Cherry-picked for their Rajput grandeur, dreamy locations and sumptuous interiors, these extravagant piles provide the ultimate shelter from the heat and dust of northern India…
No spectacle epitomises the spirit of Rajput pride and swagger as eloquently as Bishangarh’s great fortress, whose turreted walls rise implacably from a patchwork of mustard fields and mango orchards in the hills north of Jaipur.
The maze-like interior has been lavishly renovated by the luxury Alila chain, and holds plenty of delightful surprises, from hidden pavilions and libraries to secret tower rooms whose wood-framed windows look out across the surrounding countryside.
Its grounds are so large that the pool is a buggy ride away, and has the fort itself as an imposing backdrop.
Expect to be showered with rose petals as you pass through the gateway of this splendid fortress-palace in the mountains outside Udaipur.
The feeling of being in a period drama continues as you clamber up the twisting, narrow staircases to the former royal chambers on the upper floors, which overlook a chequerboard of pastel rooftops encircled by desert ridges.
In contrast to the flamboyant 17th century architecture, the interiors are minimalist and modern – all polished marble and sleek designer furniture.
Projecting balconies encrusted with antique mirrors and glass tiles provide perfect nooks for curling up with a book or loved one.
The Maharana of Udaipur’s magnificent former abode affords fine views down to the famous white marble summer palace that floats on Lake Pichola, the most decadent of the region’s royal residences.
Dozens of grand hotels line the lakeside, but if you want a genuine historical patina, this is the only choice.
The atmosphere is sublime at sunset time, when a sarod player serenades guests seated on the water-facing terrace and pleasure boats chug over the swirling reflections of onion domes and ochre ramparts.
This is the place to come if you want to feel what Rajput palaces were like 20 years ago, before the big hotels caught on.
A towering pile of peeling plaster walls, sensuous domes and delicate window arches, this old palace sits astride the rim of a cliff, high above a bend in the Chambal River.
From the pillared pavilion on the rooftop, gaze down on crocodiles paddling the shallows below, as flocks of parakeets screech past.
The highlight here, though, are the rowing boat trips on the river at dawn, when the palace and cliffs are illuminated to spectacular effect.
For those in the know, ‘Ranvas’ is a byword in India’s heritage hotel scene for ‘perfection’.
Everything, from the restoration of the salmon-coloured stonework to the antique temple statues and bowls of floating bougainvillea petals in the wall niches, hits just the right note.
Accommodation comes in the form of ten self-contained apartments that used to be occupied by the royal women.
Signature experiences include eagle feeding on the ramparts, and there’s a delightfully traditional market town with ancient Sufi monuments literally on the doorstep.
Jaqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana number among the VIPs who’ve enjoyed the charms of Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace over the years.
‘Sumptuous’ doesn’t even get close. Dating from the heyday of the Raj, the building and its interiors were designed – first and foremost – to dazzle, and they still do, from the moment the turbaned porter swings open the main door.
This is the kind of place you have to dress up for. Tick off Bollywood stars and A-listers while sipping cocktails in the rear garden terrace as peacocks graze the lawns below.
Hidden in a craggy valley north of Jaipur, Samode is everything you dream a Rajput Palace should look like.
Its pale, primrose-coloured walls, crowned by a forest of gilded finials, enclose a feast of murals and mirrorwork, shimmering marble-lined pools and royal apartments packed with antiques.
Splash out on a suite and you’ll have your own sun-drenched terrace with private Jacuzzi to lounge in. The views from the rooftop infinity pool are worth the climb, and there’s a shady courtyard garden full of frangipani trees to relax under during the never-ending hot afternoons.
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