One of the best ways to experience the royal heritage of India is to stay in one of the subcontinent’s magnificent palace hotels. Once home to India's Maharajahs (and in some cases still are), these royal residences have since been restored and converted into hotels. However, the grandeur remains with luxurious interiors, romantic settings, extravagant architecture, manicured gardens and refined Indian cuisine.
This spectacular palace and former residence of the Maharajas of Jaipur is the epitome of luxury. Set in landscaped gardens, the property offers 78 beautifully restored grand luxury rooms and suites, originally the royal chambers. It’s a picture of regal elegance with hand-carved marble, sandstone balustrades and elaborate Mughal Gardens. The Palace Butlers and horse-drawn carriage ride further the opulence. Breakfast is served in the Rajput Room while traditional afternoon tea and pre-dinner cocktails can be found at the Verandah Cafe. Enjoy an Indian feast at Suvarna Mahal, Mediterranean fare at the Steam Lounge or drinks at the Polo Bar, a high society hotspot. To top it all off, there’s an excellent spa with sublime Ayurvedic treatments and an olympic size indoor and outdoor pool.
A unique homage to Jaipur’s regal past, Rajmahal Palace is one of India’s most vibrant hotels. Once the private home of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur and his glamorous wife Maharani Gayatri Devi, the property has now been painstakingly restored by Rajmata Padmani Devi and interior designer Adil Ahmad. Now run by leading hotel group SUJAN, the 14 rooms and suites are an explosion of colour with striking wallpaper and contemporary details, contrasted by antiques and photographs of past visitors including HRH Queen Elizabeth II and Jacqueline Kennedy. The zany 51 Shades of Pink dining room never fails to wow along with the Polo Bar for excellent cocktails and the Grand Orient-Occident, which is still a favourite restaurant of Jaipur’s royal family.
The most impressive royal residence in India, Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace is not only home to Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur but is a fabulous luxury hotel, too. Perched on Chittar Hill, the highest point in Jodhpur, the property is the world’s sixth-largest private residence and features the same palm court marble used in the iconic Taj Mahal. Built-in 1943 with 26 acres of manicured grounds, the 64 grand rooms and suites are suitably lavish in Art Deco style and filled with antiques. Further extravagant excitements are a throne room, Durbar Hall, ballroom, library, subterranean Zodiac Pool, billiards room, four tennis courts and two unique marble squash courts. There are two spectacular restaurants, including Risala which serves recipes straight from the royal kitchens.
Floating on Udaipur’s Lake Pichola, Taj Lake Palace is perhaps the most romantic hotel in India. Constructed in 1743 as a pleasure palace for the royal family of Mewar, this white marble masterpiece boasts a stunning 360-degree view of the city. The interior oozes elegance and glamour, sumptuously decorated with rich Indian textiles. The 66 rooms are incredibly regal – and come with round-the-clock butler service. The floating spa seals the luxurious experience. At sunset, enjoy drinks on the rooftop terrace and live performances from Rajasthani musicians. Indian cuisine is presented at Neel Kamal, while the open-air Bhairo restaurant has unrivalled vistas. For an unforgettably romantic meal, couples can opt for Mewar Terrace, an intimate domed pavilion for two which sits on the lake.
Rising from the banks of Udaipur’s Lake Pichola, the Oberoi Udaivilas is an oasis of peace and luxury. Sitting on the 200-year-old former hunting grounds of the Maharanas of Mewar, this regal resort is a maze of honeycomb-coloured domes and terraces, dotted with cobalt blue pools and sparkling fountains. The 87 rooms and suites are decorated in Rajasthani royal style, mixing bold colours with a desert palette. The hotel chefs have been trained in palace cuisine and the result is excellent. Enjoy an al fresco dinner at Chandni with its dramatic views of the city or soak up traditional music and tuck into local cuisine at the domed Udaimahal. The Oberoi spa ticks all the boxes, too, with Ayurvedic, Eastern and Western treatments overlooking lake Pichola and the Lake Palace.
Built in the style of a grand Maharaja's palace, The Leela Palace is royal Rajasthan at its very best. Set breathtakingly beautiful Lake Pichola, the property is the only hotels in Udaipur which offers a lake view from the private balconies of all its 80 rooms and suites. The style is incredibly regal with stunning furnishings and locally-made artefacts. All the modern amenities are here, too: flat screen TVs, iPod docks and a surround sound system. There’s a lovely tented spa and large pool which are perfect for relaxing after a day’s sightseeing in Udaipur, with stunning views of the Lake Palace. There are three restaurants and bars to enjoy: the Dining Room, serving international cuisine, the Sheesh Mahal, a fine-dining Indian restaurant and the Library Bar, a superb old fashioned bar offering anything from Champagne to Single Malts.
The Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra enjoys an unrivalled position, being situated just 600 metres from the iconic Taj Mahal. Modelled on an Indian palace with a design paying homage to its Mughal splendour, the hotel is reminiscent of princely India, featuring expansive use of marble, large reflecting pools, colonnaded courts, terraces and pavilions. All of the 102 rooms are lavish and richly textured with teak floors, hand-knotted rugs, marble-inlay tables, sumptuous silk cushions – and uninterrupted views of the Taj Mahal. Guests can stretch out with a swim in the magnificent pool before savouring fine international food at Bellevue or Indian cuisine in luxury dining restaurant Espahan. There’s an excellent spa, too, with a full range of Ayurvedic, Thai and Western treatments.
Opened in 1903, the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai is one of the most iconic luxury hotels in India. With a prime central position overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Gateway to India, the property has played host to kings, dignitaries and eminent personalities from across the globe. With 550 rooms and suites, the Taj is a striking blend of nostalgic elegance, rich history and modern facilities with Italian marble floors, Belgian chandeliers and 4,000 works of art, most of them antique. Ten of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants can also be found here including authentic Indian cuisine at Masala Kraft; world-famous Japanese dishes at Wasabi by Morimoto and exquisite Eastern Mediterranean at Souk. The Ballroom, spacious enough for 450 guests, is perfect for conferences and grand private events. The Sea lounge is also a great place to savour high tea and a view of the Gateway of India and is often an ideal place to catch a glimpse of Bollywood celebrities.
Formerly the residence of the last Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan (once the richest man in the world), the beautifully-restored Taj Falaknuma Palace lives up to its regal history. Exuding opulence and splendour, the Palace recreates the lifestyles of the ruling Nizams, with the finest art, artefacts and fittings from around the world. The 60 rooms and suites feature colonial furniture, Italian marble and hand-painted walls. There is also the magnificent 101 Dining Hall, featuring the world’s longest dining table, the Jade room, housing a rare collection of gems and a magnificent ballroom. There are two restaurants to choose from: Celeste overlooking Hyderabad city, offering Italian cuisine and Aada which serves mouthwatering Hyderabadi classics. This palace hotel also has a superb Jiva Grande Spa, overlooking the cascading gardens.
The most luxurious hotel in the sacred city of Varanasi, Taj Nadesar Palace was built by the East India Company. The property was then bought by the Maharaja Prabhu Narayan Singh in the late 19th century to accommodate visiting dignitaries. In 2011, the palace was spectacularly restored by the Taj Group and turned into anopulent retreat with 40-acres of the garden, planted with marigolds and mango trees. There are 10 bedrooms and suites, with large windows, spacious living areas and marble bathrooms, complete with stand-alone bathtubs. The ornate dining room serves cuisine reminiscent of the palace’s royal past and an array of gourmet global dishes. The Jiva Spa should also not be missed, offering aromatherapy massages, body scrubs, and other beauty treatments.