Udaipur, the city of lakes could just as easily be referred to as the city of five-star hotels. The latest addition is the Raffles Udaipur which opened last year. So how do you make a new hotel stand out amongst so many gorgeous properties? I was eager to find out.
Raffles (part of the Accor group) is a name that has spelt luxury for over a century, right from 1887 when the first hotel was established in Singapore by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers. Over the years, as it expanded across the globe to Paris, Dubai, Maldives, Istanbul, etc., each hotel was more luxurious than the other. So when the first Raffles opened in Udaipur, there was a lot of expectation and excitement.
They say in the hotel business, location is everything. Well, you can’t beat Raffles, when it comes to location. Set on a 21-acre private island in the middle of Udai Sagar Lake, the property is a haven for those looking for peace and quiet.
I reach the hotel via a battery-powered boat. Unlike speed boats that are polluting and also disturb the fauna all around, the 20-minute leisurely boat ride is a pleasurable experience as the lake is home to several migratory birds.
Udai Sagar Lake is not open to the public for boating, making the whole experience very exclusive and luxurious.
As I step off the boat onto the jetty, I am greeted with the sight of the majestic hotel, surrounded by acres of gardens. The core design philosophy of Raffles Udaipur is centred on a stately country house, though it reminded me more of a palace. The structure is inspired by classical European Palladian architecture, with domes, high ceilings, and expansive, stunning, and lush outdoor spaces.
The hotel which was under construction for over a decade is a confluence of two cultures – an east meets west kind of thing. With decorative chhatris and stucco work intertwined in the spaces showcasing local Mewari elements like jali panels and the iconic tikri artwork, there are subtle influences from Rajput-Mughal architecture.
The 101-room hotel is designed in such a way that all rooms overlook the lake. My suite offers an inviting plunge pool, a beautiful cabana and a lush sit-out area beside a charming living room, a bedroom and a bathroom the size of a Mumbai apartment.
As I take a dip in the plunge pool and relax in the cabana all I hear is birdsong. That is a welcome break for my city ears used to hearing the sound of traffic, people and general noise. The sheer silence broken only by the chirping of birds is the reason alone for visiting this beautiful property.
For anyone looking to simply relax at the property, an appointment at the spa is a must. The Raffles Spa is decorated in the style of royal zenanas, with delicate pastels, mirrors, plenty of natural light, and an intricately embroidered canopy. Here they do a sensitivity test before deciding which oil to use. The therapists are well trained and a massage is relaxing as well as invigorating.
The Writers Bar and the Long Bar are Raffles staples, found in all Raffles hotels across the world. The Writers Bar, modelled on the colonial style of an English gentleman’s club, complete with a dark wooden bar, comfortable chairs and conveniently placed tables, not to forget a library – the bar is a tribute to the writers who either frequented it or wrote about it. These include Joseph Conrad, who was rumoured to be one of Raffles Singapore’s first guests in 1887, Rudyard Kipling who visited in 1889 and Noel Coward who was a patron for almost 40 years. The Writers Bar at Raffles Udaipur has floor-to-ceiling windows, nearly a thousand books, cosy furniture and curios such as an old typewriter and a gramophone. I have the high tea here served with an assortment of sweets and savoury dishes and a selection of exclusive teas.
The Long Bar in Singapore is where the famous cocktail Singapore Sling was invented in 1915. In the early part of the 20th century, it wasn’t considered elegant for European women to drink in public. So what would they do? Sip a cocktail, of course, something that didn’t look like alcohol. Legend has it, that that’s how the Singapore Sling came to be created when the highly ingenious bartender made a pink cocktail that resembled a fresh fruit punch but was actually a fairly intoxicating mix of gin, cherry brandy and Cointreau. Raffles Udaipur has its own take called the Udaipur Sling that the bartender, a young, talented and enthusiastic man happily teaches me.
At any hotel, it finally comes down to service. Good service will ensure you have a memorable experience. The service at Raffles is warm and intuitive. They have a butler system, with each butler catering to a certain number of guests and being their one-point contact within the hotel. I loved it that my butler, a passionate young woman, not only took care of my needs such as reservations at the restaurants or the spa but also made helpful suggestions such as having a floating breakfast in the plunge pool or getting a lovely bath drawn out for me when I returned from dinner one night.
The staff at Raffles Udaipur is young and keen and that adds to the energy of the place.
The Dining Room at Raffles has alfresco dining overlooking the lake and is a beautiful setting for breakfast. The food is a combination of Indian and Western fare. But it is the Sawai Kitchen, the Indian speciality restaurant which is interesting in its choice of dishes. The menu features modern interpretations of dishes from Mewar's royal households, as well as careful recreations of lost recipes that have faded from public view. So there is Rajputana Kheeri Nalli, a regional speciality of goat brain, lamb shank and Bhavnagiri chilis that was a delicacy for the Mewari warriors. Or a Tilwale kaali gajar which is grated black carrot with dried mango powder, or a hare ghas ki roti or a flatbread stuffed with wild grass, each with a story behind it.
While the hotel does provide excursions into the city of Udaipur, if you are short on time then like me just spend a weekend relaxing at the property itself.
(The author was invited by Raffles Udaipur to explore the hotel)
Raffles Udaipur, Village Teela Kheda, Post Matung, Udaipur, Rajasthan. Doubles from Rs 35,000. Book on www.raffles.com
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