A destination in its own right, the Oberoi's Wildflower Hall in Mashobra (around 30 min. from Shimla) is by far your best option, but if the rates exceed your budget, nothing can beat the homey Raj-era experience of Chapslee, run by the aristocratic Reggie Kapurthala . If this is not available, you could try Clarke's (The Mall; tel. 0177/265-1010 through -1015; www.clarkessimla.com), a small, modest, Oberoi-owned hotel, interesting in some respects because it was the hotel on which the Oberoi empire was built. Today it's a bit of a throwback to another era, with perfectly comfortable (if ordinary) accommodations (doubles from Rs 8,500 including all meals) and service that -- in the words of one of the managers -- only begins when you walk through the front door. Once inside, there's enough personality and historic ambience to help you enjoy your stay, but not enough that you'll end up wasting your time indoors. For more character, but comparatively lackluster accommodations, you could bed down at Woodville Palace, a converted Gothic pile built in the late 1930s -- while it's filled with period relics, it lacks both the personal charm of Chapslee and the professionalism of Clarke's. It's also looking terribly run-down (Raj Bhavan Rd.; tel. 0177/262-3919; www.woodvillepalacehotel.com; doubles with all meals from Rs 7,370 and up, excluding 10% tax; ask for a room in the new block; suites cost twice as much). Nevertheless, its location in the posh Raj Bhavan area is superb, surrounded as it is by large gardens -- a luxury in Shimla. It also has some fantastic furniture and antiques, some of it unfortunately languishing dispiritedly in corners, along with great photographic displays that provide an interesting insight into the lives of Indian royalty. If, however, you want a full-service luxury hotel in Shimla itself, the Cecil is the top choice; it's only competition -- but without any historical ambience -- is the Radisson Hotel Shimla (Good wood Estate, Lower Bharari; tel. 0177/265-9012; www.radisson.com), which takes full advantage of the views from an unbeautiful block that juts out from the side of the hill. Rooms are characteristically modern and sleek, but you'll surely miss the ambience of the heritage properties. The best rates -- from around Rs 5,525 double -- are available online.
Another interesting option, especially if you're traveling with family and prefer a degree of independence, is Violet Hill (tel. 98-1544-2233), a gorgeous three-bedroom self-contained cottage in verdant Mashobra. It costs Rs 15,000 per night with the promise of fine home-style meals (breakfast Rs 200, lunch and dinner Rs 400) and ever-splendid scenery amid immaculate gardens with bikes on hand to explore the surrounding forest terrain. Also in Mashobra, an even better deal, but perhaps not quite as pretty, is Forest Hill Villas (tel. 011/4053-3992; www.foresthillvillas.com), a massive three-story cottage with room for up to 10 guests (in three bedrooms and the attic; Rs 10,000 per night). You have to cook for yourself, and there's a decent kitchen for you to do so -- kindly supplied with basic provisions, including vegetables and milk.
Or, if you prefer things ultramodern, check out the outrageously beautiful and upmarket Clairmont Mashobra (www.clairmont-mashobra.com), which opened in 2009 -- ensconced in utter luxury with the finest contemporary design details, you'll have the pleasure of enjoying utterly matchless views across Mashobra's thick forest -- and you'll have the experience all to yourself, with personal chef to cater to any whim.
Hole up in a Himalayan Fortress -- Shimla itself is not a particularly relaxing town, and unless you're sequestered in one of the smart hotels, or able to splash out on the peaceable surrounds on offer at Wildflower Hall, it really doesn't make too much sense to stick around. If you've got a car and driver, another fine option is Nalagarh (tel. 01795/22-3179, -3009, or -3667; www.nalagarh.in), a glorious white-and-blue palatial fort a few hours north of Shimla and one of the finest heritage properties in the state. Built in 1421, Nalagarh, surrounded by sprawling lawns, offers a degree of eccentricity coupled with enough period character that will ensure you don't forget your stay. In terms of getting a feel for Himachal's great outdoors, it's a huge improvement on staying in Shimla itself, plus there's the advantage of a gorgeous pool and Ayurvedic spa; staff arranges excursions to see local handicrafts being made or to look at havelis in nearby villages. Standard doubles cost Rs 2,700, and suites run Rs 3,000 to Rs 6,500; meals are extra.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.