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Royally India: Exploring two of the best palace hotels of Rajasthan

Cathy Wagstaff shares two extraordinary palace hotels that will give great pleasure to those seeking the savoir-vivre of Indian royalty. These hotels promise an enchanting escape where history, heritage, and hospitality converge.

The palace hotels of Rajasthan blend history and hospitality in a way few other destinations can match. They have been transformed into exquisite hotels that transport you to a bygone era of grandeur and opulence.

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur

Stepping into Rambagh Palace is like stepping back in time, with its majestic architecture, intricately designed interiors, and sprawling gardens that instantly exude an aura of regality. At the imposing front gates a horse-and-carriage awaits to transport us along the sweeping driveway flanked by gardens ablaze with vibrant blooms, fountains and prancing peacocks, the national bird of India. The lavish reception on arrival is the stuff of royalty: we’re showered with pink rose petals, in the way a bride is doused in confetti. Welcome to the ‘pink city’.  

Garden in an Indian palace

Once the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur © Rambagh Palace, Jaipur

India’s Pink City

Once inside, I’m in awe of the interiors – carved marble ‘jalis’ or latticework, sandstone balustrades, cupolas and ‘chattris’ or cenotaphs, and elaborate Mughal Gardens with fountains in courtyards and long colonnades. The whole setting is a romantic tale of the Maharaja, as well as his legendary consort, Maharani Gayatri Devi, widely considered as being the most beautiful woman in India. Looks aside, Gayatri was a pioneer for women, starting the first all-girls college in Rajasthan, Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School, alongside being a successful politician, a social reformer, an equestrienne and a polo player. Quite a trendsetter in the fashion stakes as well.

One of the first palaces in Jaipur to be converted into a hotel, the 19th-century Rambagh Palace was built in 1835 as the hunting lodge and is spread across 47 acres of manicured gardens. Made of marble and filled with filigree work – the lacelike ornamental openwork of intertwined wire threads of gold or silver – the hotel literally shimmers. Interior remains faithful to its elegant past across 78 rooms and suites (Superior and Luxury categories to Royal Suites), blending old-world charm with contemporary comfort. They feature rich texiled furnishings, tasteful antiques, tile-and-mirror mosaics, Shekhawati-style frescoes and views of the palace gardens or the cityscape.

Rambagh Palace royal suite interior

Royal suite © Rambagh Palace, Jaipur

An Indian feast for all senses

Beyond its lavish accommodations, Rambagh Palace is a haven for indulgent relaxation, from the glittering outdoor pool to the Indian treatments in the J Wellness Circle spa – the Pehlwan Malish, a traditional dynamic massage for centuries, has been a favourite with Indian royals. I savour the cuisine at the palace’s fine dining restaurant, Suvarana Mahal. Decked with crystal chandeliers, this former palace ballroom was built in the 18th-century French style and offers classic Rajasthan flavours with a traditional Indian feast.

Located in the heart of Jaipur, not far from the Palace of the Winds and the city’s buzzing bazaars, your personal butler can cater to any whim to recreate the fabled lifestyle of royals past.

Opulent dining room in an Indian palace hotel

Suvarana Mahal © Rambagh Palace, Jaipur

Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

The same stylings are in full force at our next destination. When we board a boat and glide across Lake Pichola toward the swoon-worthy Taj Lake Palace hotel, the shimmering water blushing in the end-of-the-day sunlight; the surface so still that it mirrors the Aravalli range in the distance. I can’t imagine a more dreamy setting – small wonder it was featured in the James Bond movie Octopussy. Like a jewel in the middle of the lake, the property symbolises timeless beauty, floating on the lake’s serene still waters instantly captivates with its Rajputana architecture.

Romance is built into the very fabric of this 18th-century pleasure palace. Constructed between 1743 – 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II, from the House of Mewar, and made from local marble, it was used as a summer retreat until 1963 when it was converted into a hotel with 65 rooms and 18 suites. Approaching the four-acre man-made island, I am greeted at the entrance that leads to concealed gardens with fountains and gilded halls. The welcome is all flower petals and floaty music, only outshone by the grand architecture.

Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India, aerial view

Built on a four-acre man-made island © Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

Venice of the East

Royal Butlers are on hand to attend to your every wish. I suggest a treatment on the floating Jiva Spa Boat. When you’re ready to sightsee, ask your butler to book a Heritage Walk with hotel historians or take one of the hotel’s vintage cars to the city attractions. The palace’s dining experiences are equally captivating, with restaurants that serve a melange of authentic Rajasthani cuisine and international delicacies and are only open to guests. Opt for the wood-fired Rajasthani specialties at Neel Kamal or the rooftop Bhairo restaurant overlooking the shimmering lake and the majestic City Palace can’t be beaten for a more formal meal with lavish views.

Taj Lake Palace is a masterpiece that blends the regal with the contemporary with the most incredible views over the lake towards Udaipur and I can easily see why this magical city is known as the Venice of the East.

Roof top dinner in Udaipur, India

Bhairo restaurant © Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur