From the Mughals to the maharajas, India has a rich royal history, which you can see in the palaces that still dot the country’s stunning landscapes. You can even arrange a stay in one, by booking with Culture Trip.
India is now a democratic republic, but its maharaja dynasties have stuck around, many still impressing visitors with their tradition and splendour. Other royal families, such as the Nizams of Hyderabad, have faded away, but their magnificent residences have been opened up to the public and converted into heritage hotels, ready for you to stay in.
With a dreamy, almost unreal setting, this 18th-century marble palace is indescribably romantic – seemingly hovering in the middle of Lake Pichola in Udaipur with the Aravallis mountains hazy in the distance. Rooms decked in refined colours and Indian textiles naturally offer camera-worthy views but be bold and request the City Palace. Butlers come as standard, so they’ll sort your water taxi to the city pier and set up tables pretty much anywhere you’d like for dish after dish of Indian, pan-Asian or Western food – we recommend you choose Indian, though.
At 600m (2,000ft) above the city of Hyderabad, this stately late 19th-century bright white palace will wow you with its with Venetian chandeliers, French tapestries and original art. Once home to the Nizam of Hyderabad – said to be the richest man in the world at one time – the palace’s rooms feature pretty floral touches, pastel silks and authentic wood-beamed ceilings and oak flooring plus views of ancient Hyderabad. Acre upon acre of grounds include the Rajasthani Gardens, featuring intricate Rajput architecture. Whatever your taste, you’ll feel like royalty, fussed over by butlers bringing you Indian treats for breakfast – or any meal.
Built from the same palm court marble as a certain Taj Mahal, this sprawling complex is one of the largest private residences in the world. High up on Chittar Hill – the highest part of Jodhpur – it’s just 20 minutes from the airport for weary travellers. But you’ll liven up at the art deco-style rooms and the palace that houses them – with colourful murals splashed across walls, curved marble showers and bathtubs reached via a cathedral-like lobby and sweeping stone staircase. Take a heritage walk and admire the lively peacocks in the velvet-lawned gardens, which are also home to a pool. Fill up on authentic Rajasthani cuisine after a bendy yoga session.
Four-poster beds draped with floaty fabrics, carved couches beckoning you to rest on them, rich carpets underfoot, rose petals in your bathtub – no you’re not dreaming, your at a centuries-old maharaja’s mansion, a 50-minute drive from Jaipur. Ask for a suite with views of the Aravalli Range and the bazaar-filled village you can take a jeep to visit. The Royal Suite includes a private terrace and outdoor jacuzzi. Sample as much fragrant Indian fare as you can, available from every terrace and dining spot overlooking the hills the hotel nestles in.
If you like your culture with a heavy dose of grandeur, this rich red sandstone palace – built in 1902 – is renowned for its intricate Indo-Saracenic architecture: all filigree, carved screens and latticed windows. You’ll be staying at the former residence of the king of the historic Bikaner state, Maharaja Ganga Singh, and you’ll be cocooned in gilt, exquisite lacquer work and murals. There’s also cultural entertainment including Rajasthani folk dance and music on offer. If you can tear yourself away, it’s just 2km (just over a mile) from the 16th-century Junagarh Fort in Bikaner, Rajasthan. Several palaces, temples and pavilions plus a museum and themed dinners can be arranged amid the scenic sand dunes, just 10km (6mi) from the village.
If you love regal grandeur, book the Royal Suites brimming with period furnishings and ornate accessories: such as Venetian mirrors, mother-of-pearl mosaics and canopied beds at this yellow-and-white palace on the outskirts of Gwalior, central India. Deluxe rooms add more space, so you can pretend you live here. Built for the Prince of Wales – later to become King George V – cooling courtyard gardens are home to a perfectly-tiled pool compete with a billiard table and cricket pitch. When you’ve explored all that colonial splendour, you’re only 4km (2.5mi) from a spot of sightseeing at the Saas-Bahu Ka Mandir.
With views of the arched Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea – not to mention antiques, silk carpets, crystal chandeliers, paintings and contemporary art – it’s no wonder this famous Mumbai hotel is the favourite of film stars. Taj Club rooms feature rosewood floors and high ceilings. Treat yourself to a poolside breakfast of croissants and lassi cooled by the balmy early morning breeze before exploring the city.
Just 8km (5mi) from Jaipur, with its bazaars, forts, temples and palaces is this retreat away from the hustle of the walled Pink City, painted pink in 1876 in honour of Queen Victoria’s visit. Hugged by the red stone fort exterior, you’ll feel royal staying in English cottage-style villas dotted around the 32 acres (12ha) of beautifully landscaped gardens, with atmospheric flaming Mashaal torches and reflection pools presided over by haughty peacocks. You can breakfast on anything you like – from poached eggs to spiced local specialities.