Is this the start of a new hotel dynasty? The Glenburn Tea Estate is an eight-room tea-country hideaway in the hills above Darjeeling, set on 650 hectares of tea fields and forest, with magnificent mountain views. The owners have just opened their first city outpost in Kolkata, and they are sticking to their philosophy of keeping it small. The nine-room Glenburn Penthouse is an elegant city hideaway set on the top two floors of an office tower overlooking Kolkata's most magnificent monument, the Victoria Memorial, as well as the vast green space of the Maidan.
No doubt about it: Kolkata is one of India's most underrated cities. Its skyline may be low-slung, thanks to the marshy ground on which it stands, but both halves of the city – the old centre of colonial power, the White Town, and the Black Town, the area where the locals were allowed to live – are filled with an inviting mix of grand palaces, many of which are picturesquely decaying, and small neighbourhoods where local life goes on much as it has for centuries. Part of the city's charm is its multicultural character, with mosques, churches, synagogues and temples – Hindu, Jain and Chinese – all nestled together in comfortable proximity.
Behind the small reception lie the lounge and dining areas, decorated to spectacular effect with tropical frescoes and an eclectic assortment of furniture, including wicker-backed armchairs, old-school sofas and parrot-print fabric. It's as if your eccentric maiden aunt's place had been given a makeover by an exceptionally talented stylist. The lounging area opens onto a gorgeous tea terrace, where meals are served on balmy mornings as well as in the evenings. Head up one level to the rooftop, which is home to a small gym and an infinity-edge pool with jaw-dropping views.
I am staying in the Victoria Suite which, as the name suggests, looks out over the Victoria Memorial. It feels more like a small apartment than a room, its marble floors and grand antique four-poster bed offset with homier touches such as a cheery embroidered bedspread and a colour scheme of yellow, celadon green and white. The oversized bathroom includes a walk-in shower and a chic bathtub.
Breakfast and afternoon tea are both included in your room rate; unfortunately, my packed program doesn't allow me to sample either, although I do get to enjoy a fine cup of tea from the plantation. The hotel also offers set-menu dinners, which must be booked in advance. I try both the Bengali menu, which includes local specialties such as fish with mustard sauce and prawns in coconut sauce, and the Anglo-Indian menu, which features an addictive smoked pork and truffle soup and a superb chicken kiev.
The personalised walking tours put together by owner Husna-Tara Prakash and her team are highly recommended. Depending on your interests, you might start in the early morning grazing your way along the street food stalls, or over at the extraordinary flower market, India's largest. An exploration of the area around Dalhousie Square, the heart of imperial India, is essential, while a visit to the potter's neighbourhood is also highly recommended.
From the eye-catching interiors to the warm service – not to mention that rooftop pool – The Glenburn Penthouse is a wonderful base from which to explore Kolkata.
Rates start from INR24,000 per person per night twin share, including breakfast and afternoon tea. See glenburnpenthouse.com
For travel in India, including Kolkata, see www.banyantours.com
Many hotels claim to make you feel at home; few do it as successfully as the Glenburn Penthouse.
The fact that I never get to enjoy afternoon tea on the terrace.
Ute Junker was a guest of The Glenburn Penthouse and Banyan Tours.