Grand palace hotels of India

MAJESTIC WELCOME: The Raj Palace is gaudy and sumptuous.
MAJESTIC WELCOME: The Raj Palace is gaudy and sumptuous.

Check out the best of India's palace hotels with this selection from travel writer Brian Johnston.

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur The best palace hotels evoke a bygone era; it's certainly the case here, right down to the Earl Grey tea and bagpipes. Suites occupy the Maharaja of Jaipur's former rooms and the ballroom has become a stately dining space. If you're after four-poster beds, book a historical suite, though palace rooms have lovely outlooks over the garden. The property is set on hectares of manicured, symmetrical gardens where peacocks roam. Enjoy a traditional Rajasthani wellness treatment at Jiva Grande Spa, housed in silken tents complete with hand-woven carpets and chandeliers. Steam, the hotel's laid-back bar, is created out of Victorian-era train carriages. See

Raj Palace, Jaipur While most palace hotels stand aloof from Rajasthan's urban bustle, the Raj is right in the middle of Jaipur. Built in 1727, the former digs of Jaipur royals have been restored and converted to a rather flash hotel in which gilt, marble and mirrors combine to sumptuous, gaudy effect: think Palazzo Versace, Rajasthan style. Two hundred years of royal crockery remains on display in a small museum. Afternoon tea in the Royal Lounge is de rigueur, and you shouldn't pass up an early-morning float in the outdoor swimming pool, surrounded by Mughal arches. Evening folk-dancing and puppet shows are charming. See

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur This relative newcomer to the palace scene - it was built in the 1930s - is nonetheless the real deal, with a wing still occupied by the Maharaja of Jodhpur. The huge sandstone pile is one of India's largest palaces, built in monumental art deco style. The central cupola is staggering. Play billiards or a round of croquet on the expansive lawns, consult the resident astrologer and splash in the subterranean pool. Or simply wander about and admire the Victorian-era objets d'art from the royal family's personal collection. Then unfold your Times of India beneath the colonnades and enjoy afternoon tea with garden views. See

Bal Samand Lake Palace, Mandore This 16th-century sandstone palace lies 8 kilometres outside Jodhpur at Mandore. It can't match the grand scale and top-notch luxury of many other palace hotels and the service can be eccentric. What you get instead is somnolent, old-world charm in a tranquil country retreat sitting on the edge of a small reservoir. Surrounding mango and pomegranate orchards provide a splash of green in the desert. You might spot jackals and wild peacocks roaming the gardens, and watch out for pesky monkeys when walking the nature trails. See

Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur This is surely India's most famous palace hotel, having featured in Octopussy and other movies and coffee-table books. For good reason: occupying the whole of an island on Lake Pichola, the exquisite 18th-century marble palace appears to float, especially when early-morning mist covers the lake. Once a pleasure palace for the Maharanas of Mewar, it's the India of fairy tales: moonlight shimmering on marble, gurgling fountains, silken curtains stirred by the breeze. All guest rooms have lake views and every opulence, from stained glass to antique furnishings. Just don't go during a drought, when the lake loses much of its magic. See

Devi Garh, Delwara Tucked away in the Aravali Hills beyond Udaipur and surrounded by temple complexes, this great yellow pile of a palace was once owned by the rulers of Delwara. It makes a bold statement by juxtaposing 18th-century architecture with an uncompromisingly minimalist interior that uses swatches of white marble offset by slashes of Rajasthani red and orange in its soft furnishings. Lovers of historical interiors might be dismayed, but the result provides chic sophistication without sacrificing romance. Views from the restaurant are brilliant, but ask for a private table on a terrace, accompanied by flickering candles and views over moonlit hills. See

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