The Leela Palace Kempinski, New DelhiThese are exciting times. The luxury hotel segment in Delhi is getting a much needed shake. And as I check into the city’s newest property located in the heart of its stately diplomatic enclave, I am curious.Over a decade back when The Leela Palace removed the covers and threw open it gates to the people of Bangalore, I was there to witness how it changed the city and its skyline forever. Grandeur merged with kitsch, over-the-top blended beautifully with the sophisticated, and business mixed with pleasure in gay abundance under gold leaf domes, ornate ceiling and grand arches.The Leela Palace Kempinski New Delhi, at Chankyapuri, does not disappoint. I enter at midnight to a glittering lobby–opulent would be an understatement. Marble flooring, Murano chandeliers, silver jaali screens, gold leafed ceilings and handpicked artefacts swirl around me in a wondrous mix which is a part royal, part “other world”. RoomsA card key is needed to access the elevators. Isha, my personal butler, escorts me to the junior suite. The 700 sq ft room is a like a ‘One BHK’ apartment. An elaborate walk-in closet, a huge bathroom with spa mood lighting and mirror TV that you can watch as you laze in the sunken bath tub are as exhilarating as the iTouch dock that remote controls the entertainment panel of a HD LCD with Blu-Ray compatibility in the room. The room overlooks the green Africa Avenue and an edge-to-edge glass wall ensures an amazing view. Hand-crafted tapestry, brocades, silverware add the ‘The Leela Palace’ touch.The hotel has 260 rooms including one Maharaja Suite which is 1,520 sq ft, equipped with bullet proof glass, an elevator, private gym, spa and Jacuzzi. And the toiletries are by Bvlgari! Three other suites of over 1,000 sq ft come with private plunge pools. The rest of the rooms are divided into various categories, largely dependent upon the floor area. Fine dining Breakfast is at the all-day dining glasshouse, The Qube. This space is eclectic and contemporary, a slash of different in the otherwise ornate hotel. I dig into an “Egg in a box” gently persuaded by the chef, and must admit it was delicious–a sunny side up egg, just runny, set inside a masala toast! Going by the buzz at the weekend buffet here, I guess The Qube is fast becoming THE place to brunch at, in this city always hungry for something new.General Manager Tamir Kobrin chats me up as I mop up the egg, full of plans and raring to go. Coming up is the opening of Le Cirque on the 10th floor of the hotel with al fresco dining, a wine lounge and a bar. The famous modern French cuisine restaurant from New York City owned and operated by charismatic restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, comes to The Leela Palace Hotel with a menu that will be “a mix of classic Italian with traces of Indian and French favours”. A Japanese restaurant, Megu, and their signature Indian Jamavar round up the fine dining scene.SpaA 6,500 sq ft rambling spa by ESPA is built across two levels. Beautiful handcrafted marble walls add drama to the serene spaces. Treatments draw heavily from Indian traditions and ayurveda while fusing some of the European wellness techniques. A great stress buster tip is to spa, shower and head straight to the very stately Library Bar for a drink. As I did. Surrounded by Chesterfield chairs, leather, wood panelling, leather bound first editions and exclusive whiskeys, cigars and martinis, I sit sipping an excellent Chardonnay, just chilled to a nip till the lights glow around me and the night sets in…JamavarJamavar opens for dinner and is a reservations only fine dining restaurant with the menu straddling the country–from the coasts of Mangalore to the nawabi dastarkhans of Lucknow. My companion and I sit amidst chandeliers, wooden jaalis, silver cutlery and exquisite mirrors and tuck into some simple appams, fish curry, Mirchi Ka Salan and vegetable stew, which is not on the menu but the chef graciously whips up a portion on request. The decorIt is really difficult to comprehend this entire hotel at first go. There is simply too much happening around you… I notice a gigantic sculpture in the lawns, while staring out of The Qube. It reminds me of Angkor Wat. It’s Devi by Satish Gupta, I am informed. A giant brass and gold-plated mural of 1,000 lotuses in various stages of flowering, also by Gupta, decorates the porch attached to the lawns. Rooms boast of lithos, corridors are lined with bidriwork from UP, while the public areas display contemporary Indian artists like Satish Gujral, Paresh Maity and Laxman Gouda.Yes I am still trying to figure it all out. Some of it is gorgeous, some simply overwhelming, but most of it is dazzling, to say the least.-Ritu Agarwal RohatgiadvertisementadvertisementAt a glanceWhat: A new luxury hotelWhere: Chanakyapuri, Diplomatic Enclave Tel: (011) 3933 1234; www.theleela.comCost: Rs. 25,000 onwards per night for Grand Deluxe RoomsVerdict: Opulent!Sheraton Bangalore HotelSheraton’s new hotel at Brigade Gateway is a part of an interesting concept. It is one of the many elements of an urban ecosystem–which means it is flanked by a number of urban centres so that you don’t need to go very far for anything. Next to the hotel is the World Trade Centre, an office complex that’s set to be the tallest building in Bangalore. Nearby is the Orion Mall, among the largest in the city. There is also a hospital, residential apartment complex and a school around. RestaurantsAs I walked into the hotel’s spacious lobby, its classy interiors and uncluttered look intrigued me. I was famished, so before going up to the room I started with a big breakfast at Feast, the all-day-dining restaurant. There were separate show kitchens for continental, Asian and north and south Indian cuisines. I tucked into hot omelettes and dosas. After a couple of hours reading in my room, done up in earthy tones and overlooking the infinity pool, hunger pangs struck again and I went to Bene, the Italian restaurant. Here, Executive Chef Gustavo Maurelli told me that the idea is to serve authentic Italian cuisine and not ”Indianised” Italian cuisine. He served me risotto and ravioli that was creamier and thicker than most Italian cuisine I’ve had in India. I spent the evening at Durbar, the opulent bar offering a range of cocktails and wine. RoomsAfter negotiating the multitude of temptations at dinner at Feast, it was time to try, what Nithya, the marketing communications manager had said, was one of the best parts of the hotel’s experience–its bed. She rattled off the name, but at that point it didn’t seem to matter as I settled into the smooth, soft, spongy white bed, and was immediately cocooned in a pod of comfort. Later I found out I had spent the night on the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper(SM) Bed with nine layers.The deep sleep had to be the best part of the stay, even if it was so comfortable that I ended up skipping the gym session I’d promised myself in the morning. Yet, the cosy bed, and another full breakfast at Feast set up a great day ahead as I checked out later that morning.-Shamanth Rao At a glanceWhat: A new luxury hotelWhere: Dr. Rajkumar Road, Malleswaram-RajajinagarTel: (080) 4252 1000; www.starwoodhotels.com Cost: Rs. 6,500 per night for Premier Deluxe Room Verdict: A smart business hotel with a good locationNoor Mahal, KarnalAll right, come up with it. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Karnal? Rice fields? Dairy products? Liberty shoes or simply a town you pass enroute Chandigarh?How about a five-star hotel? Doesn’t seem to fit, does it? Digest the idea, for Karnal is now home to a sprawling heritage hotel, Noor Mahal. And it is exactly how it sounds–royal and glamorous.What strikes me is the hotel’s unlikely location and impressive facade. Standing amidst lush, green rice fields, this huge property resembles a Rajasthani haveli.Once I step into the lobby, it is difficult to remember that I am in Karnal. The delicate inlay work in the marble floor, the eye-catching hand-painted mural on the wall and sprawling verandahs are reminiscent of a maharaja’s palace.Rooms and SpaI am taken to my Club Royal room. But unlike the lobby, there is nothing royal about it, the dcor is modern. I quickly draw the curtains, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rice fields we had passed. Instead, all I see is verandahs and a central courtyard. Sigh, such is life. Disappointed, I get down to some reading, and then head to spa–7th Heaven, a tie-up with Sohum Spa from Mumbai. It’s a small spa with just three treatment rooms, but an exhaustive menu. I opt for the Sohum Signature Massage–a mix of Thai, acupressure, sports and a deep tissue massage. It’s exactly as hard as it sounds, and after 90 minutes I’m not just rejuvenated, but also famished.DiningI head to the Indian restaurant, The Frontier Mail, named after the train that ran between Mumbai and Peshawar before 1947. The restaurant has tables set inside a train compartment for those who enjoy the thought of dining in a train. The cuisine offered is from regions through which the train used to ply. I ponder over the menu and choose Mahi Soley–fish marinated in spices, which is so soft and tender that I have difficulty lifting it with my fork, and Murgh Lahori, a speciality from Lahore, which was not as spicy as I expected. The other eatery at the hotel is the 24-hour coffee shop, The Brown Sugar, where I have a leisurely breakfast the next morning. That evening I while away time sipping perfectly chilled champagne at The Polo Bar, where waiters are dressed in polo uniforms.The dining options may be limited, but the banquet facilities are not. The hotel has seven banquet halls, which can be combined to accommodate as many as 5,000 people. For some it may be the perfect venue to hold their dream wedding, but for me Noor Mahal is an ideal weekend getaway. -Pallavi PasrichaadvertisementAt a glanceWhat: A new heritage hotelWhere: National Highway 1, Sector 32 Tel: (0184) 306 6666; www.noormahal.inCost: Rs. 4,500 onwards per night for the Club Room Verdict: A good weekend and MICE option for Delhi and Chandigarh.Swissotel IstanbulGetting off my two-hour private Bosphorus cruise (rather reluctantly) at Besiktas, I saw the name Swissotel The Bosphorus looming. Perched on a hill was the colourful signage in a playful font. It’s a detail not many hotels pay attention to, the signage. Of course, a signage is not going to make you pick a hotel but it definitely made me turn and take notice. Celebrating 20 years this year, Swissotel is still a name to reckon with in Istanbul.RoomThe plan was to drop off my bags and charge out to explore the city. One step into the last room of the corridor and all of that changed. A large bay window showcases what becomes the centrepiece of the room. On one side you can see the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, on the other Dolmabahce Palace is almost within touching distance. And in front is the blue, blue Bosphorus. The rich and famous cut across in their yachts along side the local people who cross over to the Asia side, to return home after a day’s work. White boats float across the blue strait, painting a picture few masters can match. Everything else in the Bosphorus Corner Room becomes secondary in front of this grand show of nature, though I find no complaints except the television, which is kept right in front of the window, marring the perfection. I enquire about this obvious error and am told of technical details that can’t be helped. Technology will be the end of us one day, I sigh, as I try to pretend the television does not exist and munch on the chocolate and cherries kept in the room. DiningGaja Roof, the rooftop version of the Gaja restaurant (winter only), opens in the summer. A lot of the dining options at Swissotel are seasonal. (Check the website for which restaurants are open at the time of your visit.) Twenty years on, this is still the hotel with the most dining options. Where most big hotels in the city have not more than two, I counted at least six while walking around. Gaja Roof is one of those classy places with low lights and cool breeze and soft ambient music, where evening dresses in high heels come on the arms of designer suits; where glasses clink poshly as the evening stretches into the night. The seafood is highly recommended here–get the catch of the day. The sea bass I try is flaky and delicately flavoured and my fruity margaritas go perfectly with the main course. Twinkling lights across Istanbul, with the Asia side in the front and the old city on your right… The setting is most romantic. If you want to extend your evening, Gaja Sky, the lounge bar, is officially open till 5 a.m.!SpaNext day at the hotel started with the fabulous view and an hour at the Amrita spa. The lady with the wide smile at the reception suggested I go for Intensive Muscle Release massage. I agreed–the name itself sounded healing. The therapist was from Bali and I was happy to be in good hands. Europeans are great people but they don’t make the best masseuses in my experience. A satisfying massage later, I lunched at Cafe Swiss where the buffet spread surprised me with its taste and freshness. The Grilled Beef Steak and Lamb With Aubergine were superb, as was the Chocolate Baklava. Good, glitch-free experiences such as the one I had at Swissotel add so much to your holiday.-Kalyani Prasher At a glanceWhat: A luxury hotelWhere: Bayildim Caddesi No 2, Macka, Besiktas Tel: +90 212 326 1100; www.swissotel.comCost: Euro 220 for Bosphorus View, the site will have best rates.Verdict: Fantastic location and restaurants.