Overlooking mirror-like lakes and sun-drenched sand dunes, India's palace hotels will make even the most humble traveler feel like a sultan. From Kochi to Agra, here are 10 regal retreats that are sure to impress.
The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur
Stretching across 32 acres of manicured gardens, The Oberoi Rajvilas has long been the go-to address among celebrities, officials, and diplomats. Spacious rooms at this princely address feature teak four-poster beds, walk-in wardrobes, marble bathrooms, and round-the-clock butler services. Rates from $310.
Inside Tip: Spring for one of the luxury tents. Far from a romp in the mud, these camping accommodations come fully air-conditioned, with king-size beds, a claw-foot tub, private patios, and teak floors.
Ferrnhills RoyaalPalace, Ooty
Set amidst 40 acres of green hills and woodlands, this former summer palace of the Maharaja of Mysore offers a front-row seat to the tea districts of southern India as well as the Blue Hills of Nilgiris. More than 150 years old, the all-suite Ferrnhills RoyaalPalace has been well maintained, with colonial furniture adorning the spacious suites. Rates from $146.
Insider Tip: Make sure to try the hotel's notable Curry and Rice Restaurant, which serves up delicacies from 600-year old recipes.
Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
Many of India's oldest palace hotels are in Jaipur, and one of the most grand is the iconic Rambagh Palace, now owned by the Taj Hotel Group. The former home of the maharaja of Jaipur, much of the property's history is maintained including its many courtyards and arcades, as well as the original indoor pool. Inside, you'll find opulence at every turn, from the fabrics and furniture to the gilded fine dining halls.
Insider Tip: Indulge here in some once-in-a-lifetime activities modeled after the way the royal family once lived. Chat with the resident astrologer on the front lawns every evening at 8 pm or hire a vintage car for a royal tour of the Pink City.
Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur
Nestled on an island below the Aravali Mountains and above glittering Lake Pichola, guests approach this stark white vision by boat. From the marble to the mosaics, it's as if the clock stopped in the 1740s. Chandeliers, silk drapes, and antique furniture give the 66 rooms and 17 suites a regal feel, while candlelit evening walks and sunset ceremonial cruises make the Taj Lake Palace an unforgettable retreat. Rates from US$392.
Samode Palace, Jaipur
History weaves itself through this 475-year-old royal retreat. From the courtyards to the arching doorways, Samode Palace's hand-painted halls and mirrored mosaics, the splendor of old remains alive and well. Outfitted with four-poster beds, deep bathtubs, and antique furniture, the 24 suites and 19 rooms seamlessly blend old-world India with modern luxury. All that's missing is your crown. Rates from $157.
Insider Tip: There are no elevators, so ask for a room on one of the lower floors if accessibility is an issue.
Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai
One of the most iconic hotels in India, the 560-room Taj Mahal Palace & Tower has held the attention of VIPs since its construction in 1903. From turrets to domes, chandeliers and artifact-laden corridors, the mammoth hotel could have been plucked straight out of a fairytale. Rates from $210.
Insider Tip: Order the signature "Since 1933" cocktail from the white marble counter of Harbour Bar, which opened in 1933 as the first licensed bar in the city.
Neemrana Fort-Palace, Alwar
Built across six acres of gardens en route to Jaipur, the 15th-century Neemrana Fort-Palace (Neemrana village, Alwar, 301705; 149-429-9900; rooms from $82) is as comfortable as it is photogenic. Guests staying in one of the seven palace wings tiered along the mountainside can head to the Ayurvedic spa to unwind, or speed above the landscaped grounds on India's first zip line.
Insider Tip: For the best cell phone reception, ask for a westerly facing room. As the rooms can vary dramatically in quality, you should also try to see rooms in person if possible.
Kate Springer is an American journalist based in Hong Kong who focuses on travel, lifestyle and environmental reporting. In the past year, her work has appeared in Fodor's, TIME, Forbes Travel Guide, HK Magazine and Smart Travel Asia. When she's not ambling around Asia, you'll find her teaching English, dabbling in photography, and devouring xiao long bao.
Photo credits: The Oberoi Rajvilas courtesy of The Oberoi Rajvilas; Ferrnhills RoyaalPalace courtesy of Ferrnhills RoyaalPalace; Rambagh Palace courtesy of Rambagh Palace; Taj Lake Palace courtesy of Taj Lake Palace; Samode Palace courtesy of Samode Palace; Taj Mahal Palace & Tower courtesy of Taj Mahal Palace & Tower; Neemrana Fort-Palace courtesy of Neemrana Fort Palace