The outside pool

Home to the iconic Taj Mahal, the historic city of Agra is a ‘must see’ destination. Once the capital of the powerful Mughal Empire, the city has plenty to swoon over from wonderful forts and monuments to beautiful mosques and lush green gardens. Eva Gizowska discovers that there’s no better place to base yourself than the ITC Mughal Hotel.

First impressions

With the temperature outside nudging towards a sizzling 40ºC (104ºF), stepping into the cool, marble hotel lobby, feels instantly sublime. The reception area is vast, with a subtle silver and white theme, including an impressive, metallic ‘tree of life’ design on one of the walls. The architecture throughout the hotel is pure Mughal style. Everything is over sized and symmetrical. Wherever you look there are massive, solid columns and arches, also silver scepters, supersize lanterns and lamps.

ITC Mughal Agra Hotel Review CourtyardThe courtyard
ITC Mughal

The hotel spans 14 hectares (35 acres) of land and it is the only Indian Hotel to have won the prestigious Aga Khan Award for excellence in architecture. Looking around it’s not hard to see why: every area is exquisitely designed. There are even indoor water gardens and pretty little courtyards linking the various wings and rooms.

As I wait to be checked in, I take a seat on the huge black ottoman style sofa. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and friendly. They all look immaculate in their gold and black, or red, uniforms that seem more like ‘costumes.’ For a moment, when I look around, I almost feel as if I’ve stepped back in time. It’s only when I catch sight of other new guests with their wheelie suitcases that I jolt back into the present.

Ideal for…

The beauty of this hotel is that it really does cater for everyone – couples, newly weds, families, business people, travelers exploring India who are on a whistle stop tour of Agra and the Taj Mahal. It’s also a popular choice with Heads of State, celebrities and Royalty. Prince Charles, Nelson Mandela and Sean Connery have all stayed here. There are 233 rooms in all, including 52 uniquely designed suites that also include family and honeymoon suites. There is also a whole new wing, Khwab Mahal - Palace of Dreams that also includes opulent Mughal style presidential suites. There are also four suites overlooking the Taj Mahal. So there’s plenty of choice, depending on what sort of holiday or break you’re looking for.

The room

ITC Mughal Agra Hotel Review RoomKhwab Mahal Mughal Room
ITC Mughal

I’m staying in a gorgeous premium, double room in the new wing. The décor is a mix of charcoal grey curtains and furnishings with a silver grey embellished bedspread and big, fluffy, white, embroidered pillows. There’s a mini-bar, desk and large flatscreen TV. Even though I don’t understand the language, I am intrigued by the Indian soaps and adverts. All the actors are so jaw-droppingly good looking; I can barely tear my eyes away from the screen. And, I’ve never seen an advert for a mere chocolate biscuit that’s so dramatic!

The bathroom is immaculately clean with a wonderful selection of toiletries and other essentials including a comb, spare toothbrushes and a sewing kit – all in pretty, decorated boxes. There is also an ornate marble tissue holder and soap dish. The room, like all the rooms, has Wi-Fi access. There is also a business centre within the hotel.

Best room?

The largest and most opulent rooms are the two new royal presidential suites. These are named after Mughal Queens: Nur Jehan and Mumtaj Mahal. Each suite is 194sq m (2091sq ft) and comprises a living room, bedroom, private couples massage room with a steam room and shower for bespoke Spa treatments and an outdoor temperature controlled personal plunge pool. They are décor combining traditional Mughal with modern comfort.

Eating and drinking

There is a choice of restaurants. The main one is the spacious Taj Bano. Breakfast is served here in the mornings. The choice includes Indian breads, parathas and bhajis or Western style pastries, toast and scrambled eggs etc. There is an a la carte menu for the rest of the day. The Mahjong Room offers an Oriental menu. My two personal favourites are the Maikhana lobby bar and the Peshawri Restaurant in the basement.

ITC Mughal Agra Hotel Review RestaurantThe Taj Bano restaurant
ITC Mughal

The Maikhana is dotted with crystal chandeliers, yet the lighting is cosy and subtle. This is the perfect spot to enjoy an early evening aperitif. For example, a Mughal Martini, made with raisins, honey, rose petal and rose water. You can also have delicious light, Indian snacks here. There are plans for an additional late night bar to open up at the Mughal later in the year.

The Peshawri is a bustling, lively restaurant specializing in traditional northwest frontier dishes. I choose a combination of Murgh Malai Chicken, flavoured with green chilies, coriander and other spices, tandoori prawns, with red chillies, yoghurt and garam masala and spicy potatoes. These dishes are served with crisp, buttery, layered bread that is a regional delicacy. Everything tastes absolutely delicious. I also try some excellent Indian wines, a white Sauvignon and red Shiraz.


In between sightseeing, there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied in the hotel, ranging from cycling, badminton and lawn tennis to chess and billiards. There’s also a swimming pool, sauna, beauty salon and the award-winning Kaya Kalp: The Royal Spa. The hotel also has a rooftop an observatory terrace, where you can have a drink and enjoy the wonderful view of the Taj Mahal.

The spa has been specially designed by leading architect and landscape designer, Pradeep Sachdeva to create a classic Mughal feel with latticework, mother of pearl inlay and mirror work. Red ruby pomegranates are also a key design element at the spa, used on walls, the ceiling and the white terrazzo flooring. You can choose from a wide range of treatments, including traditional Ayurvedic and also Kaya Kalp signature treatments. I try the signature Kaya Kalp massage that is one hour of sheer bliss.

ITC Mughal SpaThe Royal Spa's couple treatment room
ITC Mughal

Every member of staff I meet is helpful and friendly. What’s more they all seem genuinely happy to work here. I hear on the grapevine that there’s a policy to nurture staff and help them develop. It shows. As a result, staff turnover is low, as people tend to stay put for years.

Room for improvement

I have no complaints apart from one minor suggestion. While the spa in itself is fabulous, I found making my way from the changing area to the treatment room ever so slightly chaotic. With lots of swishy, white drapes, it’s easy to get slightly lost in the layout. So, a bit more direction for guests from the staff would be helpful.

Out and about

It goes without saying that the main reason people flock to Agra is to visit the Taj Mahal. This magnificent building with its characteristic, pearlescent white dome and minaret like towers, surrounded by lush green gardens, was built by Shah Jahan. He wanted to create a memorial to his third and favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The best time to visit is at sunrise, around 0600, when it’s still cool. Close up, the Taj is even more breathtakingly spectacular than any photograph. There is a sense of serenity and peace here. Other attractions to visit while you’re in Agra include the famous Agra Fort, a former Mughal enclave protected by enormous, towering high walls. Also, the beautiful Jama Masjid Mosque. There are also many lovely Mughal styled gardens dotted around the city.

* The Taj Mahal is only a short walk away from the hotel. You can book tickets (about £5) through reception.

ITC Mughal Agra
Taj Ganj
Agra 282 001
Uttar Pradesh
Tel: (91) (562) 402 1700.
Prices: From around £70 for a standard room.

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