turn!
I also uncovered Delhi’s best kept secret – the Imperial spa.
Tucked away below the lush gardens of the hotel, it’s a hidden paradise inspired by Rajasthani and Mughal architecture with mosaic tiles, pristine white marble inlaid from Jaipur and Indian motifs…
The décor here is imbued with a deep sufi philosophy, with profound verses from Rumi engraved across the beguiling corridors – a reflection of the poetic aspects of a spa experience.
Hayley Louise Dack, the spa director, lives and breathes a passion for holistic wellness and under her direction the experience is one that completely rejuvenates and revitalises, from the use of the hydrotherapy suites at the start, to rituals tailored to individual needs including Ayurvedic treatments (with accompanying consultations).
The royal Mughal Suite seemed a perfect fit for those looking for a heavy dose of indulgence (the sumptuous room even has its own salon area)…
I was booked in for a signature Imperial massage designed to balance and restore, with a choice of six oils (each with different properties). I opted for the rose and sandalwood “oil of Mahadeva” – both soothing and nourishing, it had me drifting off into a state of tranquility…
… Afterwards, lulled into a reverie, I put my feet up in the quiet area of the spa for a bit, before lazily heading off to get ready for lunch at Spice Route – the hotel’s acclaimed restaurant, specialising in six types of South and South-East Asian cuisines. But that’s a story for another day.
Our last day staycation was definitely an imperial note on which to end our splendid stay in Delhi!
The Imperial Hotel, Janpath Lane, Connaught Place, New Delhi, 110001, India
1911 at the Imperial
My spa experience was complimentary, courtesy of the Imperial hotel.