– Choosing between independent hotels, big chains, heritage hotels & homestays –
Travelling in India is fun but challenging. And finding the right hotel for your family is even more so. I have always been curious about the ‘right fit’ that each traveller seeks for their hotel stays. Is it the location, the luxury quotient and great food? Or is it an intimate atmosphere, efficient service, outdoor activities and places to explore? My conclusion is that, as with many other things in India, perhaps the search for the perfect family hotel also defies a logical decision-making process.
Travelling as adults is relatively straight forward. We are more flexible. Add a few kids into the equation and it is a very different story, especially when it’s a long, arduous journey.
As with so many things with today’s India, the tourism sector has seen rapid expansion over the past decade and there are now far more hotel options than previously. No longer are the only choices seriously high-end chain hotels (think the Oberois) grotty, over-priced mid-range hotels, or scruffy back-packer haunts. Added to these are ‘heritage hotels’, decent independent luxury hotels, and homestays.
But is it possible to define which of these would make an ideal hotel for families with children?
Of course, the location is pretty critical. That is the ease of getting there, as well as its location in relation to planned activities. A well-located hotel can save you many hours on India’s sometimes dreadful roads where pit stops are few and far between, thus resulting in less, “Are we there yet?” questions from the children.
Food – As Indian eating times, as well as the actual food, often differ to that of Western children, the whole issue of feeding the troops can be a major cause for heartburn for parents particularly with younger children. However, it is possible to find hotels for children that serve child-friendly food (even if from a limited menu) at a time when the kids want it. It has to be said that hotels that have specific kids menus and high chairs are harder to find.
Facilities – Lots of space to run around and be active, along with a pool is an obvious requirement for families. Proper babysitting facilities, which allow parents to enjoy their evening as much as their children enjoyed their day, are a serious bonus. A special kid’s camp or day care activities are still pretty rare.
Extra beds – This little add-on can drive up costs quite considerably, along with the annoyance factor of the extra bed(s) never being in the room when you arrive. However, there are hotels that charge a reasonable charge for extra beds and have rooms that can comfortably accommodate two extra beds. In my experience, it is worth asking and asking again how the system works in ‘that hotel’.
Safety & interconnecting rooms – With a larger family or with older children, some parents prefer to have their kids in an adjacent room, but directly accessible. However, outside of the larger chain hotels, very few independent hotels have interconnecting rooms. The tricky part here remains that of getting a hotel to commit to reserving them for you. A suite may not always be available or affordable.
Of course, this all begs the question, do such hotels exist that meet the above criteria and what type of hotel are you best considering? The independent hotels (boutique or otherwise) offer the most interesting opportunities to discover the real India. These are usually built and run by an individual or family, but are full service hotels. And these are many a time, your best options in less developed and remote destinations. However, they come with a question mark – are they as good as they say they are? Independent hotels that are well located, provide a feeling of safety, comfort and familiarity from the moment you arrive, that have extra beds in place and does not charge a fortune for them and will serve child friendly food at any given time. They do exist, and finding them can be delightful even if there are not enough of them. Developed tourist areas in Rajasthan, Kerala & Goa offer a better chance to find such hotels.
Some of them are
Flameback Lodges, Kollam – Private cottages, away from all activity and each room offers a fabulous view of the private lake. Flameback really is a home tucked away in the midst of the jungle.
Red Earth, Kabini – Soak in the serenity and the sounds of the jungle at the Red Earth Kabini. Situated close to the Kabini dam, across the Kapila River, the resort is surrounded on two sides by water. Cottages are spacious and space for the kids to run around.
Marari Beach – Far from the madding crowd, and distant from the world of trendy hotspots and beach raves, Marari’s lietmotifs are space and silence. A stretch of virgin white sandy beach with clear blue waters is amazing to play in.
As the independent family friendly hotels are relatively unknown, many travellers tend to choose the tried and tested option of larger chain hotels. Big chain hotels trump others in consistency, better trained staff and rewards. However, they do disappoint when it comes to delivering authentic experiences in India.
Notable exceptions here however would be hotels in Rajasthan. Like the:
Bungalow on the beach, Tranquebar – Built in the 17th century, the Bungalow offers a living history. It still retains the charming essence of the years gone before and of course the beaches. It offers its guests a chance to immerse themselves in the simple way of life.
Fragrant Nature, Kollam – Fragrant Nature Resort lies on the undiscovered shores of Lake Mala in southern Kerala near Kollam (Quilon). The resort’s cottages blend with the secluded beauty of the natural surroundings. The resort is also about the excellent food and the leisure and cultural activities.
Vivenda dos Palhacos, Goa – Vivenda dos Palhaços is a distinct home with a sprinkling of everything Goan. A modest Portuguese Mansion, built in 1929, greets visitors from the front. An older, Hindu house, made from thick rammed earth walls, is tucked behind. The aesthetically decorated rooms reflect warmth and welcome.
And how do the heritage hotels fare? They can range from the small and quirky to the majestic. Well run heritage hotels are fascinating, but probably not a great fit for families – think safety, more objects to break, narrow stairs etc. However these hotels offer a great opportunity to stay in & experience a “piece of history”. Outside of the popular Rajasthan heritage circuit, there are some lovely heritage hotels to be discovered in the south – in places like Tranquebar, Pondicherry, Fort Kochi, Madurai & Coimbatore.
Ajit Bhawan, Jodhpur – One of India’s first heritage hotels, it was built exclusively for the younger brother of the Maharaja in the serene desert of Rajasthan. Decades later, the Haveli has been opened as the perfect way to experience the legacy and get a taste of this royal luxury.
Royal Heritage Haveli, Jaipur – Built in the 18th century the Haveli opened its doors after 150 years as boutique hotel. Sprawled over 100,000 square feet, complete with rambling lawns, serene courtyards, plush interiors and stately living areas offering an escape from the mundane with exceptional hospitality perfected over generations.
Homestays, the Indian equivalent of a Bed & Breakfast have come a long way over the last few years – however the service offering varies widely. And the interpretation of a home stay can vary. Do the hosts stay in house? Or do they stay in a separate annexe or not at all? Is the food really home cooked and authentic or just general fare? The comforts and amenities vary widely as well. A coffee estate homestay can be a whole different experience to one in a city – in terms of space, service levels and facilities. Research and recommendations will play a bigger role in selecting an ideal homestay. Locating them on arrival can also be difficult as the typical Indian way of asking locals for directions may not produce results – they may not always be aware of smaller homestays. The biggest advantage with homestays, however, is when you find great hosts who are not only knowledgeable, but also are passionate about food and service. Homestays of course are also likely to be inexpensive in comparison to the others.