A 300-year-old mahārāja's mansion is the surreal setting for Samode Palace boutique hotel near Jaipur, in the heart of Rajasthan. Home to mirror-tiled halls and mural-lined walls, marble swimming pools and regal, antique-filled suites, this walled desert wonderland is the stuff of legend.
Get this when you book through us:
An escorted tour of Samode village, plus high tea in the gardens at Samode Bagh
11am; check-in, 2pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability, for a fee.
Double rooms from £127.94 (INR12,980), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates include breakfast. If you're staying over New Year's Eve, a gala dinner is also thrown in.
Wander through the Sheesh Mahal, a series of mirror-tiled and mural-lined rooms, each more breath-snatching than the last. Once a royal reception space, it's now used for chichi cocktail sessions. Decorated with 16th-century hand-painted walls, silver armchairs and chandeliers, the greeting area overlooking the courtyard is equally eye-catching.
At the hotel
Gardens, gym, sauna, steam room, day spa, boutique, DVD library, free WiFi in the central courtyard and business centre. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, Forest Essentials toiletries. Suites also feature separate living areas, plus a private balcony or terrace.
Our favourite rooms
All of the rooms are decked out with antique furniture, lavish fabrics and old-world accents. We fell for Deluxe Suite 216, a sumptuous space that features a canopied king-size bed, marble pillars, a cushioned day-bed and a sun-drenched mosaic-tiled bath tub in the corner. A spacious balcony offers sweeping views of the Aravalli Ranges and the local village. If you want to play Maharajah Smith, plump for a Royal Suite with private terrace and outdoor Jacuzzi. Gold leaf, carved stone panels and stained glass up the luxe quotient.
Flanked by frangipanis, sunloungers and terrace tables, the marble swimming pool near the courtyard features a kids' play area and a shaded Jacuzzi, ideal for family splashing. Grown-ups will gravitate to the seductive rooftop infinity pool and Jacuzzi pavilion, backdropped by the rugged Aravalli mountains.
Pack a pair of jodhpurs if camel safaris and elephant polo are at the top of your must-do list. Bring scarves and flat shoes for village visits, smart garb for evening dinners, and hats and kaftans for lounging poolside.
Smoking is permitted in rooms. Pets are not allowed.
Families are welcome at Samode Palace. Baby cots are provided free and beds for children three to 16 years old cost INR4,400 a night, plus tax. Babysitting with hotel staff is provided free, given 24 hours' notice.
Families are welcome at Samode Palace. Baby cots are provided free and beds for older kids cost INR3,500 a night. Babysitting with hotel staff is provided free, given 24 hours' notice.
Older kids, who'll appreciate the adventures on offer.
Avoid rooms on the first floor if you're travelling with young children, as the balcony railings are very low. Baby cots (free) and extra beds (INR3,500 a night) can be added to all rooms – book a Deluxe Suite or Royal Suite for extra space.
Camel safaris, village tours and Jeep rides can all be arranged. At sister property Samode Bagh, four kilometres away, there's a swag of activities for kids, including cricket, croquet, table tennis and billiards, as well as acres of gardens for children to let off steam.
The main swimming pool has a shallow end for safe splashing, and a shaded Jacuzzi.
Kids are welcome in all three of the restaurants, though the all-day buffet and casual café would be our pick for relaxed family meals. A children's menu and highchairs are available, and staff can heat up baby food or milk upon request.
Nab a spot on the colonnaded veranda for breeze-blessed dinners for two.
Sling a wrap around your shoulders for dinner in the Dining Room. In the terrace restaurant, laid-back linen is the way to go.
Refined Rajasthani, Asian and European dishes, courtesy of chef Raheev Sharma, are served with a side order of pomp and ceremony in the Dining Room, a dressed-to-the-nines hall of jewel-toned walls, cloth-covered tables and twinkling chandeliers. Just below, a shaded terrace with lantern-hung trees, wrought-iron tables and a fountain is a more relaxed spot for all-day dining.
A dark, clubby space of marble tables and high-backed chairs, the Samode Palace bar boasts one of Jaipur's finest cellars, filled to bursting with top-shelf wines.
Breakfast is served 7am–10.30am, lunch runs 12.30pm–3pm and dinner is available 7.30pm–11pm. Last drinks are called in the Bar at 11pm.
Indian fare is available around the clock – order a banquet to be served in the palatial dining room of your Royal Suite.
Samode Palace is set on the outskirts of Jaipur, a 50-minute drive from the centre of town.
Jaipur International Airport is the closest airport to the hotel at 45 kilometres away. Wherever you start your journey, fly to Mumbai or Deli then catch a connection to Jaipur. Our Smith24 team of travel experts can help find and book your flights for you.
The Jaipur Railway Station is centrally located and has excellent rail links with the rest of the country. The fastest train between Jaipur and Delhi is the daily Ajmer Shatabdi, which takes just over four hours. Call our Smith24 to organise train tickets.
We don't recommend driving in India unless your an experienced local. Call our Smith24 team to book a taxi from the airport to the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Ask and you shall receive at this regal retreat. Jump into a Jeep, mount a camel or hop onto a horse for a desert safari, or take an escorted tour of Samode village (free if you book through Mr & Mrs Smith), wandering the cobblestoned streets and visiting local shrines, bazaars and stores selling bangles, cloth and gems.
Spa treatments are on offer in the day spa, and yoga sessions can be arranged in the hotel grounds (be sure to ask in advance). On special occasions, a round of elephant polo can even be wrangled.
Jaipur's restaurants are more than 50 kilometres away, so if you feel like dining beyond the palace walls, make the four-kilometre trip to sister property Samode Bagh near Chandwaji, where you can enjoy high tea or a relaxed lunch in the royal gardens.
Is the Samode Palace the most romantic place on earth? Perhaps it’s just the sight of the moon reflecting in the pool on the roof where Mr Smith has booked a private dinner. Perhaps it’s the fireworks exploding as if by magic in the Rajasthani sky as we sip champagne in front of a crackling wood fire. Perhaps it’s our discreet, silk-turbaned waiter who keeps slipping in and out bearing local dishes each more delicious than the one before?
But I am getting ahead of myself.
We arrive in Jaipur station on the train from Agra, where we have been to see a little building known as the Taj Mahal. Agra seems to be less a monument to undying love and more a testament to mass tourism and I am ready for a change of pace. Mr Smith calls ahead to the Samode Palace to arrange for a driver to be waiting for us at the station, and we are met by a gentleman in full livery who whooshes us efficiently from Jaipur city to the hotel in about an hour.
Colourful and picturesque, the journey to the Palace is through the town of Samode, which, aside from a few signs advertising jewels and souvenirs, is remarkably untouched. The approach to the hotel is dramatic, as the 15th-century palace is located atop stairs in a lush courtyard garden complete with… rather a lot of monkeys.
They’re not the usual low-rent urban simians, according to Mr Smith, who was born and raised in Delhi, but gentle, sacred langurs. We learn that they inhabit a large tree right outside the gates where they are fed by priests on holy days.
A wedding party is departing just as we check in and are shown to our Deluxe Room. To get there, we climb centuries-old stone stairs and arrive at a narrow walkway four storeys up. I can’t help but think that it’s probably best not to have too many G&Ts late at night when staying at the Samode Palace. The room itself is lovely, with a large traditional bed, an ancient balcony and a heart-stopping view of the mountains.
The pool is my first stop at any hotel, as I like to swim every day. The one at Samode Palace is not only beautiful, but also long enough for proper laps. It’s surrounded by lounge chairs and the deck is a blissfully quiet and serene place to enjoy a cold Kingfisher beer in the sun. There’s a small spa beside the pool, but although the attendants are friendly, the massage tables don’t have head slots so unless you want to try a traditional treatment where you lie on your back, I would give this a pass.
Sun kisses the courtyard where we eat outside the buffet area, and I fall in love with the zucchini fritters. Each lunchtime daytrippers rock up from Delhi to enjoy the castle, giving it a somewhat ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ feel. Some nights Samode also hosts ‘gala dinners’ for outside guests who arrive by the busload, but this doesn’t affect us as there are two other intimate restaurants open in the evenings. One tip: the white wine is kept in the same cellar as the red, so if you want chilled white with your dinner ask the wait staff at lunch to give them time to cool it properly during the day.
Samode town is small enough to wander around with no fear of getting lost, and during our strolls everyone is happy to chat. One afternoon we meet the owner of a beautifully bedecked camel; the next Mr Smith hitches a ride with a priest in a Land Rover (wearing Oakley wraparound shades no less) who invites us to the Mahayagya (fire) ceremony at the temple that night. For me, just the sight of a procession of 10 young girls dressed in vibrant saris is enough to make my Canadian day – usually we have two national colours in winter, grey and greyer.
In the evenings, Mr Smith sits in the courtyard bar and has a drink while I get dressed for dinner, and then teeter down the ancient (and dark!) stairs in my heels before clip-clopping across the courtyard to meet him. I love this civilised routine of outdoor cocktails before dinner. It’s on our final night that he surprises me by arranging a private dinner on the rooftop terrace.
So I find myself at a rose petal-strewn table under the stars in a palace. All the staff seem genuinely thrilled that we’re enjoying the hotel so much. Perhaps it’s the fact that Mr Smith speaks Hindi, or perhaps it’s because it’s a universal truth that people in love seem to create excitement around them. Then again, maybe it’s just that Samode Palace – a location for iconic film ‘The Far Pavilions’ – really is the most romantic hotel in the world. It certainly feels like that to us…