A wallet-friendly way to stay in a palace on vacation

Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur

The luxury of India’s maharajas and maharanis captivated the world in the late 19th century, and their wealth was nowhere more evident than in Rajasthan, India’s northwestern state, which was home to 18 royal families and an array of royal addresses.

As the fortunes of the maharajas declined in the 20th century, many of their palaces, forts and havelas (famous bourgeois tenement houses) were leased to the burgeoning Indian hospitality trade. Lake Palace (1968), a marble confection covering an island in Udaipur’s Lake Pichola featured in the James Bond film Octopussy.

Retaining period features such as jali (decorative grilles) and jharokha (balconies), these historic properties have become synonymous with affordable luxury, says Tom Barber, co-founder of Indian travel company Original Travel – and that reputation continues to this day. .

Palladio's Bar, Jaipur - Henry Wilson

Palladio’s Bar, Jaipur – Henry Wilson

“While some palatial hotels are priced higher than simpler Indian offerings, the quality of service, style and size of the rooms, compared to, say, Thailand or the Caribbean, is a no-brainer,” says Barber. He adds that these hotels are usually priced in Indian rupees and currently have a better value in sterling terms than dollar-based winter sun options.

The sheer number of traditional stays coupled with the room price freeze following the India pandemic and the fact that breakfast is included make Rajasthan a relatively wallet-friendly option, whether you’re looking for high-end luxury with fantastic service or mid-range value scope.

Hot new heritage releases across the state include 1880s The Johri at Lal Haveli, Jaipur; renovation of the Jaisalmer sandstone haveli, Gorbandh Palace (opening May) and Six Senses Barwara Fort, an opulent 48-apartment resort that includes two original palaces and two temples in a 14th-century walled fort two hours south of Jaipur.

And with the long-awaited reopening of India’s e-Visa system last month for British passport holders visiting India, perhaps there’s never been a better time to plan your trip.

Top ten for heritage value

Ajit Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

Ajit Bhawan offers a luxury set and caboodle at a mid-range price. This former residence of the Prince of Jodhpur was built in 1927 and became a hotel ten years ago and keeps prices at 2019 levels even as Indian tourism opens. The interiors are decorated with period details, including jali trusses, balconies, chandeliers and damask curtains.

Fogging fountains and an aquamarine pool under the palace’s arches are other highlights, and the newer tented cottages are distinctive (though less luxurious than the palace rooms, so double check what you book).

Double from £170, B&B (00 912912513333; ajitbhawan.com)

Jaiwan Haveli, Udaipur

With rooms costing the same as a meal for one in the UK, this haveli combines location and price. Situated on the shores of Lake Pichola, it is within walking distance of the Municipal Palace and the Ghats, the waterfront steps that surround Lake Pichola.

Parts of the hotel are 200 years old; the rest is a wonderful maze of staircases (no lifts), courtyards, balconies and terraces. Ask for corner rooms 31, 41 and 51, each with two windows overlooking the lake, or venture up the spiral staircase for a suite with a private balcony.

Double from £36, B&B (00 91 9829005859; jaiwanahaveli.com)

Raas Jodhpur, Jodhpur

This mix of ancient and modern architecture is located in the heart of the old city of Jodhpur and is a great base from which to explore the winding streets of the Blue City, lined with boutiques, art galleries and cafes.

Luxurious room at Raas Jodhpur Hotel

Luxurious room at Raas Jodhpur Hotel

Although rates have gone up after the pandemic (around 30 per cent compared to 2019), it’s still excellent value, with amenities equivalent to any £400 a night property in Europe (extensive heated pool, best spa in town, Destination Restaurant ). However, its main feature may just be the view of Mehrangarh Fort, best seen in the moonlight from the rooftop bar.

Double from £264, B&B (00 91 82399 26000; raashotels.com/jodhpur)

Alila Bishangarh, Manoharpur

Set in a 230-year-old hilltop fort with 360-degree views of the rugged Aravalli terrain, an hour north of Jaipur, this skillfully restored historic property brings the wartime history of the Rajputs (the powerful clans that ruled the area of ​​northern India) to life amid five-star amenities as with the brand’s Caribbean property (which costs a cool £1,380 a night).

Hotel Alila Fort Bishangarh - Alamy

Hotel Alila Fort Bishangarh – Alamy

Don’t miss the tour of the fort’s history, and at sunset take your place on the fort walls to watch the sun set over the Rajasthani countryside through the old embrasures. Amarsar Restaurant serves Rajput hunting cuisine made from local ingredients cooked in sandboxes.

Double room from £306, B&B (00 91 7230058058; alilahotels.com)

Johri, Jaipur

Recently opened after the pandemic, with fixed room rates throughout 2023, this Haveli Hotel dates back to the 19th century and is located in the heart of the walled city of Jaipur. Its luxurious furnishings are inspired by 19th-century Pink City jewelers, with suites named after gemstones set around a shaded courtyard.

Johri, Jaipur

Johri, Jaipur

The vegetarian restaurant is excellent – don’t miss the spinach chaat (crispy spinach with sweet and spicy sauces). A walk or a short tuk-tuk ride past the nearby market will take you to the famous Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and the City Palace Museum for sightseeing and shopping.

Double room from £224, B&B (00 91 89055 51680; thejohrijaipur.com)

Narain Niwas Palace, Jaipur

Be transported to a bygone era and thankfully expect to pay retro style prices. Large rooms with canopy beds and royal portraits evoke the royal lifestyle, as do the gleaming chandeliers in the communal areas (although the bathrooms are more standard).

Palladio's Bar - Henry Wilson

Palladio’s Bar – Henry Wilson

The peacocks that live there probably stroll past you as you stroll through the gardens, and even attack the hotel’s well-known Palladio Bar, which transforms into a candlelit wonderland at sunset, and its stunning interiors delight Instagram users.

Double from £76, room only (00 91 141 256 1291; hotelnarainniwas.com)

Udayvilas, Udaipur

It’s not cheap, but this award-winning modern palace on Udaipur’s waterfront is great value for money if you’re looking for a one-time indulgence (you can even get a discount on Oberoi’s Early Advantage Rate by pre-booking, which includes £15 spa use) . Its cupolas and cupolas rise above the stunning Lake Pichola as you reach it ducally by beautiful boat.

Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur

Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur

Peacocks roam the lush gardens, especially around the Bada Mahal, an 89-meter-tall rock structure built in 1886 where Rajasthani royalty used to watch tigers fight wild boars. There’s no grit like it these days – instead attentive service, top-notch cuisine, a spa with bells and whistles, and the feeling that even maharajas have never had it so good.

Premier Double from £546, B&B (00 91 2942433300; oberoihotels.com)

Jai Mahal Palace, Jaipur

Now part of the luxury Taj group, the hotel has been home since it was built in the 1740s by three heads of state of Jaipur. An opulent complex of royal rooms, pavilions and colonnades set amidst 18 acres of gardens, this site offers all the comforts of the Taj but is £100 cheaper than its sister property in Mumbai.

Jai Mahal Palace Hotel Gardens, Jaipur - Ian Trower / Alamy Stock Photo

Jai Mahal Palace Hotel Gardens, Jaipur – Ian Trower / Alamy Stock Photo

Play croquet on the lawn and have breakfast on the terrace surrounded by plants. Don’t be surprised if you witness a polo match on the lawns: the dukes have always played polo here, and even today exhibition matches are held.

Double from £269, B&B (00 91 141 660111; tajhotels.com)

Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

This Haveli offers an intimate look at the life and times of the last Maharaja of Bikaner, Narendra Singh, who lived here until his death in 2003. Filled with handcrafted knick-knacks, chandeliers and nooks and crannies lined with rich velvet, rooms here can be had for as little as £30 a night.

Lobby at Narendra Bhawan Hotel, Rajasthan - Eric Lafforgue / Alamy Stock Photo

Lobby at Narendra Bhawan Hotel, Rajasthan – Eric Lafforgue / Alamy Stock Photo

Music lovers will be delighted by the antique piano on which the words of the song Non, Je Ne Regrette by Rien Edith Piaf are engraved, and don’t miss the photos of the maharajah’s dogs; had over 100 dogs.

Double from £122, B&B (00 91 7827151151; narendrabhawan.com)

Hill Fort, Kesroli

In Northeast Rajasthan, this conversion of a 700-year-old hill fort makes for the perfect stopover from Delhi. The seven-towered fortification experienced its heyday in the late 19th century under the rule of Ranawat Thakur Bhawani Singh, a colorful figure famous for his horsemanship.

The Hill Fort, Kesroli - Kelly Richardson / Alamy Stock Photo

The Hill Fort, Kesroli – Kelly Richardson / Alamy Stock Photo

Today, its fragrant indoor gardens, in the old zenana, or women’s quarters, are a major attraction, as are daily afternoon teas. Chubby for Splendor and Royal for more chintzier glamor.

Double from £96, B&B (00 919829005859; neemranahotels.com)

Additional contributions from Geetanjali Krishna

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