Beautifully preserved palaces, forts and havelis have become some of the most popular retreats in India, allowing travellers to completely immerse themselves in the country’s rich, royal history.
The majority of palaces and forts were formerly inhabited by Indian royalty; forts in particular were built with strong defences, including earthen ramparts and stone reinforcements to keep enemies out. Havelis, meanwhile, were once private mansions owned by the state’s princes, wealthy merchants or jagirdars (officials who had been gifted land from the king). Many of them are still run by their descendants and now welcome guests into their homes.
Today, a stay at one of these fascinating properties gives travellers a glimpse of how luxurious life was for India’s blue bloods and elite.
1. Bujera Fort, Udaipur
Tucked up in the Aravalli Hills, just a 20-minute drive from Udaipur in the western state of Rajasthan, lies this luxurious, handsome fort. A true design-lover’s dream, the property features antiques, an incredible collection of artwork and sprawling gardens to lose yourself in. Constructed with tradition in mind, it features 86 hand-carved stone columns and jharokas (overhanging enclosed balconies) crafted in local stone.
This meticulously restored mansion was reportedly built in 1887 and served as the grand home of one of the city’s Muslim noblemen. Its original design features are heavily influenced by the architectural style of the Mughal Empire, which was dissolved in 1857. These days, the abode feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of the dense, heady Indian capital it is located in. Its 14 rooms are decorated in traditional style and the shared areas such as the courtyards, rooftop area and archways have all been lovingly restored. Grab a bite to eat at Lakhori restaurant – featuring food inspired by Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk streets which sold spices, dried fruit and Indian sweets – for a snapshot of what the good life must have felt like in Delhi during the 19th century.
3. RAAS Jodhpur
Immerse yourself in history at RAAS Jodphur, which was built around an 18th-century haveli in this ancient city in Rajasthan. Many of its original structures, such as the darikhana (previously the Chamber of Carpets) and the baradari (which once served as the owner’s personal entertainment pavilion) are now iconic dining establishments in the hotel. The pièce de résistance though is the sublime view of Mehrangarh Fort which is perched up on the hill overlooking the famous “blue city” below.
Just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Delhi is the incredible Neemrana Fort-Palace. Built in 1464, the fort was restored from ruins and now plays host to guests who appreciate accommodation steeped in history. Boasting nine wings and 74 rooms and suites, the fort is nothing short of epic. We recommend exploring the 18th-century Neemrana stepwell, a huge manmade chasm that was previously used to harvest water and is still a marvel to behold.
With its opulent design and attentive staff, it’s easy to feel transported at the Taj Mahal Palace. Built in 1903, 21 years before the famous Gateway of India, the hotel is a tourist attraction in itself as a landmark building of the Bombay Harbour. It was also the first Indian hotel to have electricity, as well as to house the city’s first licensed bar. If you do stay here, be sure to take the complimentary hotel tour to soak up the incredible history of the palace, which has also played host to famous guests such as Muhammad Ali and the Obamas.
Built in the 19th century in the pink-hued capital of Rajasthan, this palace is a great representation of the regal Indo-Saracenic architecture – combining Indian and Mughal styles – that abounds in this city. An hour and a half’s drive outside of Jaipur, the palace offers breathtaking views of the Aravalli range as well as luxurious accommodations featuring oversized tubs, private balconies and, in the case of the four royal suites, private courtyards. Take a dip in the marble and mosaic-decorated outdoor pool, or head up to the rooftop where an infinity pool and Jacuzzi await.
An artfully restored twin haveli from the 19th century, this hotel is located in a small town around 200km from Jaipur and features carved pillars, hand-painted frescos and colourful stained-glass windows in almost every corner. It’s easy to feel transported back in time while sipping on piping hot local tea in one of the lavishly decorated dining areas. Learn more about the area’s history from its daily cultural shows, or head to the Elephant House Spa for a traditional Ayurvedic treatment like shirodhara, where warm oil is gently poured over the forehead.