Mumbai: Taj Mahal Palace & Tower

Courtesy Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces.

A cross between a maharaja’s palace and an Edwardian grand hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower is, quite simply, one of the most charming places to stay in the world. As international director of Asian art for Christie’s, I check in upwards of six times a year during my visits to Mumbai and can’t get enough of it. Built by the Indian tycoon J. N. Tata in 1903, purportedly after he was refused entry to the then whites-only Watson’s Hotel, the Taj embodies the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. The building itself, located in South Mumbai’s bustling Colaba, right on the harbor and facing the Gateway of India, is a feat of early-20th-century design, with domes, open staircases, and cast-iron galleries that are imperial in scale and effect. All the Great and Good have stayed here—from George Bernard Shaw and Douglas Fairbanks to Bill Clinton and Madonna—treating it as an oasis in a truly overwhelming city. The luxury shops off the foyer (see Shop the Taj) meet every taste, and so do the restaurants, which range from Japanese to Lebanese. (Best is chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Wasabi; order the whitefish carpaccio or the Chilean sea bass.) Breakfast on the swimming pool veranda is the loveliest way to wake up in the city, and high tea in the Sea Lounge is the place for locals and visitors to linger over tea or coffee (and linger they shall, since service can be rather lethargic). The tower wing, erected in 1973, is best avoided entirely, but a Taj Club Sea View room in the old palace building is an absolute must. From $400 to $7,100. At 1 Apollo Bunder; 91-22/6665-3366; tajhotels.com.