Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Oberoi Amarvilas

India

An opulent retreat with unfathomable views over the majestic Taj Mahal

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Oberoi Amarvilas

Location

Agra, 600 metres from the Taj Mahal

Travel Information

Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport - 3 hour drive or train ride

Top Tips

Enjoy a romantic dinner overlooking the Taj Mahal

5-Star X-Factors

All 102 rooms and suites have views of the Taj Mahal

Fit for a princess

When Diana, Princess of Wales, took up her brilliantly stage-managed, abandoned-wife pose on the stone bench outside the Taj Mahal in Agra, she could barely have imagined that literally hundreds of thousands of Indian women would, from that day on, beg to be photographed in exactly the same poignant way. But when, in May, I finally fulfilled my own lifelong dream of visiting the world's foremost monument to love, I discovered that the Indian chapter of the Di-worshipping sorority has virtually taken up residence there.

From the gentle whispers of "Lady Di" aimed at all passing female foreigners no need to be a blonde bombshell, or even British, just as long as your skin is white to the queues of Indian women queuing up to become their favourite princess on film, the power of this legendary marble mausoleum remains undimmed.

"India is a very romantic country," my guide, Arif, informed me proudly his attention temporarily diverted by a group of giggling young women clad in stunning saris and dazzling collections of gold jewellery, play-fighting over who should be photographed next. "You will find that as a nation, we take love and romance very seriously."

Every Indian schoolchild does indeed learn the tragic story behind the Taj and most adults can trot out names, precise dates and whole lists of supporting characters with alacrity. Built in the 1630s and 40s by 20,000 masons and jewellers, it was commissioned by the emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to her 14th child. The shock of her death turned his hair grey overnight.  Fittingly, the couple now lie as close in death as they reportedly did in life.

Visitors show their respect for the lovers by removing their shoes before they go inside. Today, the marble marvel remains not only India's foremost tourist destination, but underpins an entire city of marble carvers, stone masons, painters, architects, jewellers and of course hoteliers and tourist workers whose livelihood relies on the building's enduring appeal.

Pilgrims' palace

Just 600 metres from the Taj and 15 minutes from the city centre of Agra is another monument well worth a visit, one that is dedicated to luxury 21st century accommodation of the most discerning kind. The Oberoi Amarvilas built in 2000 to cater for well-heeled Taj pilgrims is undisputedly the best hotel in the entire area and attracts its own share of celebrity crowd-pullers including Brad Pitt.

To be honest, I wasn't sure whether to take its proud boast of 'breathtaking views of the monument from each of our 102 guest rooms and suites' with a pinch of cumin powder, but I was delighted to find precisely that in my large, airy sixth floor room. There was even a generous balcony directly facing the Taj.

Like the other monument close by, the Amarvilas is unashamedly romantic in style. If the lure of the Taj Mahal itself was not enough to get hearts pumping, the hotel competes with enormous vases of fresh gardenias in guest rooms and public areas, a cellar packed with vintage champagne and lavish spa treatments designed specifically for couples. I am not at all surprised to learn from the manager that Amarvilas is a very popular choice among both young honeymooners and wedding anniversary parties looking for an appropriate backdrop to their love.

Dream dip

If proximity to the Taj itself is still the prime draw and there are numerous golf buggies for those who would prefer to arrive in style then the large terraced garden and pool area at this resort hotel certainly comes a close second. At 1.3 metres deep and partially shaded, the comfortably-heated pool caters for all levels of swimmers and has the kind of serene atmosphere that manages to discourage the competitive splashing and lapping that mars other hotel pools.

Presided over by a huge portrait of Ganesha, the elephant god of good fortune, and well-stocked with both international newspapers and a generous all-day international menu including the best, spiciest Mulligatawny soup I have ever tasted going poolside at Amarvilas proves an unforgettable treat.

In the 36 hours that I was a guest of Agra, I saw the Taj Mahal both shimmering with white heat at midday and hauntingly translucent at dusk. By dawn the following morning, the very same building had become a more ethereal, even ghostly mirage when viewed from my balcony, no doubt gathering its power for the new day to come.

A beautiful building that can take on so many different personalities? Now that's what I call romantic.

Virginia Matthews



Luxury Explorer