Top 12 Romantic Retreats in India & Sri Lanka – a mix of hotels, villas, lodges and havelis, perfect for lovers or honeymooners….
If you are planning your honeymoon or even if you've just got a bit off time off and are dreaming of jetting off somewhere romantic, we have picked out the most dazzling travel ideas for you and your loved one. Just call us Cupid!
1. Ampersand MD, James Jayasundera describes what he believes is the most romantic journey imaginable…
India: Maheshwar > Ahmedabad > Udaipur > Alwar
Fly to Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar via either Mumbai or Delhi and spend four nights there including one night on a boat sailing on the stunning Narmada river. Away from the masses this location truly captures the “Essence of India” with its delightful quirky charm, stunning beauty and impeccable pedigree. Fly to Ahmedabad and dive into the colourful chaos of this fascinating city. Overlooked by most, it is actually one of the most fascinating cities in India with incredible bazaars, mind-boggling step wells and layer upon layer of sophisticated culture. Next, drive to Udaipur and stay at the Lake Palace to celebrate Diwali (13 Nov 2013) – the Festival of Lights where you will be dazzled by a firework display that will last the best part of the night. In the middle of the lake with all the palaces reflected in the dark, mirror-like surface, all the lights will be reflected a thousand-fold. Fly on to Jaipur and drive to the oasis of Alwar in the Aravalli mountains and stay at the rural luxury retreat of Amanbagh. Have a sunrise yoga session on the plinth of an abandoned temple in the deserted city of Bhangarh – feel the countryside wake up and see the colourful local ladies at their most regal walking whilst while effortlessly balancing huge containers of water on their head. You’ll see herders accompanying their cattle to the fields and young children frolicking in the pools and running with sticks and hoops along the mud beaten paths. This is India at its most beautiful and romantic.
2. Stay in a twinkly haveli palace hotel
Samode Palace, Samode nr Jaipur, India
Perfect for couples who want an atmosphic heritage palace experience and who have a true appreciation of history and historical architecture. One of the best heritage properties in Rajasthan, this glittering fairy-tale palace is like a desert mirage set against a striking mountain backdrop – and it’s even more beautiful lit up at night. Despite the rooms having been recently renovated, this is no Taj palace property – the vibe is Indian royalty luxury and it feels completely authentic without a hint of European influence. Samode Palace would be the ideal place for a fairy-tale wedding or unforgettable honeymoon. All the rooms are different and beautifully decorated. The Royal Suites are the most ‘modern’ available and are incredibly large with several flat screen televisions and Nespresso coffee machines – perfect for guests looking to enjoy a cultural heritage property with all the comforts of a modern luxury hotel. The Durbar Hall and blue open sitting room are two of the most stunning rooms to be found in the whole of India; brilliantly preserved, they are true museum showcases, but without any of the stuffiness. The village of Samode is extremely charming and a lovely place to stroll through. Enjoy a champagne aperitif on the candlelit terrace next to its cliff-facing infinity pool... a truly unforgettable romantic experience!
3. Discover a unique candy-coloured gem in the desert
Lakshman Sagar, Rajasthan, India
Lakshman Sagar is a gorgeous, newly opened resort two and a half hours drive from Jodhpur. Set in a heritage fort, its rustic feel and roughly hewn walls are offset by candy-coloured blue and pink accents that you just know Jade Jagger and her boho-chic clan would love! Each of the 12 private villas come with a tear-shaped plunge pool and colourful ethnic Rajasthani décor – the perfect hideaway for some back-to-basics romance. Great for honeymoon couples who don’t have a mega-watt budget and enjoy stylish adventures.. Beautifully set out in the desert wilderness, this hotel has real small-scale boutique charm. Originally a hunting-lodge it is spread over 32 acres of land with a tranquil and sleepy lake at its centre. Each villa looks on to the lake and comes with a private plunge pool. The interiors are really fun, inspiring and incredibly unique due to the 0 km concept. Everything inside the cottages has been sourced from the local surroundings and villages – milk urns have become lanterns, old cooking utensils hold your toothbrushes and the entire cottages are kitted out in Rajasthani colours; from cushions to rugs & throws, and even (bright green) walls! The overall effect is that of a luxury eco-lodge – you really feel at one with the surroundings. As well as the cottages, Lakshman Sagar has two main central buildings. These house a small restaurant (which serves delightful home-cooking style Rajasthani dishes) a bar, relaxation areas and several multi purposes cushioned spaces. The pink and blue colour-scheme works beautifully and creates a very special space where views of the local area can be seen from nearly every room. It would make for a very intimate honeymoon and would suit those looking to have an authentic rural village experience in the thick of nature. Spend a couple of nights here to really enjoy the atmosphere and the unique facilities and activities on offer. This is a perfect place to relax midway through a trip of Rajasthan as there are no typical tourist monuments and sights to visit. Make sure to try the house saffron and rose liquors!
4. Get a taste of traditional Sri Lankan village life staying in a mud hut
The Mudhouse, Anamaduwa, Sri Lanka
For adventure seekers looking for something truly special, the Mudhouse is the new frontier in Sri Lanka. The team here are extraordinarily sweet and welcoming (with the ever-giggling Kumar at its helm) which immediately allays any anxieties you might have about being in such a remote forest sleeping in a mud hut with no walls! The adventure of this experience is the whole point and it feels like a wonderful honor to live this traditional, age-old lifestyle for a few days. The three thatched roofed mud huts are simple but sweet, made of wattle and daub and decorated with bowls of purple water lilies, hanging kerosene lamps, hammocks and scatter cushions. The “minibar” is an eskie with soft drinks and complimentary beer, there are outdoor showers and two bicycles parked outside. There is an organic farm and a wonderfully atmospheric dimly lit kitchen with traditional earthenware crockery where you can have cooking classes; other activities include early morning bird-watching excursions, cycling, fishing, and market and rock temple visits – guided or alone. The Mudhouse is great for adventurous families – teenagers would no doubt find it very cool! – or a honeymoon with a twist.
5. Stay in a stunning private home with a fabulously eccentric owner
Kahanda Kanda, Galle, Sri Lanka
KK, as she's nicknamed, is a sprawling hideaway perched on a ridge north of Koggala Lake. It is one of Sri Lanka’s most sophisticated boutique hotels, with 8 pavilion suites, a gorgeous Living Pavilion bar and a great restaurant (if you don’t stay here, at least try to drop by for lunch). If you love both nature and style, this hotel is perfect. Run by the eccentric and charasmatic George Cooper, you are guaranteed an intimate and exclusive experience. It is immaculately styled by him but still relaxed, as if you are staying in a private home. He has built a new lawn beneath the main house to provide an area for private tented dinners and all through the property you can hear the sounds of nature– peacocks, cockatoos, crickets, leaves rustling and trees swaying. Awake to magnificent sounds of wildlife and towering, elevated views – rainforest, marshlands, Kogola Lake, cinnamon trees, tea fields. You have the mixture of jungle and tea plantations here, and just 15 mins by tuk tuk to the beach. You can cycle down to Kogola Lake and take a boat trip to Cinnamon Island to visit a local farmer and his family who live very rustic lifestyles cultivating cinnamon. KK are working with Rainforest Rescue and carbon offsetting. It is a fantastic property for weddings as it has a long private lawn with Buddha statue at the end. Staff are very friendly and professional – George has a good grasp of what level of luxury people expect at this price and he provides it. Perfect for honeymooners – a great place to sit for hours, days, taking in beautiful natural surrounding with the option of George’s witty conversation should you want it.
6. An eco lodge for stargazing nature lovers
Galapita Eco Lodge, Buttala, Sri Lanka
Great for couples or a group of friends with a real sense of adventure, this eco lodge is perfect for those of you who were once travellers and like to think that you can still do it, but need that bit of added comfort as an incentive! If you have ever dreamed of sleeping under the stars in style, Galapita Eco Lodge in Buttala is the place for you. Galapita's four large mud huts are perched on top of the rocks alongside the Menik Ganga (GemRiver) in the middle of the jungle. From here you can visit the beautiful rock temples of Dambegoda and Maligawila – which has the largest monolithic statue of Buddha on the island – and the holy pilgrimage site of Kataragama. The huts are open-sided with straw roofs, clay floors and contoured driftwood as furniture. The perfect place to relax and get away from it all, you can go prospecting for gems in the river, rock-climbing, rafting, or simply cool down in the natural Jacuzzi created by the river rushing over the rocks. Eco bliss.
7. Stay at Galle's chicest address - a new townhouse available for rent next door to the Amangalla
#20 Middle Street, Galle, Sri Lanka
Situated right next door the Amangalla, it feels almost like the private villa version of the Amangalla – as in, it simply does not get better than this in terms of location, history, integrity of the refurb and the exquisite level of taste. Set in the very heart of Galle with great views over the 17th Century Dutch Reform Church, it is a private heaven in amidst the town’s gentle bustle. For some buzz, simply pop next door for a Arak Sour at the Amangalla’s terrace bar, the waterhole for the glamorous Galle scene. The building was built in 1750 as a Dutch merchant’s house and the arched front veranda and balustrades were added by the English in the 1800s making for an extraordinarily handsome, imposing and grand exterior. Architect Channa Daswatte renovated the house and it is one of Galle Fort’s classiest and best preserved properties… its undiscovered grand dame. Its interior decoration is both very smart yet remarkably understated, cool and calming with terrazzo floors, original teak windows and top quality fittings and furnishings. It has sweeping staircases and several terraces with seating to relax – both shaded on the ground floor and rooftop terraces for sunshine. Its luscious and well tented gardens are a nice spot to relax and breathe in perfumed frangipani and Jurassic ginger flowers. The staff here are crucial to your stay and there is a wonderful team who look after you here including chef, Preethi, who can cook Sri Lankan and Western dishes. They are very flexible to your group’s needs and can set up dinners in the Verandah or, if you are a big group, on a big table in the Zaal, or on the Loggia in the AnnexeBuilding for the best views. There are all high tech gadgets and facilities for entertainment such as a plunge pool, games room with pool table, flatscreen TV/DVD with surround sound, WiFi throughout the house and well stocked library.
8. Go glamping in a 1920s-style colonial tiger camp
Sher Bagh, Ranthambore National Park, India
This experience is perfect in every way. Picture this: nostalgic tents right out of a 1920s colonial hunting camp, a roaring campfire in the middle of a welcoming circle of antique canvas chairs, ‘Tigertini’ cocktails served at sunset, oil lamps that hang from branches to light up the earthen paths and the most personal service we have ever received by well-meaning and elegant staff… And all of this in the middle of a lush forest crawling with tigers, sloth bears, sambar deers – an area formerly used as a private hunting reserve of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Rarely do you find a hotel that manages to so successfully capture a lost luxurious era while remaining completely at the top of the contemporary hotel game. Sher Barg is the perfect place to get away from it all and plunge into an exotic landscape full of authentic, quirky and unique touches. Be greeted by the staff with fresh lime juice and dine on eggs Benedict at the end of a bumpy morning game drive; sunbathe by the fresh-water pool facing the rugged savannah-like landscape and soothe your aching muscles in the intimate spa tent… Not to be missed!
9. Hide out in a hip haveli
Raas, Jodhpur, India
One of India’s coolest and most intimate little boutique hotels. Located at the foot of the Mehrangarh Fort amid the colourful old quarter of the Blue City of Jodphur, Raas is a soothing 31-room sanctuary built around an immaculately restored haveli. By day, these rose sandstone buildings are bathed in soft rays and, come night, the courtyard is subtly lit up with hundreds of little lights with the fort looming large above you. Gorgeously sleek bedrooms have been decked out with shiny black terrazzo floors, custom-made rosewood furniture and creamy-white walls. You are bang in the middle of the walled Blue City of Jodhpur, and there is a customised blue tuk tuk you can hop in to be transported through Jodhpur’s cobweb of tiny lanes, throbbing with jewellery, silk and spice bazaars. Raas is a perfect heritage conversion as it maintains the character of the old haveli while creating a fresh, stylish and luxurious retreat for people to enjoy and relax within. The pool, courtyard gardens and outdoor restaurant are all achingly beautiful and the entire place comes to life at nightfall. A perfect place to enjoy the hustle and bustle of Jodhpur without feeling at all ruffled by the crowds. From the moment you enter through the glass box lobby, you feel as if you have reached somewhere really special where architecture has been given a free reign to really shine. The Luxury & Garden rooms are more contemporary and less heritage; think white fluffy duvets, clean sleek lines and modern furniture. The heritage suites – located around the inner courtyard gardens – are built in the old haveli building. Structurally nothing has been changed, and the furniture and interior design is subtle and stylish in order for the true beauty of the building to shine. The suites are a maze of low ceilings and interweaving rooms and make you feel as if you have gone back hundreds of years – without having to sacrifice any creature comforts! Perfect for honeymoon couples looking to connect with the culture and history of India while maintaining luxury standards. We suggest taking a fort-facing duplex suite where you can enjoy views of the fort from your bed!
10. Discover an eco-luxe resort fit for the fussiest luxury travellers
Ulagalla, Thirappane, Sri Lanka
A new and highly conceptualised project by UGA Resorts combining ultra luxury with ultra eco initiatives. Laid out over a truly enormous area surrounded by buffalo fields, the villas are extremely luxe – akin to an Aman villa but with more flair and colour – and all come with separate living rooms, private pools and amazing bathrooms. The quality of the fittings, fixtures, linens and mod cons are the best of the best. You could happily snuggle here for days with your partner and watch DVDs, swim, sunbathe and feel totally pampered and cocooned. Each villa comes with 2 bicycles and there are electric buggies to take you to the main pool and the handsome lobby/restaurant building. They have lots of eco-powered activities: cycling, kayaking, archery, horse riding (with very impressive stables & horses) and Sri Lanka’s largest solar panel to power the resort. The lounge bar is drop dead stunning with a glass-floored wine cellar, a fish pond, pool table and library. There is also a poolside air-conditioned gym, a helipad, a small spa and an “island” in the middle of a huge paddy field where they put on private candle-lit dinners.
11. Feel like an ancient god and goddess in the Aravalli Hills
Amanbagh, Alwar, India
Secluded in a valley of the Aravalli Hills, the most ancient mountain range in the world and set on what was once the site of the Maharajah of Alwar’s hunting lodge, Amanbagh is an supremely sexy and sophisticated retreat for such a remote rural location. Ampersand’s favourite rural experience in Rajasthan for clients who have both time and money. The architecture is very commanding and impressive – a successful mix of Mughal, Hindu & Colonial styles with beautiful gardens and orchards bordering the estate on all sides. The hotel has a feeling of peaceful calm and is a real oasis compared to other busier parts of India. There is a beautiful open-plan restaurant with views over the main pool which is stunning at dusk and in the evening as candles and lights illuminate the grounds. The Private Villas with pools are brilliant for honeymoon couples looking for pure privacy and the Terrace Havelis – with their magnificent view of the main pool – would work well for all couples. There is a historic, almost spiritual aura at this resort and you will feel like an ancient god and goddess bathing in your magnificent green marble tub! Take advantage of the various excursions: the cow dust tour (with welcome fresh lemonade and cake at tea time), the early morning yoga session which takes place at Bhangarh at sunrise, or simply the free daily yoga session held behind the gym.
12. Be completely seduced by the most romantic hotel in the world
Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur
Set beside the blue waters of Pichola Lake glimmering against the green of the surrounding hills, Udaipur’s position is wonderfully romantic. Its most famous hotel, the Lake Palace, stands right in the centre of the lake above its watery reflection. This 250-year-old white marble palace floats like a mirage and is reached by a short boat ride. Built as a summer retreat by Maharana Jagjit Singh, Taj have given it a palatial luxury refurbishment with marble floors and rich furnishings. There are two restaurants; one informal serving both buffet and a la carte from around the world and the other a fine dining option specilaising in Rajasthani food which overlooks the famous lily pond and only opens for dinner. Although relatively small, the pool terrace has lovely views of the City Palace. With its atmospheric City Palace looming large over tranquil Lake Picchola, Udaipur is one of India’s best places to relax and be pampered. To really “push the boat out”, treat yourselves to an afternoon on Taj’s Jiva Spa Boat. This customised spa boat is equipped with a Jiva spa massage therapy room and a deck with a jacuzzi full of rose petals.
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