1. Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam
This world-class resort spreads over ten acres to combine a seaside idyll, backwater resort and hill retreat in its unique location. The Arabian Sea, quite naturally, reigns supreme. Famously revisited by its A-list seekers of quiet (it’s fully wired for corporate honchos), its fine-dining restaurants, stylish bar and luxurious spa have been refurbished discreetly. The interiors are chicly Indian with just a touch of exotic Balinese. The 59 cottages scattered about the hillside have thatched roofs made of elephant grass, and feature private balconies with views of all of the above scenarios. Champagne in a petal-strewn tub after an aromatherapy massage, anyone? (Rs 11,000-48,000; vivantabytaj.com)
2. Park Hyatt Resort and Spa, Goa
It is 45 acres of carefully landscaped gardens set among glimmering lagoons by the lovely Arossim beach in south Goa (15min from the airport) which brings the Portuguese beauty of the Goan Park. Hyatt to our list. The 250 Pousada-style guest rooms have sunken baths; some feature secret gardens and outdoor showers. The swimming pool is large enough to boast a water slide. The Sereno Spa spreads over 36,000sqft and has 16 massive therapy spaces featuring a steam room apiece, plus outdoor pavilions overlooking the white sands (Rs 9,000-36,000; goa.park.hyatt.com)
3. Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay, Mamallapuram
They have 144 guest rooms sprawled over 44 acres by the Bay of Bengal. The chalets, villas and suites, each with its own patio, are set about a ‘meandering pool’, which winds its way past windswept lawns and subtle luxury. The café is also truthfully named Water’s Edge. There’s a helipad and mini golf course, the infinity swimming pool is among the largest on the continent, and even though the beach is neither private nor entirely pristine, the Unesco site of Pallava shore temples is just a stroll away. The two-level ‘bay bungalow’ is endowed with a private gym, surround sound theatre, and ocean-view jacuzzi (Rs 8,000-32,000; radissonblu.com).
4. The Lalit Resort and Spa, Bekal
They were the first to see the nearly mythic beauty of northern Kerala and they have raised — on 26 acres of virgin territory dotted with natural lagoons and 2,000 coconut trees, surrounded on three sides by backwaters with access to an untouched beach on the fourth — a resort that serves up luxury and curative therapies with a subtle sophistication. The award-winning spa is expansive and superbly outfitted (kids are allowed—that’s a first, they claim). The menu focusses on Ayurveda but also throws in international, specialty and medical treatments. Other indulgences: the only helipad for a hotel in Kerala, ‘Kettuvallam’ floating cottages and a round-the-clock ‘holiday host’ service (Rs 16,000-26,000; thelalit.com).
5. Nilaya Hermitage, Goa
Goa’s leading boutique hotel tucks its 20 acres into the verdant hills of Arpora, not far from the beach at Baga, cultivating a mystic ambience and ensuring its guests are enveloped in exclusivity. The interiors are inspired by the universe, and the spaces are contiguously and ‘openly’ designed. The meals are healthful talking points, there’s a much-appreciated swimming pool, and the noisy crowds of Goa are worlds away — although Mick Jagger and Naomi Campbell are known to visit (Rs 23,000-36,000; nilaya.com).
6. Vivanta by Taj Fisherman’s Cove, Chennai
It’s built on the ramparts of a historic Dutch fort, and the architecture is European (Scandinavian, to be precise). Yet, the unusual combination has created a timeless beach resort. Live musicians welcomeguests and, among the vastly oceanic experiences, we recommend a frisky kattumaram ride with a local fisherman (life-jackets provided), a customised meal served up on an atmospheric watch tower, a moonlit turtle conservation walk, exclusive gourmet dining on a starry beach all to yourself, and if you are feeling especially energetic, a morning spent deep sea fishing followed by a cook-with-me by the chef’s side. If you would rather not, the Jiva spa waits quietly (Rs 9,000-20,000; vivantabytaj.com).
7.Taj Exotica Benaulim, Goa
Goa has more than its fair share of luxury beach resorts, but this Taj wins for its location in southwest Goa. The Mediterranean-style villas (two or four bedrooms) and rooms (in the main building) are set in 56 acres of tropical gardens. There’s a sun-drenched atrium, and the patios are lined with flowers. Between November and April, the spa offers massages at specially designed pavilions to the mesmerising sound of the sea (Rs 10,000-122,000; tajhotels.com).
8. CGH Earth Marari Beach Resort, Mararikulam
Less is definitely more at CGH Earth’s thoughtful, serene and gently pampering resort, which eschews watersports or even a television in the room, to let you do absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not entirely correct — you have your fill of strolls by the beach, surrender to glorious sunsets, linger over freshly cooked meals (the day’s catch is central to it), learn a shy coastal culture, take cooking lessons over an authentic local recipe (or two), and succumb to relaxing massages in a tranquil Ayurvedic spa. If you enjoy minimalism, long to cut away the frills along with the stress, and care for ecological conservation, they’re all yours here (Rs 3,500-21,000; cghearth.com).
9. Sur La Mer, Goa
A small boutique hotel with expansive rooms on the Morjim-Ashwem road a minute away from the beach, Sur La Mer is delightfully Portuguese in all its interiors. The service is caring and every little detail is remembered and delivered. Breakfast, for example,is served when you wake up, without any pre-set time range. The food is well-prepared and the signaturechocolate fondue guaranteed to have you asking for more. The penthouse has the best ocean views and comes with a large balcony. Warning: the bathrooms are open (Rs 13,000-19,000; surlamergoa.com).
10. Mayfair Palm Beach Resort, Gopalpur-on-Sea
Beach resorts are hardly big on history but here’s one with the finest credentials. Odisha’s first resort was built as far back as 1914 by an intrepid Sicilian, had an exciting run through two World Wars thanks to its location near a (then) busy port, fell to disuse till another courageous man, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi, made it a part of his group till 2003. Today, the coastal village is a forgotten study in peace: the last time it made news was when Cyclone Phailin made landfall near Gopalpur in October 2013, but the resort was up and running in two days. Now, it’s once again a place where you can hear the sound of a coconutfall (Rs 6000 -12000, mayfairhotels.com)
11. Poovar Island Resort, Thiruvananthapuram
There’s water, water everywhere, and it’s an enchanting sight alright. Kerala’s capital is often given a miss by enthusiastic first-timers to the state, which only makes it a more attractive proposition for us. Tucked away in scenic Pozhiyoor, set amid gently lapping backwaters with the deep blue sea just yonder, Poovar has well earned its credentials as a golden beach resort. There are floating cottages, boat cruises, jacuzzis, extravagant bathtubs, rain showers and excellent spa therapies, so please don’t forget the beach (Rs 5,000-14,000; poovarislandresorts.com).
12. Goa Marriott Resort and Spa Panjim
Its location in Panjim puts it right at the heart of action, but there’s the sea right outside to make it a proper beach resort. This Goa Marriott is near Miramar, where the Mandovi meets the sea. The food, spa and service keep winning rave reviews although it’s the casino that’s the biggest in-house temptation. The ground floor sea-view rooms are sought-after because they have a door opening to the ocean, reached by an almost-private courtyard garden (Rs 12,000-30,000; marriott.com).
13. Infinity by Malabar House, Omanapuzha
If locations were given prizes, this one would give tough competition to the other beauties on this list. Infinity at La Plage overlooks the Omanapuzha waterfront in a half-awake reverie, as if they intended for their guests to step into a dream. What’s more, there are only five cottages on this beach near Alleppey’s famous backwaters. Each of them has been designed differently and with an enviable ethnic aesthetic. There’s a common clubhouse and al fresco dining is offered on the wind-cooled terrace (Rs 15,000-46,000; malabarhouse.com).
14. The Dune Eco Village and Spa, Pondicherry
Beach hotels don’t get better than this. The Dune is laid-back, and it understands the value of deep luxury combined with refreshing originality (think ‘nature-cooled rooms’). Hop on to the cycles provided and discover this 35-acre shore-hugging, sunny sprawl. It’s closer to Auroville than Pondicherry’s more famous French Quarter but it’s worth remembering that the city’s own beach is a rocky promenade (Rs 5,000-10,000; duneecogroup.com).
15. Zuri White Sands Resort and Casino, Goa
And how could we leave out a beach in Varca? Goa’s Zuri is located bang on the shore of the longest beach in the state, and it’s the only five-star property on it. Delicious pan-Asian food with particularly good Goan specialties, an enormous meandering swimming pool, a tranquil beach, ocean views everywhere, a casino and a spa — guests report a disinclination to step out and see anything else of Goa (Rs 9,000-28,000; thezurihotels.com).
16. Novotel Varun Beach, Visakhapatnam
It’s Vizag’s largest hotel now, among its newest, and it straddles the RK Beach, cleverly using a glass-fronted design to make the most of the sweeping views of the Bay of Bengal. It’s the natural harbour that makes this coastal city a commercial hub and Novotel has intelligently allowed the ocean to define its property. Seascapes are the best décor in all 225 rooms (even their loos!) and the three restaurants. A rooftop fine-diner does grills and sizzlers rather well. The terrace also accommodates an open jogging track, swimmers at the infinity pool are lulled by the sound of crashing waves, and there’s a spa right next to the super-modern gym (Rs 5,000-9,000; novotel.com).
17. Fort Tiracol Heritage, Goa
The folk who run Nilaya bring the same impeccable understatement to Fort Tiracol at Pernem, a restored and converted fort reached by a short ferry ride across the estuary. The views are fabulous (the Tiracol river joins the Arabian Sea here). There are only seven rooms on offer, two of which are suites, and they are named after the days of the week. A private strip of beach is easily accessed, the terrace restaurant serves homespun Portuguese, the wines are excellent, and they have private boats for dolphin-watching trips (Rs 16,000-42,000; forttiracol.com).
18. Barefoot at Havelock, Andamans
They don’t offer television or room service or even beach umbrellas and loungers. There is no electricity in the night. They don’t want to be labelled ‘luxury’ but they make it to our list because they offer the pleasures of the unspoilt. The stilted cane-and-wood cottages are pretty and, like everything here, including the skylit bathrooms, aspire to ecological sensitivity. The location on the powder-white sands of Beach No.7, voted among the world’s best, is incomparable. They offer top-notch outdoor activities, making the most of the near-transparent waters around the Andamans — snorkelling,kayaking and scuba diving, arranged at the more remote islands, if you wish. The outdoors are so extraordinary, and they are so diligent in their efforts to keep you there, that guests don’t remember missing cocktails with little umbrellas or an energetic bar by a swimming pool. Oh, but they do throw in a spa (Rs 7,000-8,000; barefoot-andaman.com).
19. The Beach at Mandvi Palace, Mandvi
Here’s another example of how the richest treasures along India’s vast and scenic coastline are sometimes left to relative obscurity. Gujarat has a 1,666km coast and at Mandvi is one of its finest beaches. Here looms the Vijay Vilas Palace, one of the state’s loveliest, belonging to the erstwhile rulers of Kutch, the Maharaos, who have even endowed it with a museum. The private, 2km-long beach adjoining the regal summer home is where you’ll find a deluxe tented camp, every bit as royal, the palace their backdrop. Each of the ten tents comes with a spacious and air-conditioned bedroom, a classy bathroom, and a private verandah. Guests can enjoy swimming in the safe and pristine beach, candle-lit barbeques, a popular restaurant, rich traditions in handicrafts, and an estate set in 450 acres of lush greenery with some fantastic opportunities for birding (Rs 7,500; mandvibeach.com).
20. The Park Calangute, Goa
And we wrap our list with ol’ Calangute, the original holiday beach and possibly the most expensive real estate in Goa, to which The Park brings its distinctive ultra-chic designer appeal — we mean notables like Philippe Starck ghost chairs for the restaurant, bevelled mirror coffee tables and quirky artwork personally selected by Priya Paul all over the place. The suites are spacious and sea-facing but the rooms aren’t either. The four-poster is contemporary and draws inspiration from the chain’s famous poolside cabanas, or is that vice versa? You can’t have it all but the studio suites have plunge pools and the deluxe suites have breezy balconies (Rs 9,000-28,000; theparkhotels.com).