3 Winter Retreats In North India That Are Culture Rich, Design Heavy & Breathtaking

  • 22 Jan '24
  • 6:10 pm by Satarupa Datta

Holidays in the Himalayas were always framed around hiking breathless high passes and staying in quaint chalets known to be utilitarian in approach. It is possible in the 21st century to experience the impressive beauty of the great Himalayas and their high-altitude views with ease and luxurious comfort. With Indian tourism plunging towards remote destinations, most Himalayan terrains are now home to luxury mountain retreats. Modern designs with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to views of the valleys below and mountains ahead. They offer luxurious amenities with a focus on rejuvenating the body, mind, and spirit, dining on rare hyper-local dishes around the concept of foraging, and excursions into nature trails straight out of ‘The Jungle Book.’ DP curates a list of three Indian winter retreats tailored to offer the region’s finest in heritage, grandeur, and spirituality of the outdoors.

Also read: 4 Luxurious Bhutanese Mountain Retreats In The Lap Of Nature

Sits on a sacred hill the abode of the local village Devata Sitara Himalaya is a transformative mountain retreat rooted in Indian design. (Image Credit: Sitara Himalaya)

#1 Sitara Himalaya Is Designed To Feel Like A Luxe Home In The Mountains 

At a distance of 13 km from Manali, perched at a height of 8,200 feet and surrounded by mountain peaks, the idyllic setting of Sitara Himalaya is sure to evoke a feeling of oneness with nature. Dubbed a garden retreat, the house is split into two levels with five spacious bedrooms on each floor, exclusively designed with ‘Good Earth’ aesthetics. Bedrooms are dressed in varying shades of hand-spun Banarasi silk wallpapers. Natural materials define the interior —such as wood and stone and the colour palette throughout is kept to complement the tones found in nature. The designers affixed the floor-to-ceiling windows at every space to filter in natural light. The viewing nooks around the window corners allow you to relax and enjoy the surroundings that remain tinged in an emerald sheen of the wooded hills. Eye-catching is the rich layering of furnishings under the ‘Good Earth’ label, as are its architectural features that create an unhindered connection with the lush outdoors. 

The distinct handcrafted textures of the ‘Good Earth’ label run through its multiple spaces — from Paro Svasti a place of deep wellness to the classy dining decors and tableware. ( Image Credit: Sitara Himalaya)

If embracing a holistic lifestyle is your mantra for the new year, this retreat is for you.

A dedicated wellness space ‘Paro Svasthi’ has a host of therapies to get you started. ‘Paro’ the brainchild of Simran Lal, focuses on well-being and personal care that creates enriching spaces under scentscaping principles —a hot water plunge pool fragrant with the oil of Himalayan Deodar is a one-off experience among others. Sitara Himalaya’s dining takes on the rituals of slow cooking and plates authentic Indian subcontinent flavours from Kashmiri wazwan, and Tibetan thukpas to fusion Anglo-Indian dishes having culinary roots in the hill stations of India. Besides showcasing the best in Indian decor, Sitara Himalaya offers fresh and rare produce centred on foraging and detoxifying in a steam home powered by Himalayan rock crystals. This one is a retreat that is synonymous with the words luxury and escape.

# DP Loves – The sauna room which features a wall of detoxifying Himalayan salt bricks.

The lounge in the Stok Palace is a step into a realm of regal splendour where opulence and history meet in the rich local architecture and design of its interior. ( Image Credit: Stok Palace Heritage Hotel Ladakh)

#2 Stok Palace Encapsulates The Ladakhi Royalty To Its Hospitality 

Set majestically atop a hill overlooking the Indus River valley, the Stok Palace is the 200-year-old residence of the Namgyal dynasty in Leh. Now the five-storied boutique hotel comprises four standard suite rooms, one royal suite, and the queen’s room. The rooms are spacious with balconies overlooking the Stok Kangri mountains and the expansive valley. The colourful rooms are donned in murals on secular and religious themes and Ladakhi textiles and furnishings. Each space defines its heritage architecture which blends beautifully with contemporary comforts. The stately palace showcases several important features of the vernacular architecture —an ingenious system of spatial planning with corridors, balconies, royal apartments, and prayer chambers connected by interlinking courtyards. 

Chuli Bagh is a cosy residence outhouse two minutes from the majestic Stok Palace surrounded by orchards and serene monasteries. ( Image Credit: Stok Palace Heritage Hotel Ladakh)

Chuli Bagh is the garden retreat outside the palace building set amidst apricots and walnut orchards. The orchard houses three villas, designed by his Highness himself Jigmed Wangchuk Namgyal and along with his cousin Stanzin Rabga, a designer from Ladakh. Once inside, the interiors are outfitted with modern amenities and cosy bedrooms lead to the common sitting opening views of the orchards. 

Sustainable architectural building techniques make the villas functional even in the biting winters of Ladakh. ( Image Credit: Stok Palace Heritage Hotel Ladakh)

Besides monastery visits and village walks, you can witness the daily prayers and rituals of the royal palace temple as a resident guest. The private palace museum is a cultural immersion into a valuable resource to the region. The profound experience of carrying back home sacred amulets made by the palace’s monk is no less novel. The alfresco dining set up with a wood fire under the canvas of a star-studded sky is as magical as lounging inside the heritage haven. The royal recipes are passed down to present-day cooks who carry with them the recipes to classics like momo and thukpas as well as the lesser-known chhurpe, chhutagi, skyu that are both delicious and nutritional, made from the freshest of highland produce. Stok Palace Heritage Hotel stands a proud sentinel to the rich heritage and enduring tradition of the Namgyal dynasty in the ever-changing world of tourism.

#DP Loves – The plastic-free approach of Stok Palace and other sustainable practices like no-air-conditioning and intercoms in the rooms.

Welcomhotel Pine n Peak is perched atop the stunning Rajwas Plateau cocooned by a towering trail of pine trees,
(Image Credit: Welcomhotel Pine n Peak Pahalgam )

#3 WelcomHotel By ITC Pine and Peak Emanates The Beauty of Pahalgam

Snow-capped peaks cut across a pristine blue sky, and pine wooded trails follow the crystal clear river that reflects the surrounding vistas and sweeping verdant pastures. At Pahalgam Kashmir, a luxury retreat is one of the best ways to experience the sylvan beauty. Set amidst a picturesque location, WelcomHotel Pine and Peak makes your journey through the Valley of Shepherds unforgettable. Pahalgam rightfully called The Valley of Shepherds stands at a confluence of Alpine lakes and mountain trails and is a playground for outdoor excursions. The hotel features 60 luxurious rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that magically bring in the outdoors. The elegant interiors include wood-carved furniture, intricately woven Kashmiri carpets and drapes which speak of the rich craftsmanship of Kashmir. The highlight of ITC properties is undeniably the food as they offer an array of spirits and aperitifs along with a wide selection of patisseries and continental delights at the tea lounge. But do not pass up the opportunity to indulge in the chef’s signature wazwan at Lolaab, their in-house cafe.

Also read: Where Kashmir’s Rich Architectural Design Meets Grandeur – The Khyber Himalayan Resort And Spa

The common areas are designed as a living room which draws inspiration from the exquisite local art and craft of Kashmir. (Welcomhotel Pine n Peak Pahalgam )

With breathtaking mountains as a backdrop, enjoy a bonfire under the garden gazebo with live barbeque and drinks or set out on an adventure with a village walk through the bucolic setting of the valleys while taking in the ancient traditions and living styles of the mountain folks. The frozen Lidder River turns into a shimmering ice rink in winter. To enjoy a picnic lunch by the frozen river with a clear view of the snow peak is the ultimate alpine dream. The most wonderful part is that children can also enjoy Gulistaan, the property’s lush and sprawling lawn. For seasoned trekkers, a short mountain exploration on the snowy trails and frozen streams is a great way to soak in the winter charm of Kashmir that can easily match many famous winter getaways of Europe.

#DP Loves – The alfresco dining venue that is set in the lush lawn snugged between the pine trees known as Gulistaan.

The luxury cottages come with a lavish living area and a low-sitting viewing enclosure
archetype of Kashmiri architecture. ( Image Credit: Welcomhotel Pine n Peak Pahalgam )