One of India’s most beautiful states, Rajasthan, or the ‘land of the kings’, is a dream for any first-time visitor to India. With an endless supply of forts, fairy-tale lakes, tiger-filled forests, grand temples and ancient cities, Rajasthan is a kaleidoscope of bright colours, charming people, delicious food and beautiful landscapes just waiting to be discovered. Although many people are aware of the rich history and culture awaiting them in this beguiling region, few understand that Rajasthan is home to some of the finest, and certainly luxurious, hotels in the world. Taking you from converted palaces and modern have-it-all resorts to stylish tented camps and chic city-centre havelis, the list below is a compilation of my favourite hotels in Rajasthan…
1. Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur
A piece of history floating like a mirage on the surface of the tranquil Lake Pichola, the Taj Lake Palace, built in 1743, was once the summer home of the Maharana of Udaipur. Only approachable by boat from a Venetian style jetty, a stay at the Lake Palace feels as glamorous today as it must have done in its royal hey-day. From the romantic rooftop restaurant, Bhairo, to the lush interior courtyard (used as a backdrop in the classic Bond film ‘Octupussy’) and incredibly slick but heartfelt service, this hotel is literal perfection. With its shading chhatris and Victorian-era sun loungers, the swimming pool, open on two sides to the gentle lake breeze and stunning views of the city palace, is elegance personified. However if you’re after something even more indulgent, it has to be hotel’s dedicated spa boat (onboard hot tub included).
See more photos of the Taj Lake Palace here.
2. Amanbagh, Alwar
A stay at Amanbagh, one of my favourite Aman Resorts worldwide, is as close as it gets to heaven on earth. A rural retreat located at the heart of some of Rajasthan’s most picturesque natural landscapes, Amanbagh is so much more than just a hotel. Designed by Aman-favourite Ed Tuttle, Amanbagh is a wonderful blend of Aman minimalism and Mughal architecture; chhatris, domes, courtyards, jali screens and shaded walkways all combine beautifully with manicured green lawns, tall lush palms and an oasis-like marble bottomed swimming pool or gigantic proportions. With only 40 rooms, even at maximum capacity Amanbagh feels wonderfully quiet. The Pool Pavilion suites have to be some of the best rooms in the world; with your own private pool (sometimes frequented by cheeky monkeys looking for a drink), magnificent green marble bathrooms, male and female dressing rooms, day beds and outdoor terrace, you could easily not come out for weeks. For this reason, I’ve also rated Amanbagh as one of my top ten honeymoon hotels.
See more photos of Amanbagh here.
3. Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
Hotels are often described as being ‘fit for a king’, this luxury legend was actually built for one. One of the many residences of Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II and his glamourous wife, Gayatri Devi, in its hey-day Rambagh Palace, with its sprawling grounds and inner landscaped courtyard that rivals Versailles, was home to the Maharaja’s many wives and children; today you can swim in the splendid indoor pool that was used by Devi to do her daily lengths. After a stint as Government House, Rambagh became a hotel in 1957 and hasn’t looked back. Palatial, opulent and absolutely world-class, Rambagh is the place to stay when visiting the pink city. Sleep in the converted apartments of the Maharani, sip a drink in the Polo Bar or take dinner al fresco on the hotel’s manicured lawns, that is after you’ve arrived up the drive courtesy of an atmospheric and perfectly maintained vintage car.
One of the grandest buildings, let alone hotels, in all of India, Umaid Bhawan Palace is in a league of its own. Designed by renowned Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, Umaid Bhawan was built by the Maharaja of Jodhpur in order to employ local people who were suffering from a catastrophic drought in the region. A stay at the now Taj Hotels-run palace cannot cease to impress even the most blasé of guests; from the domed lobby and underground swimming pool to the English country house style gardens, art deco suites and top-notch cuisine, Umaid Bhawan has it all. Still inhabited by royalty today, Umaid Bhawan has also been given the seal of approval by both Bollywood and Hollywood royalty; Elizabeth Hurley married her India beau, Arun Nayar, here in 2007, and more recently Kate Moss and co descended on the palace for the 50th birthday of Naomi Campbell’s ex-boyfriend, Vladimir Doronin, now the man at the head of Aman Resorts.
See more photos of Umaid Bhawan Palace here.
5. Aman-i-Khas, Ranthambore National Park
The epitome of ‘glamping’, Aman-i-Khas is where you come if you like the idea of a tented camp but if you’re not willing to sacrifice lake-facing yoga, his ‘n’ hers dressing rooms, slick understated service and rooms under 100 square metres. Expect rose petals floating in your piping hot bath on arrival and drinks on ice in your tent’s mini-bar cum treasure chest. A hotel that prides itself on constantly surprising its guests, at Aman-i-Khas every night just gets better and better. In addition to catering to your every whim, you personal ‘batman’ sees to it that you’re constantly awed by one jaw-dropping experience after another, and that’s on top of the tigers and leopards to be found in Ranthambore National Park. Not for nothing was Aman-i-Khas the backdrop for the extravagant Indian wedding of Russell Brand and Katy Perry, also one of my top ten Aman Resorts.
See more photos of Aman-i-Khas here.
6. Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur
Patronized by mega-stars like Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, entering Oberoi Rajvilas feels like travelling through the wardrobe from busy Jaipur into a secret walled Mughal inspired, marble-floored mod-con paradise. Rooms are gorgeous, and after a long day of sightseeing in the dusty Jaipur heat, there is nothing better than cooling off in the garden-facing glass fronted baths, or curling up on the plush cushioned window seats looking out onto the hotel’s many manicured lawns. The real Oberoi touch however can be found in the service; with its own top-notch dedicated school of management, perfectly trained staff all go that extra mile to make your stay one of the most memorable.
Directly across the water from the Lake Palace, the Leela Palace is the hedonist’s choice in Udaipur. The new luxury kid on the block, the Leela benefits from seemingly endless space, huge modern rooms and fantastic lake views. Catch the rays and inhale the city’s infectious sense of calm by the gigantic pool where you’ll be waited on hand and foot by waiters weighed down with chilled watermelon slices and ice-cold face towels. The ESPA spa is one of the best in India – tented pavilions face a series of tranquil spa pools, some of which are lake facing. If you’re looking for romance, Sheesh Mahal, the Leela’s signature Indian restaurant with spectacular views of Lake Pichola and Udaipur’s sparkling cityscape, gets top marks. Not for nothing did The Leela make the cut of my top ten honeymoon hotels worldwide.
Small and sexy, with simply buckets of charm, Sher Bagh is a family-run boutique hotel nestled in the fringes of Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park. A throw back to the glamourous hunting camps of the roaring twenties, Sher Bagh manages the rare feat of transporting you back to a golden era without feeling in the slightest bit themed or forced. A Relais & Chateaux property, tents are suitably authentic, think leather camping chairs and raffia floors, without sacrificing creature comforts. Eat your dinner round the campfire, where glowing lanterns hang from the trees, relax by the savannah-facing pool, indulge in the camp’s signature ‘Tiger-tini’ cocktail, or, if all the tiger spotting gets too much, indulge in the hotel’s spa tent.
See more photos of Sher Bagh here.
9. Raas, Ranthambore National Park
Nestled within the narrows streets of the walled city, Raas has one of the most impressive views from any hotel in Northern India, perhaps even in the world. With the towering Mehrangarh Fort above and the city’s blue hued homes on all sides, a stay at Raas cannot help but immerse you into the delights of Jodhpur. It’s not hard to see why Raas is an accredited Design hotel; a hugely successful combination of modern and historical Indian architecture, Raas feels both wonderfully fresh and steeped in history at the same time, not something that many hotels manage to get so right. Rooms are divided between new blocks, with their innovative take on jali screens and the heritage rooms and suites of the original haveli. A rooftop bar, lush sandstone courtyards with trickling pools and fountains, a relaxing pool and affordable prices all combine to make Raas one of the best value experiences in Rajasthan.
An original Rajput splendour, Samode Palace is one of the few luxury hotels in Rajasthan that has managed to maintain a real sense of authenticity. A fairytale building towering over the charming hamlet of Samode, Samode Palace has a rooftop pool out of your wildest dreams, enormous shaded courtyards and some of the best food in the region. With its opulent draped four-poster beds, ornate light-filled bathrooms and walls that resemble a whose-who of Rajasthani royalty, Samode Palace pulls off nostalgic chic like no one else; a simple heritage hotel this is not. The Durbar Hall is one of the best maintained in North India; with its glittering 250 year old frescos you get a real feel of what it meant to be royal in Rajasthan.