Pale pink, poised and palatial, Bujera Fort has blossomed in the Aravalli Ranges like some kind of exotic wildflower. Speaking of which, the hotel has magnificent Mughal gardens, the centrepiece of which is a monochrome-tiled pool, flanked by immaculate lawns and paths, plus a cluster of sun loungers. Try thalis in the restaurant, sip cocktails in the library and use this new-build fort as your launchpad to Rajasthan’s considerable cultural charms.
Get this when you book through us:
One afternoon tea with homemade cake and shortbread, a cooking class and a guided village walk
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £185.85 (INR17,700), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates usually include Continental, full English or Indian breakfast.
Bujera Fort’s relaxed refinement stems from its clever owners, Richard Hanlon and Trish McFarlane. Richard is an acclaimed interior designer, who sourced Indian furnishings for Firmdale favourite, the Ham Yard Hotel in London.
At the hotel
Gorgeous Mughal gardens; soft-ball tennis court; spa with yoga room and two treatment rooms; library; drawing room; boutique; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: desk; Kama Ayurveda bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Who wouldn’t want to wake up in a master suite with marble bathrooms – two per suite, natch – and crackling fireplaces? If you’re travelling in a group, book the Cottage, which has three bedrooms, a pretty private garden and two sitting areas, one of which is alfresco. Guests staying here will spend most of their time outdoors, cooling off in the plunge pool or dining in the chatri's shade.
Prepare to feel your eyes pop and your jaws drop at the sight of Bujera Fort’s regal, marble-lined, monochrome-tiled pool, the star of the hotel’s dreamy, flower-filled gardens. There’s also a plunge pool by the Cottage.
Unwind at Bujera Spa, where masseuses melt muscles knots and treat skin to fragrant unguents in body treatments. Still wound up? The house physiotherapist will ease any residual stress.
Silks and scent to waft around the manicured environs in; a thirst for tea. The hotel has a stash of on-loan sun hats.
Afternoon tea here is a highlight: expect feather-light lemon cake and an array of teas, served in shiny silver tea pots and delicate bone china.
Over-12s are welcome (younger Smiths can stay by previous agreement with the hotel); there’s a fleet of bicycles that they can borrow.
Any greener and Bujera Fort would blend into its gardens: this practically emissions-free hotel collects rainwater from its roof and uses it to water the gardens. All the lights are LED; local materials were used for construction (nearly all the doors and windows were salvaged); local produce stars in the restaurant.
In warm months, pick a table in the Dining Pavilion, set in a shaded veranda in the gardens and decorated with colourful textiles and furnishings. Head inside for the Dining Room when the temperature drops; sit next to your favourite European antique.
Aim for relaxed refinement: light, loose layers (cashmere for winter). Add silks and scent by night.
Bujera Fort’s food, served in an airy dining room open to the gardens, comes with your nutritionist’s approval: healthy, light dishes put the focus on local produce (the majority is home-grown; the rest is recruited within a 20-mile radius) and the current season. Instead of a set menu, dishes are adapted to guests’ tastes; lunch has a European bent – caramelised-garlic tart, cheese-and-cauliflower soufflé, for example – whereas Indian flavours dictate dinner (expect thalis a-go-go). Living up its farm-to-fork philosophy, the hotel makes its own jams, marmalades, cakes, biscuits and more; ghee and oil are used minimally.
There’s a bar in the library, but drinks can be served wherever you like: by the peaceful pool; in the emerald gardens; around blazing braziers on the courtyard in cold months...
Meals and drinks are served when you want them (within reason).
Given Bujera Fort’s peaceful perch in the tranquil Aravalli hills, it’s hard to believe that the buzz of Udaipur city is just 15 minutes away by car.
Bujera Fort is a 45-minute drive from Udaipur airport, which connects to Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities in India. Hotel transfers can be arranged (£20 each way).
City Station in Udaipur is 8km from the hotel, a 20-minute drive. Transfers with the hotel are £10 one way.
Only the most fearless tourists self drive in India – the rest hire a driver and let them navigate the chaotic roads; get a chauffeur and wheels from Udaipur car hire (www.udaipurcarhire.com). From Udaipur, take the Dudh Talai road around the lake to Sisarama Bridge, then follow the blue signs marked for Bujera Fort.
Hop on a rickshaw – luggage and all – from the city.
Worth getting out of bed for
Challenge your companion to a game of tennis on the court or have a board game battle in the library. Perfect your downward dog in the yoga room and have a massage in the spa. If you want to go home with a thali or two under your belt, sign up for a culinary masterclass with Bujera Fort’s chef. Set off on a walking tour of the local villages or hills (borrow bicycles, if you’d rather wheel around). The hotel can also arrange cycle tours, trips to City Palace, shopping excursions in the old city (don’t miss Ganesh Emporium, a kingdom of textiles), sunset cruises on Lake Pichola to Jag Mandir island and outings to an array of temples, including Nathdwara, Eklingji, Ranakpur, Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh Forts.
Spy on the lake from thejharokhas – overhanging enclosed balconies – at Jagat Niwas Palace restaurant, which serves Indian, European and Chinese cuisine. The restaurant is in the heart of the old city, behind the famous Jagdish temple. You can expect equally tasty views of Lake Pichola from Fateh Prakash Palace’s Sunset Terrace restaurant. Take your cue from the name and come at sunset for eye-popping panoramas; the terrace is also well suited to coffee- or cocktail-pit-stops.
Pause for coffees or inventive milkshakes – a Mars or Twix one, perhaps – at Govinda's, a characterful little café at 169 City Palace Road. There’s an array of snacks and mains – sandwiches, salads and pastas – all marked at very fair prices.
Bujera Fort is a chip off the old block, resembling one of those faded-yet-fanciful heritage hotels that Rajasthan does so well. In reality, though, it’s a touch younger – new, in fact – the handiwork of two talented English émigrés, who travelled to India some years ago, in search of an exotic holiday home, and ended up building their own version of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on a private plot of land. It’s a beauty now, of course: a pastel-pink confection of colonnades and domes, set around a centrepiece courtyard, pool and gardens. But what a task it must have been to see this vision through to the end, after so many years of building work and bureaucracy…
Luckily, the pair – friends Richard Hanlon and Trish McFarlane – had form. Especially Richard, who trained at Sotheby’s auction house, before working as an interior designer for Tim and Kit Kemp, sourcing textiles for the celebrated Firmdale Hotels. Richard’s keen eye for interiors is evident throughout Bujera today, from the reclaimed wooden doors that guard the 14 rooms, to the abundant Indian antiques and hand-carved stone columns that line the main courtyard. In my room, on the ground floor, I’m won over by the intricate jewel-like windows above the marble bath tub – a patchwork of crescents and moons – that mirrors Udaipur’s extravagant City Palace, just down the road.
The real triumph, though, are the textiles (as you might expect from a man behind one of hospitality’s signature looks). Many are sourced from Jaipur – Rajasthan’s reigning textiles hub – and showcased deftly in mismatched, exuberant style, across curtains, bedspreads and cushions. The bathrobes too, are photo-worthy (I buy one to take straight home). Richard and Trish’s pedigree means that Bujera has the atmosphere of an English country home (a very stately one), with a hearth-lined lounge and handsome library, adorned with oil paintings and hardback books, plus a revolving door of double-barrelled guests, who drop in while touring India. Mr Smith and I are very kindly invited to cocktail hour on the roof terrace one evening, followed by dinner with Richard and fellow guests, who include a celebrated surgeon and roving textiles’ doyenne. It’s worth noting that the mood here is very much high-end homestay, rather than hideaway hotel.
What I love best about Bujera, though, is its location. Having spent a week amid the parched national parks of eastern Rajasthan, we touch down in Udaipur to find a lush landscape transformed by the Lake City’s abundant water – as if everything has taken a collective gulp. The last monsoon has helped. Indeed, the seasonal deluge has rendered the road to Bujera impassible, so we take a circuitous route through rural villages, where locals smile and wave, schoolgirls stroll home in the sun and corn fields glow golden in the last of the light. The dusky folds of the Aravalli Hills rise and the muezzin’s call to prayer echoes across the land. It’s magical – and a welcome reprieve to the erstwhile bustle of Rajasthan’s big cities.
There are three great assets to the team at Bujera: ever-affable manager Shakti Rathore, who met Richard through his rickshaw-driving uncle; and then Jack and Sadie, two gorgeous labradors (puppies at the time I visited) who gambol around the grounds, generally causing mischief. Many heritage hotels in Rajasthan have these canine companions, adding four-legged spirit to the prevailing homey feel.
With some difficulty, we tear ourselves away and head into Udaipur. Renowned as one of the world’s most romantic cities for its sigh-worthy setting on several lakes, it’s an ideal place to dial down the sightseeing pace. The City Palace is the chief attraction, an ochre-hued beauty that’s stood guard on a hillside above Lake Pichola for over 400 years. After weaving through the flamboyant, bejewelled rooms – once home to maharajas of the Mewar dynasty – spying Udaipur’s ice-cream-coloured rooftops through intricate jharokha windows – we hop onto a boat for the best views of the lake. Puttering past waterside havelis and age-old mansions, we glide up to the iconic Taj Lake Palace, which sits in resplendent fashion atop a lakeside island. Udaipur’s bazaars also grab our attention, so we delve into the tangled lanes around Hathipole, past streetside barbers, fruit sellers and local children who shout ‘hello!’ and pose for photos. Then suddenly, the streets clear as a funeral procession passes through: white-robed men silencing the clamour.
Seeking sanctuary from the afternoon heat, we head to Ambrai – an alfresco restaurant, whose waterside terrace rests beneath a lantern-lit tree, and snack on spicy pakoras as local kids perform backflips into the water. It’s one of the best spots in Udaipur to take in the City Palace at sunset – so we watch as the fortress fades to red: a crumbling old block, but not a chip on Bujera.