Live like royalty in a colonial mansion, relax in the desert in a miniature castle or go in search of tigers from a maharajah’s hunting lodge… It’s time to think big yet sleep small with the rise of India’s boutique hotels. Not only do they promise luxurious accommodation and an enviable lack of crowds but they remain in traditional style so you can still have an authentic heritage experience. Here is our pick of the best boutique hotels…
Rising majestically from the sands of the Thar Desert, just outside the ‘Golden City’ of Jaisalmer, this colonnaded sandstone boutique hotel is an oasis of calm and luxury. Set among pretty courtyards, the 68 rooms and suites and 4 havelis are beautifully appointed and extremely spacious with all the modern touches guests could want. There are two restaurants, including Legends of Marwar, which serves the legendary fare, born in the kitchens of the royal households of Marwar. During the day, there is plenty to enjoy, from exploring local villages to picnics on the dunes to cooking classes with a Rajasthani chef. In addition to the huge pool, the spa is a great way to relax after a day’s adventure, with traditional Indian treatments
Hidden behind a yellow sandstone façade, Sonaar Haveli is a stone’s throw from Jaisalmer’s city center. With eight pastel-hued stylish rooms complete with marble bathrooms, this contemporary boutique hotel is stately living coupled with all the intimacy of a Rajasthani home. Celebrated interior designer Adil Ahmad was in charge of the décor, presenting traditional Rajasthani design with a fun, brightly-colored twist right down to the vibrantly-patterned wallpaper. From the rooftop restaurant, guests can enjoy Rajasthani cuisine while soaking up the breath-taking views of magnificent Jaisalmer Palace or watching the sunset over the desert landscape. The spa provides an equally relaxing experience with sumptuous massages.
Set amidst swaying palm groves and silvery canals on Kerala’s backwaters, Kumarakom Lake Resort is a stunning mix of old and new. Nestled in charmingly designed courtyards, the luxury resort’s 50 bungalows have been carefully rebuilt from manas, the 16th-century traditional Keralan homesteads, and furnished in teak with open-roofed bathrooms. It’s no wonder The Prince of Wales chose to spend his 60th birthday here with the Duchess of Cornwall. There’s a huge pool which is perfect for whiling away the day. For guests who want to venture out, there are experiences aplenty including rice boat cruises, fishing trips, cycling, and village walks. There are two great restaurants to choose from, including Ettukettu, which serves traditional Keralan cuisine.
High in the hills, a short drive from Udaipur, Fateh Garh is one of Rajasthan’s most forward-looking luxury hotels. It has a strong emphasis placed on preserving the local environment, with the property built using local stone and antique architectural elements culled from abandoned historic buildings. With breath-taking views of beautiful Lake Pichola and the Palace complex, this 48-room hotel is a confection of bulbous domes, sugar-white pillars, crenulations, and intricate jaali screens. Antiques and delicate frescoes inspired by the style of Rajput miniatures dot every corner. The beautiful infinity pool and sumptuous spa make for excellent offerings. The restaurant serves local Mewari dishes – guests can enjoy a cocktail or two in the bar beforehand and sample the indigenous Mewari liquor.
Named by Lonely Planet as the world's most extraordinary hotel, Mihir Garh is a desert fantasy, a miniature castle in the heart of rural Rajasthan. Situated in the Thar Desert, the design reflects the architecture of the local villages, with rounded edges, fireplaces, alcoves and the colors of the local sand. The nine individually-styled suites feature bright Indian fabrics, custom-made furniture and come with their plunge pool from which you can look out over the vast sandy landscapes. Opt for Mihir Garh’s signature activity, the Village Safari, a fascinating walk through local villages. Royal picnics and camel riding are also on offer. Stables sport indigenous Marwari horses, among the finest in India. The desert rides are unforgettable and three- or four-day adventures can be arranged.
One of luxury group Aman’s most beautiful properties, Amanbagh is a rose-pink collection of villas set in grounds once used by Mughal princes as a base for royal hunting parties. The 37 suites and villas echo its majestic past with king-sized beds, luxurious bath tubs carved from a single slab of Udaipur green marble, vaulted ceilings, and private terraces. At the heart of the hotel is a stunning 33-meter sea-green marble pool – take a dip then flop onto one of the eucalypt-shaded sun loungers. The spa is equally relaxing with massages, scrubs, and facials, complemented by daily yoga. The Mughal-inspired restaurant offers an international array of dishes while private candlelit dinners can be served in the gardens, on the roof terrace or in an old chhatri.
A great stop between Jaipur and Udaipur, this green oasis is the home of the Shahpura royal family who welcomes you as treasured houseguests. Set in 45 acres of landscaped grounds, the property has two 19th century colonial-style mansions, accompanied by one of the largest swimming pools in Rajasthan. The nine light and airy suites are a grand mix of colonial and Rajasthani architecture, featuring four-poster beds, antiques, and lofty ceilings. After poolside cocktails, guests are offered the chance to dine en famille with the royal family – sample the traditional dishes handed down through the generations while the family shares their stories with you. Beautifully rural, this hidden gem also has plenty to offer outdoors from walks, bicycling, fishing and boating to village visits and bird watching.
The blue city of Jodhpur’s first boutique hotel, RAAS Jodhpur, is a splendid haveli transformed into a world-renowned hotel with a loyal celebrity following. Towering above the property is the 15th-century mighty Mehrangarh Fort. The illuminated evening views are breath-taking. The 39 rooms and suites balance historic charm with contemporary design, each sporting the most unforgettable fort views. Brothers Nikhilendra and Dhananajaya Singh, part of the Jodhpur royal family, have lavished the 18th-century complex with luxurious details including a stunning pool, indulgent spa, and an enticing fashion boutique. All-day Bandari serves an international menu with a poolside terrace. Rooftop Dari Khana offers authentic Rajasthani dishes and has a superb drinks menu.
The vision of royal Rajput couple, Shatrunjai and Bhavna Singh, Dev Shree is a traditional haveli newly created in a wonderful lakeside setting in the family’s ancestral village of Deogarh. Seven spacious and well-appointed suites with luxurious bathrooms offer views of the surrounding lawn and gardens which play home to croquet and outdoor meals. Afternoon tea is taken on the pillared verandah and guests gather together for pre-dinner cocktails in the central courtyard. The grand dining room serves traditional dishes in style. Activities include a rural single-gauge train journey through dramatic scenery, a culinary workshop using local ingredients and – the highlight – the Sundowner special, a jeep ride to watch the sunset over a glass of wine.
A luxurious boutique hotel set in 35 acres of mango and guava orchards in Ranthambore National Park, Dev Vilas is designed in traditional Indo-Saracenic style to re-create a Maharajas' hunting lodge. There are 21 individually-appointed suites, each decorated by local craftsmen and traditional materials. Spend the day searching for the rare Bengal tiger – and stop off at Ranthambore Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which dates back to the 10th century. On return, cool off in the idyllic swimming pool before savoring superb regional cuisine at the Audobon dining room, which is adorned with limited-edition lithographs by French artist J.J. Audobon. The Fateh Bar, named after Thakur Fateh Singh Rathore, a living legend among tiger conservationists, is perfect for drinks beforehand.