One of the highlights of a luxury private tour to India is the chance to stay in some of the most beautiful heritage hotels across the subcontinent. Each is a gem in their own right, packed with history, ambience and character, coupled with local craftsmanship, cuisine and culture. A world away from chain hotels (and more affordable than palace hotels), they are often run by the owners themselves, giving a homely feel and fascinating insight into real Rajput life.
Here we share our top picks of heritage hotels.
Hidden down a quiet lane close to the city centre yet away from the hustle and bustle of Jaipur, Samode Haveli is the elegant 300-year-old mansion of the Samode royal family. The 39 grand staterooms and rooms, decorated in Rajasthani style, are spread across a series of former royal residences – and the mirrored sheesh mahal suites are truly splendid. It’s the perfect place to relax with verdant gardens, pretty courtyards, a mosaic swimming pool and paths lined with rows of pots containing dahlias and geraniums. Meals are served in a glorious dining room, lined with chandeliers, and on the outdoor terrace, warmed by heaters in winter. Traditional Rajasthani dishes are the order of the day as well as a good selection of fish dishes and other European favourites. Samode Haveli has an enviable location and is one of the most written about properties in Jaipur.
A stone’s throw from the museums, temples and bazaars of Jaipur, this 52-bedroom property was built in 1928 as a palace for one of Rajasthan’s most aristocratic families. Today, life here remains just as regal. With a stunning yellow façade, the rooms are all very spacious, beautifully decorated with antiques and Rajput flourishes. Ornate chandeliers hang over purple velvet sofas and carved wood balustrades. Stained glass windows mimic the peacocks that wander the verdant grounds. It’s no wonder that the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was partly filmed here, starring as the regal Viceroy Club. Bar Palladio can also be found within the grounds. Painted electric blue, it’s a buzzing nightspot, serving classic Italian cuisine, accompanied by a fantastic cocktail menu.
An immaculately restored 17th-century royal retreat, between Jodhpur and Udaipur, Rawla Narlai lies in a pretty traditional temple town – and perfectly exemplifies the magic of rural Rajasthan. The 32 rooms are individually decorated, set around a series of idyllic courtyards, bright with flowers. Traditional furnishings, ornate frescoes and painted archways add to the authentic atmosphere. Meals are traditional Rajasthani cuisine (curried goat, lamb and chicken, a good range of vegetarian dishes, and bread straight from the clay oven) – and you can dine out under the stars in the lamplit entrance court. During the day, there is plenty to do, including walking, riding and leopard safaris. On return, cool off in the magnificent pool hidden in the walled garden.
Set in a converted 18th-century Rajasthani hunting lodge, Royal Heritage Haveli is a serene sanctuary just outside the pink city of Jaipur. Run by Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, a descendant of the original owner, this family-run 15-suite hotel has a warm, welcoming feel of a private home. There’s an expansive marble pool, croquet on the lawn, shaded terraces, sensational spa, cocktails served from a stylish bar and local cuisine made with home-grown vegetables in the Kigelia Court restaurant. The suites are decorated in Indo-Mughal style with bright frescoes, decorative columns, sweeping archways and intricate tiles. At night, guests can dine by the outdoor fire pits in the courtyard under a star-filled night sky.
Dating back to 1734, Amet Haveli is designed by the same architect (and uses the same white stone) as the legendary Lake Palace in Udaipur. Steeped in Mewari history, the property was once used as an evening “pleasure garden” by a succession of Maharajahs. This characterful property, perched on Udaipur’s Lake Pichola, is now an elegant hotel with 20 elegant rooms and suites, many with pretty balconies, overlooking the picturesque lake. Another highlight is the haveli’s Mughal gardens, inspired by those at Agra Fort. The Ambrai Restaurant, with a romantic lakeside setting, is a city favourite, serving local Rajasthani dishes. Alternatively, there are lovely spots dotted around the grounds for intimate candle-lit private dining.
Narendra Bhawan is the former home of the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner and – like his namesake hotel – is influenced by the Bombay art deco movement, a love of travel and contemporary European tastes. The building’s sumptuous interiors are a jazzy blend of Rajput furnishings and retro trinkets. The centrepiece is a royal red baby grand piano, inscribed in gold with Edith Piaf’s memorable maxim ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. A sparkling pool can be found on the rooftop. The 82 rooms reflect different phases of the Maharaja’s life, varying from bright and minimalist to arty and traditional. Both local and European dishes are served in the restaurant ‘Pearls and Chiffon’ (every Maharani’s sartorial choice), and drinks can be taken in the gold-accented bar or under a shaded pergola on the terrace.