India has many magnificent old mansions that once belonged to noble families or royalty. Fortunately, an increasing number of them are being restored and turned into heritage hotels (some by their original owners). Here are nine of the best ones, in popular destinations. Options range from a regal stays in Rajasthan to French feel in Pondicherry. And, unlike India's opulent palace hotels, they're relatively affordable. Many have rooms under $100 per night. The rates stated are the lowest during the year.
A glorious sanctuary just five minutes walk from Jaipur's Old City, Alsisar Haveli was built in 1892 by the Alsisar noble family who ruled for nearly four centuries in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. The haveli was their retreat in Jaipur, away from their fort (now a heritage hotel called Alsisar Mahal). And what a retreat it is! It features evocative traditional Rajput architecture with numerous courtyards, alcoves, arches, pavilions and ornate artwork enhanced with gold. However, it's the Sheesh Mahal that will really capture your attention. It's elaborately decorated with mirrors and chandeliers and is now used as a common lounge for guests. The swimming pool area is another delightful place to relax. There are antiques, ancestral portraits and family photos all around the property, including in the 45 guest rooms. And, the noble Alsisar family still live there too!
- Rates: from about 4,500 rupees per night for a double, including tax, as of April 2019.
One of the best heritage hotels in Udaipur with lake views, Jagat Niwas Palace hotel is a restored 17th century mansion with typical regal Mewar-style architecture. It was built at the same time as Badi Mahal, which is part of the Udaipur City Palace complex and was used for royal banquets. The hotel is spread over three levels and has 29 guest rooms, the best ones (the Heritage and Jagat suites) facing Lake Pichola. Its rooftop restaurant has a panoramic view across the lake to the luxury Taj Lake Palace Hotel. Colorful murals, mirror work, antique furniture and a newly-installed rooftop swimming pool complete the picture. Unlike many hotels in the area, alcohol is available.
- Rates: from about 4,500 rupees per night for a double, including tax and breakfast. The cheapest rooms are located in a separate wing adjoining the hotel and don't have any views. However, they're recently renovated, spacious, clean and have air-conditioning. If you want to splurge, expect to pay 9,250 rupees per night upwards for a lake-facing Heritage suite and 12,500 rupees per night for a Jagat suite.
Ratan Vilas, in Rajasthan's Blue City of Jodhpur, is a heritage mansion built in 1920 by Maharaj Ratan Singhji of Raoti. His descendants still live in the property, which they've converted to a superbly-managed heritage hotel. A new wing was recently added but it doesn't lack any of the charm of the rest of the place. The oasis-like hotel is very warm and welcoming. Old family portraits fill the drawing room and you may even encounter the owner, who will fill you in on his fascinating family history. (Maharaj Ratan Singhji of Raoti was apparently one of the best horsemen and polo players of his time). Facilities include a swimming pool and garden restaurant where you can dine under the stars. There are 20 guest rooms, some facing the pool.
- Rates: from about 4,800 rupees per night for a double, including tax and breakfast.
A grand residence that was the home of the last reigning maharaja of Bikaner, Narendra Singhji, Narendra Bhawan opened as a heritage hotel in late 2016 after being lavishly restored by the MRS Group (which also operates Suryagarh in Jaisalmer). The magnificent hotel is an ode to his flamboyant life. It's an unconventional -- and very captivating -- eclectic blend of conventional and contemporary, past and present. Where ever you look, there's story being told. The 82 guest rooms are themed on India and various stages of the maharaja's life, including his military life. It's the experience on offer that really make the hotel stand out though. Foodies will be in heaven over the intriguing concept of "Food Meditation" and the accompanying epic culinary voyages. Other curated experiences include historical explorations of the town and sundowners in the desert hinterland. There's also free Wi-Fi, a rooftop swimming pool, gym and spa.
- Rates: from about 5,500 rupees per night for a double, including tax and breakfast.
You'll be transported back to the Mughal era at Haveli Dharampura, in the heart of Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk neighborhood. The haveli, built in 1887, was derelict and deteriorating before being rescued by heritage enthusiasts. Six years of intensive work followed to transform it to its former glory. Notably, the restoration was recognized by UNESCO in its Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2017. The property's original 60 small rooms have been repurposed into 13 very spacious guest rooms set around the central courtyard, plus fine-dining restaurant specializing modern Indian and Mughlai cuisine. The hotel was envisioned to be cultural center, with art gallery, cultural performances and a range of cultural experiences on offer too.
- Rates: from about 9,600 rupees per night for a double, including tax and breakfast.
There are numerous options for Colonial stays in Kolkata but until 2018, none in a Bengali house. Calcutta Bungalow is the first heritage hotel of its kind, located in north Kolkata's old Bengali neighborhood. This once ramshackle 1920s townhouse was restored by the founder of Calcutta Walks and it's his hope that it will inspire other property owners in the area to do the same. Each of the six guest rooms is individually themed on professions in different parts of the city (such as theater artists, tailors, cobblers and book sellers). The bright yet earth interiors, done by acclaimed local designer Swarup Dutta, are peppered with unusual repurposed items and antiques. Friendly staff, super comfortable beds, a communal dining room, rooftop terrace and bicycles for hire all create a welcoming home away from home. Ask to be picked up from the airport in the hotel's iconic green Ambassador car (and discover the reason why it's painted green).
- Rates: from about 6,800 rupees per night for a double, including tax and breakfast.
Pondicherry is known for its French heritage and staying in a heritage hotel there an ideal way of experiencing it. One of the most famous ones is Le Dupleix, an 18th century French colonial villa that was the residence of the Mayor of Pondicherry. It's named after celebrated French Governor Marquis Joseph-Francois Dupleix and sits in the calm French quarter colloquially known as "White Town". The property was converted into a boutique heritage hotel in 2004 by the owner of premium leather bag company Hidesign (who also opened The Promenade in Pondicherry). While some of the original structure was able to be saved, such as the exquisite French-Indian woodwork, much of it had to be reconstructed. Many modern touches have been added, creating a fabulous fusion. The 14 suites are all different in style and decor. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi. Delicious Creole cuisine is served in the courtyard restaurant, while The Governor’s Lounge is renowned for being the first bar in Pondicherry.
- Rates: from about 7,000 rupees per night for a double, including tax and breakfast.
A recent addition to the hotel scene in Fort Kochi, this newly restored heritage property opened in 2018 (it has the same owner as Kumarakom Lake Resort). It was originally built by the Portuguese before becoming in the palatial home of an eminent Jewish family in the 19th century. An interesting feature remains in the central courtyard: a Mikveh natural spring used for Jewish rituals. The cozy and chic hotel is perfectly positioned on Princess Street for those who like to be in the midst of the action and close to the Chinese fishing nets and promenade. Its 27 guest rooms have been decorated in colonial style and are set around the secluded swimming pool. The suite is enormous and has a freestanding claw-foot bath! Guests can choose a book to read from the library and enjoy it with a beverage from the coffee lounge. The restaurant serves cuisine from around the world, so you won't be bored with the dining options either.
- Rates: from about 7,200 rupees per night for a double, including tax and breakfast.
Experience the culture of Kerala's famous backwaters at this characterful 150+ year old ancestral property, which retains its original architectural features including teak wood carvings. Emerald Isle is situated on a secluded 9 acres of land bordering the Pampa River near Alleppey, surrounded by paddy fields. All kinds of activities are possible, ranging from cooking lessons to village visits (and of course backwater excursions). Or, just relax and unwind in a hammock. The Villa offers free Wi-Fi. There are five guest rooms, all with ensuite baths, including three air-conditioned heritage rooms in the main house. Arrival by boat is an added highlight!
- Rates: from about 5,500 rupees per night with breakfast. It's also possible to stay in the granary or separately in a luxury cottage (which was once the coconut storeroom and stable).