December’s “fairy tale wedding,” of Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal underscored how romance truly seems inborn in Udaipur, the lake-studded royal city in the northern Indian state Rajasthan.
Dubbed “the land of kings,” I heard a lot about love here, especially the popularity of Udaipur as a location for lavish society nuptials and why the green and peaceful city is a favourite spot for Indian elite and Bollywood stars to tie the knot.
Sublime Stay Fit For Royalty
Part of the weeklong events leading to the Ambani’s and Piramal’s wedding included a trip to Udaipur’s sublime Oberoi Udaivilas for a sizable group of well-heeled and influential guests, including Hillary Clinton. There was no wedding band playing top 40 hits here; Beyoncé did a 45-minute set.
Who knows? Maybe Bey or Clinton slept in my bed? I’ve stayed at the palatial Udaivilas, a marvel of traditional craftsmanship, tranquility and exceptional-yet-unstuffy service on the 200-year-old hunting grounds of the Maharana of Mewar.
Classic Mughal architecture features stunning hand-painted Mewar miniature art and gorgeous ceramics. To get to the secluded rooms which flow from a central hub of public areas and dining rooms, I walked along wide terraces, through arches and past fountains, statues, pavilions and dramatic pools with black-and-white checked bottoms bracketed by chaises and jewel-coloured silk umbrellas. Some of the pools are attached to private villas, or shared by just a handful of rooms. Occasionally, I’d spot one of the resident peacocks.
From the welcoming rose petals showered down as I walked under an arch into the inner courtyard upon arriving to the seamless service (including a pony – more on that later), the Udaivilas was an experience I’ll never forget.
As the home of the enduring kingdom of Mewar, Udaipur seduces travellers with hospitality. As for the romance, that could be a natural phenomenon. There are claims the area, studded with tranquil man-made lakes and centuries-old white marble palaces, has an ideal positive energy. That’s on top of the Hollywood good looks that’s given Udaipur starring roles in movies from 007 film Octopussy to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel.
The palaces seem to float on the surface of the man-made lakes that have made this region a favourite spot for lovers and anyone who wants to escape busy Mumbai, about 600 kilometres away.
The luxury Taj Lake Palace hotel floats in the middle of Lake Pichola, a white marble summer palace built in 1743. Pleasure boats take day-trippers around the lake, including sunset tea cruises. We arrived at the Udaivilas by boat from the opposite shore, as romantic an arrival as I have experienced at a hotel, the sand-coloured, interconnecting domes of the lavish property slowly coming into view.
Palaces and Maharanas
The Oberoi Udaivilas sits across from the 16th-century City Palace, a must-see for a fascinating look at royal life. The complex includes 11 palaces, gardens, artworks, courtyards and triumphal gateways where victors were showered with rose petals. Perhaps that’s where the Udaivilas got their inspiration?
And what about the horse? Oberoi Hotels & Resorts manage to take hospitality to remarkable levels. The manager of the Oberio, Mumbai, on a stretch of Marine Drive facing the Arabian Sea known as The Queen’s Necklace, asked me at breakfast if there was anything he could do to make my stay more comfortable before we left for Udaipur the next day?
The pillowcases and linen napkins with a chilled fruit plate, all monogramed with my name, had already impressed. I joked that I expected to return to my room and find a pony.
A Fairy Tale Kingdom For A Horse
“Your horse is here,” a smiling staff member said the morning after we arrived in Udaipur. There, in the front courtyard, was a white steed in ornamental saddle and red-tassel bridle. I was simply too shocked to ride the patient horse, managing a few pats, feeling suddenly shy and too overwhelmed by the gesture to let the groom help me into the saddle.
I had already fallen in love with Udaipur. That merely sealed the deal.
Linda Barnard was hosted by Abercrombie & Kent Luxury Tailor Made Travel and Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, which did not review or approve this story.
Shop here: Include a visit to Rama Kirshna Textiles, where custom clothier Babu Lal Soni made outfits for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel cast and crew, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Richard Gere. Soni designed a Nehru-style pashmina wool coat lined with silk for Dench, naming it after her. You can have your own Judi Jacket custom-made for about $450. I had a linen tunic like she wore in the film made from an unusual shade of pale gold-sea foam linen for about $90.