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Hotel Review: The Naini Retreat, Nainital in India

The Naini Retreat, Nainital in India

Once upon a time, the Maharaja of Pilibhit lived in what is the Hotel Naini Retreat today, in Nainital, North India. With it’s fantastic location on the Ayarpatta slopes, at an altitude of 1,995 meters, the hotel has so many relics from the Maharaja’s times, that it makes for a memorable stay.

The drive from Delhi to Nainital is full of surprises and local flavour. As our vehicle left Delhi early morning, passing through the green, landscaped areas outside Government buildings, I could spot some monuments that are landmarks in Delhi. Within an hour we hit the highway with a bit of erratic traffic.

Uttarakhand is a mountainous state in Northern India

Soon we left the city behind, passing through fields, small towns and cities. The winding roads to Nainital begin after five hours and then it’s a landscape to watch – pine trees, tall mountains, valleys, waterfalls and monkeys! We stopped for a coffee break and the restaurant had a gallery overlooking the valley making it a refreshing break.

Nainital is a picturesque hill station in the northen state of Uttarakhand, at an altitude of 6358 feet above sea level. Famous for its pear shaped lake, the Naini lake, the town was named Nainital. The town of Nainital was founded in 1841 by P. Barron, a British sugar trader from Shahjahananpur who constructed ‘Pilgrim Lodge’, the first European House.

Naini Retreat is a heritage building with traditional and stylish touches

A historic stay

The hotel Naini Retreat is perched on a hill at 1995 metres, and has 45 rooms in various categories. One of the wings has been recently renovated called the Maharaja wing, lending a royal feel to the property – with old ceramic plates that adorn the walls, period furniture, brass antiques, mirrors with unusual frames – all housed in a stone building, overlooking the Naini lake and magnificent forests with pine trees. The rest of the property is equally charming, with suites, ivy covered walls and a bar done up in wood.

The best rooms to check into are in the Maharaja Wing that has been recently refurbished. A homely feel, with a drawing room, dining room welcomes us to this wing. As we checked in, a wooden flight of stairs took us to the first floor, overlooking the hills and Naini lake below with twinkling lights.

Lake-front rooms have private balconies overlooking the lake.

After soaking in the comforts of the room, it was time to step out for dinner to Gurney House, the restaurant. Walking in the pleasant cold weather, a few minutes before a bonfire that was lit outside in the garden was warm and welcoming.

The restaurant was pleasant and it was the decor that caught my attention, more than the fantastic buffet spread. Ceramic plates mounted on the walls, an old water filter placed next to an antique phone, paintings and portraits of the royal family were well-placed all around the room. Arched windows, wooden flooring and grey stone walls lend a colonial feel to the dining room. The staff was attentive, warm and welcoming.

Naini Retreat has an enviable location amongst pine covered mountains

In and around Nainital

Next morning, as I looked out of the window I could see colourful flowers in full bloom. A walk on the pebble strewn ground, with the sun shining on the pine trees and chirping of birds against the backdrop of a bright blue sky above the pine tree forests – I realised this was bliss.

After breakfast, we stepped out to explore the Governor’s Bungalow. Winding roads with views are common in Nainital and after a few minutes we reached the property. Built to resemble the Buckingham Palace, the bungalow is almost a palace, set in sprawling greenery with mist that comes and goes, with a golf course and stately interiors with a fire place too!

The terrace at Naini Retreat offers alfresco dining with views of the lake

As we drove back, there is a point that allows tourists to see the lower ranges of the Himalayas. At this stop, try out the ‘Maggi’ noodles that are spiced with local Indian spices and a cup of ginger tea! A visit to Jim Corbett’s home called the Gurney House is a revelation. A bungalow, it was the residence of the hunter-conservationist , built in 1881.

A boat ride in the Naini lake is the most popular activities that most tourists indulge in. Shopping on mall road is full of surprises, woollen sweaters, shawls, stoles are all in colourful display. The locals make beautiful candles and the honey from Nainital is famous all over India.

The Naini lake is a popular spot for a boat ride

How to get there

Fly to Delhi and take the highway to Nainital (six to seven hours depending on the traffic) or take a train from Delhi to Katgodham (six hours) and then an hour-and-a-half by train to Nainital by road.

Address: Hari Bhawan, Ayarpatta Slopes, Mallital, Nainital, Uttarakhand 263001, India
Phone: +91 5942 235 105
Website:  thenainiretreat