Inspired by the great palaces of the Vijayanagara Empire, Evolve Back Hampi recreates the lavish lifestyle of South India’s most powerful rulers. Topped with decorative turrets and domes, the hotel channels the grandeur of Hampi’s mediaeval heyday, when it was part of a vast city unlike anything else in India. Each sprawling suite is styled like a royal apartment, complete with teardrop arches, a canopy bed and a terrace overlooking lotus ponds and boulder-strewn hills. Looks aside, you’ll also experience maharajan levels of indulgence when sampling the Hyderabadi cuisine (a favourite of the region’s rulers), unwinding in the Ayurvedic spa and lounging by the infinity pool, a reimagining of the bathing tanks found at the local temples.
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A bottle of wine and a foot massage; Goldsmiths also get a handmade gift
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 1pm.
Double rooms from £204.30 (INR19,000), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates don’t include breakfast (INR1,500 each), a globe-trotting buffet served at Tuluva restaurant. Expect fragrant South Indian dishes, freshly-baked bread, exotic fruit, home-made jams and more. Hot dishes are cooked to order.
Every room has purified drinking water on tap, making it easier to ditch the plastic during your stay.
At the hotel
Reading lounge, free WiFi throughout, laundry. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar, tea and coffee kit, and Ally Matthan bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The designers didn’t only borrow the noble looks of a Vijayanagara palace, they lifted their regal proportions for its rooms. Even the smallest category, Nivasa, are sprawling suites fit for a prince, complete with a canopy bed, wood-beamed ceiling and Jacuzzi. For maharajan levels of indulgence, book a Jal Mahal Suite, a vast apartment inspired by Hampi’s Zenana Enclosure, a royal quarter reserved for the empire’s leading ladies.
There are two: an olympic-size infinity pool for over-16s and a secluded, family-friendly pool where kids can splash about to their heart’s content. The sleek, adults-only pool was inspired by pushkarini, the temple tanks that were typical of the Vijayanagara Empire. Unlike many of its predecessors, this pool is at ground level, commanding views of the boulder-strewn landscape that begins just beyond the hotel’s walls. The second pool is tucked away near the children’s play area, well away from honeymooners and serenity seekers.
Experience the art of Ayurveda at Vaidyashala Spa, where the therapists and masseurs draw on centuries of medicine and healing techniques. There are two placid treatment rooms where you can prevail upon the stress-banishing powers of Indian massage or regain your polished best with a manicure, pedicure or facial.
Pack those comfy trainers – Hampi is sprawled over 16 square miles, and hiking the surrounding hills is one of the best ways to take it all in.
All of the common areas are wheelchair accessible and there are rooms on the ground floor.
All ages are welcome. Rooms have plenty of space for children, who also have their own pool and playroom.
At either restaurant, request one of the tables that are tucked beneath the arches. At Bahmani, you can also ask for a table to be set up beneath the stars.
As you like for Tuluva. Bahmani lends itself to loosely tailored linens and flowing dresses.
Named after Vijayanagara’s powerful third dynasty, Tuluva is a casual, open-sided restaurant overlooking the infinity pool. The globe-trotting menu features regional specialities, national favourites and Western comfort food. Open for dinner, Bahmani is a little dressier, serving dishes inspired by the Bahmani Sultanate, a rival state to the north of Vijayanagara. Bahmani was a hotbed of Hyderabadi cuisine, which was influenced by the cooking of Persian settlers and a favourite among South Indian royals. Try a meat dish that’s been cooked in the traditional tandoor oven.
After dinner, retire to the Howdah bar, where mock elephant tusks arch across the ceiling. Old-world tipples are the order of the evening, so reach for a single malt or G&T, the bar’s speciality.
At Tuluva, breakfast is served from 7.30am to 10.30am; lunch from 12.30pm to 3pm; dinner from 7.30pm to 10.30pm. Bahmani’s dinner hours are 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
While the restaurants are open, a selection of dishes from each menu can be ordered as room service.
Hallikere Village Kamalapura Post, Hampi, Hospet Taluk, Bellary District,
Evolve Back Hampi stands on large, peaceful grounds that are fringed by greenery and honey-coloured boulders. The ruins are about five kilometres away.
The closest airport is Hubli, which can be reached directly from Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. It takes around five hours to drive from the airport to the hotel; one-way transfers can be arranged for INR6,300.
It’s quicker and more comfortable to drive, but if you’re up for an adventure, you could fly to Goa then hop on the Howrah Express to Hospet, the closest station to the hotel. From there, it takes about 30 minutes by car; the hotel can arrange transfers for INR1,400 each way.
India’s roads can seem hectic and unpredictable to visitors, so it’s best to leave the driving to a local.
Worth getting out of bed for
There’s nothing like a pre-breakfast swim to fire the senses and stoke your appetite – particularly when the pool you’ll be swimming in looks more like the water feature at a temple. After you’ve sauntered over to breakfast to feast on exotic fruits and South Indian specialities, retreat to your terrace to contemplate Hampi’s sun-bathed hills – the perfect prelude to a session at the Ayurvedic spa. Limber and revived, pull up a pew in the reading room, which nods to the pursuit of worldliness that was so important to Vijayanagara’s cosmopolitan royals. Come evening, settle in either of the open-sided restaurants or request a private dinner in the stone mantapa (pavilion) that overlooks the lotus pond.
Beyond the hotel, Hampi’s regal ruins await. The capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, Hampi was a vast and prosperous city filled with temples, shrines, houses, farms, orchards and markets. In its mediaeval heyday, it was the largest and richest city in India, and its grandeur impressed traders from Portugal and Persia alike. The Unesco-protected site is spread over 16 square miles, so you could easily spend several days wandering among the husks of this once-great empire. One of the most impressive sights is the nine-tiered entrance tower of the Sri Virupaksha Temple, soaring 50 metres above the ground. The largest structure is the Vijaya Vittala Temple, considered the pinnacle of Indian temple architecture and the finest building in Hampi – the stone chariot that stands in the courtyard is famous throughout India. Hike to the whitewashed Hanuman Temple on Anjanadri Hill and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city and surrounding hills.
You’re unlikely to find anything nearby that’ll rival the hotel’s restaurants.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this regal retreat in Hampi and unpacked their loose linens, a full account of their South India break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Evolve Back Hampi…
Wandering among the honey-coloured ruins of Hampi, you can’t help but imagine what life in the once-great city was really like. In its heyday, Vijayanagara (as it was then called) was second in size only to Beijing, and left its mark on traders from east and west alike, who returned home with tales of its splendour and unmatched abundance. The empire’s golden era brought vast riches, and with them rulers with cosmopolitan leanings. Not one of their palaces or temple stands intact now, but if you’re hoping for a taste of that courtly life, Evolve Back Hampi is the place to find it.
Styled like the home of a 14th-century raja, Evolve Back Hampi sprawls over grounds with lantern-lit lotus ponds, stone walkways and trimmed lawns; beyond the walls, a wilder landscape of knotty trees and boulders awaits. India can be loud and relentless, but this is the country at its serene best. The rooms are equally placid, in part because of their size – even the smallest has princely proportions and sweeping views of the hills. Book a Jal Mahal villa and you’ll have a pool of your own, but even the common one is a tranquil, adults-only affair that makes the perfect prelude to a session in the Ayurvedic spa.