A signature 50-gram 20 chocolate chip cookie awaits your arrival along with a snazzy seasonal beverage—a chilli-rimmed aam panna in our case—at DoubleTree by Hilton Agra. A moment later as your eyes skim through the lavish granite-floor lobby, a chandelier dangling from a glass roof, the plush bar in the distance and a cosy but spacious reception area greet the eye. In the middle of the cluttered, loud and sulphurous city, my retreat at the 5.5-acre property that is one of Agra’s poshest addresses, presents itself as a remarkable sojourn.
The 104-room property boasts seven room and suite classes, each with contemporary interiors with pastel couches and chairs to contrast with the earth-gold and brown shades of the room. As we settled into our plush pool-facing, one-bedroom suite, two things caught our attention—a rose petal bubble bath sitting opposite a rain shower in the four-fixture bathroom and a spacious bedroom with a large glass window which afforded a splendid view of the courtyard and outdoor deck. A quick browse revealed an additional powder room in the living area, DoubleTree’s luxury mattress and a welcome basket with Agra’s famed sweets.
The property is resplendent with locations optimisable for business and weddings. Pick from the Grand Ballroom or the Coronation Room for a feast or gathering, or deck the impressive banquet garden for a sumptuous Indian wedding. The property is revealing itself as a popular choice for events, clubbing leisure with luxury.
Our first meal was hosted at the all-day restaurant, North 27, and the theme was continental. Before our first course was plated, the F&B manager greeted us with a sangria and rosemary-infused white wine cocktail to help us shake off our travel weariness. As the bread basket arrived with some bright orange gazpacho in an ice bath, I instantaneously looked forward to every meal knowing that plating is taken just as seriously as the flavour blends. The two-hour dining experience followed three more courses of a quinoa summer salad, mushroom and broccoli cannelloni with veggie sliders and dessert.
At DoubleTree Agra, food and beverages are always fine-tuned. A seven-course oriental menu with strong Sichuan and Thai flavours were paired with a kefir daiquiri, a bright Shiraz accompanied tandoori appetisers and mutton curry, while a dry Chilean Merlot was offered to polish off a grill menu. Don’t expect trained sommeliers, but the staff’s passion for spirits is refreshing.
The property has a dining location for every occasion. Kick-start your day with breakfast in bed or head back to North 27 for a grand buffet, which serves everything, from a classic English breakfast to a traditional U.P. meal of aloo poori. If that’s not enough, reach out for their cereal bar, or load up on some ham sandwiches, or help yourself to buttermilk pancakes, flaky pastries and fruit salads—if not, there’s always the classic south Indian platter. For a meal of choice, check out the vast selection of experimental dishes or request Mexican options to test Chef Promod’s expertise.
To pamper your senses, request poolside seating in the evening and enjoy off-the-grill hors d’oeuvres or take a seat at the Plush Bar between 6 and 8 pm to enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks. Over a cocktail session where the bartenders displayed their skills with a smokey-citrus G&T and a whisky twist, Shyam Kumar, Double Tree’s General Manager shared his vision to start a food and beverage revolution in Agra by bringing the city’s heritage their kitchen. Currently, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant Kebab-e-Que dazzles visitors with its copper shaded ambience which is far from minimalistic. Earthen pots behind the live-kitchen counter arrest your attention and a jasmine-oudh scent charms your nose. Expect grand Mughlai and north Indian tandoori fare here. Our meal started with a flavour-packed tawa fish and Afghani chicken and ended with tender and luscious mutton rogan josh being polished with butter-soaked naan and a creamy kheer. If comfort luxury had a set destination, this would be it.
In the illustrious city of Agra, there’s plenty to throw on a heritage itinerary beyond Taj Mahal. But mind you, witnessing a sunrise at Taj not only comes with a view of the glistening Yamuna and shimmering marble, but the opportunity to witness almost-empty premises at the mausoleum. However, as I found myself fiddling in the afternoon heat, Nand Kishore Kumar, a local guide, took us on a trail through the not-so-common spots of Agra. A brief encounter with the marble wholesalers of Gokulpura and a brush with the Indo-Saracenic architecture of St. John’s College culminated into a drive past the Agra Fort and Cantonment.
Next day, on a much more proactive note, I went on to discover the famous inlaid marble and carpet-making artistry—two traditions that have seen talent and passion pass down generations. At J.K. Industries, we take a moment to understand the fine craftsmanship that goes behind placing sheer stone designs into carved marble by hand, and pick up an inlaid marble ring as a souvenir (they claim to be the only manufacturers of the ornament). At Java Handicraft Exports, follow Anil Kumar’s tales of weaving and witness the loom in action which creates the most magnificent silk-wool rugs and carpets.
Having visited Agra in the middle of May, the scorching heat was enough to confine me within the premises. On the contrary, the hotel’s chic amenities offered an unexpected relaxation.
In the evening, puppet shows and pottery classes are organised for children. The in-house souvenir shop is decked with leather mojaris, local textiles and marble and semi-precious ornaments for the shopaholic and a big screen rests at the centre of the sprawling courtyard for film screenings, or in my case, IPL semi-finals. Two floors above, the deck offers a peek of the Taj’s white marble from the infinity pool. An outdoor lounge area is set for stargazing in the winter and outdoor dining. Come winter, the party moves to the gym and spa, both competing for visitors’ attention.
After a day of culinary pampering and absolute rest, the Nilaya Spa invited us for a 90-minute rejuvenation through aroma therapy, body massage and sauna. Checked into disinfected rooms with ambient music and expert therapists, the session put us in a blissful daze.
DoubleTree by Hilton Agra is located 10km from Agra Airport and a 3-hour drive from the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Hotel transfers are available from New Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow on request. Doubles start from ₹5,500 (B&B). www.hilton.com
Muskaan Gupta travels with a camera that doesn't fret to capture touristy pictures and believes visiting local markets is the best way to unearth a city's gems and jewels. She is Junior Writer (Native Content) at National Geographic Traveller India.