Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Taj Lake Palace

India

One of the most romantic hotels in the world, floating surreally on the ethereal waters of Lake Pichola

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Taj Lake Palace

Location

Lake Pichola

Travel Information

Udaipur's Dabok airport - 45 mins (regular connections to Delhi and Mumbai)

Top Tips

If you're looking for romance, sail into a purple sunset on a 150-year-old gangaur

5-Star X-Factors

The palace literally floats on the water - a sight that must been seen to be believed

Floating paradise

More than 250 years ago, an Indian playboy prince of the royal Mewar dynasty whose blue blood lineage was traceable back to the Sun God scandalised his parents by taking moonlight picnics with young women within earshot of members of the court. He responded by commissioning construction, in 1746, of his own hideaway, with its true purpose kept a secret. Dubbed the 'Pleasure Palace' by his architects, it was placed on an island in the middle of a lake far away from prying eyes. Little known to his parents, the partying continued.

That royal prince was Maharana Jagat Singh II of Udaipur in north west India, whose family also boasted a Monsoon Palace high up on the nearby Aravalli mountains, a magnificent City Palace for the winter months, as well as an official Summer Palace.

In the decades that followed its inauguration, the Pleasure Palace on Lake Pichola eventually became the top recreational centre for other members of Maharana's family, many of whom ordered numerous additions and embellishments to the original build.

By the early 20th century, the place had fallen out of favour with the royals and, following a period of disuse, it was eventually converted into a grand museum of Udaipur life. It wasn't until the early 1960s that an entrepreneurial Indian prince of the time saw its potential as a backdrop to fine dining and entertaining, and by 1963 it had become a fully-fledged commercial hotel.

Jewel in the crown

Today, the Taj Lake Palace is a jewel in the crown of the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces portfolio. Approachable only by boat an antique royal barge leads the flotilla, but there are also numerous speedboats and gondolas this exquisite white marble palace appears to float gently on the waters of Lake Pichola even if in reality it is solid as a rock.

In the 40-plus years since its purchase by Taj, no effort or expense has been spared in recreating the splendour of 18th century royal Indian life. Outside, the painstaking renovation of original courtyards, pavilions, ponds, gardens and fountains creates an intriguing maze of open and more sheltered spaces for outdoor contemplation, while inside, each room and suite has its own unique ambience and design.

My suite the Sajjan Niwas, built between 1874 and 1884 was originally designed for a prince, but has the exquisite detailing demanded by a princess. The cavernous sitting room has two sets of floor-to-ceiling wooden shutters which reveal uninterrupted views of the lake, as well as generously-padded window seats that entice you towards the sparkling, turquoise water.

Opening the doors to what looks like an enormous closet, I found a private terrace with wrought iron table and chairs where I sat and watched the passing boats and the Aravalli mountains while making a start on the ice-chilled complimentary champagne. A hibiscus plant in the corner of the terrace adds its own heady scent to the proceedings.

Cocooned in the heart of this serene, four-acre island site, the feeling of being a latter-day Robinson Crusoe albeit a castaway with every luxury I could ask for in the way of internet access, enormous soft bed and huge, fluffy white towels is irresistible.

Adjacent to the sitting room, but again with generous views of the dazzling water, is a green and gold bedroom decorated with continuous frescoes of the Hindu deity Krishna. My enduring memory of the suite is of almost life-sized royal portraits, huge antique lamps and walls that are brought to life with an intermittent, blue glass mosaic inlay. Huge mirrors and electrically-operated fans abound.

Royal fare

I take lunch in the Neel Kamal, or 'Blue Lotus', whose sumptuous, royal banqueting hall style d├ęcor contrasts perfectly with the simple beauty of the lily pond that my table, replete with embroidered linen and the finest crystal, overlooks.

The speciality Rajasthani cuisine is all the better for being cooked on traditional wood fires and I discovered why the earliest British settlers here chose curry as their staple diet even during the sizzling days of the Indian summer. In this region, it is based on pulses and gram flour and cooked in pure ghee. Ghewar, a spongy sweetmeat dipped in sugar syrup and flavoured with cardamom, is a perfect end to a sumptuous royal lunch.

While preparing to meet my chauffeur-driven car for a city tour late that afternoon in one of the beautifully-restored 40s Buicks that are common on the streets of Udaipur I notice an army of butlers and waiters making preparations aboard the Gangaur Boat, an antique royal barge dating back to Mewar times.

More than 200 candles were lit in advance of a sunset cruise and fireworks display around Lake Pichola that night, while the chef was making sure that the hors d'oeuvres and cocktails will be served at precisely the right temperature to the local dignitaries and hotel guests including me who will be aboard. Robinson Crusoe really didn't know what he was missing.

Virginia Matthews



Luxury Explorer