We head east to India for the latest in our series of ultimate honeymoons in Virgin Atlantic destinations, with our regular India expert and travel writer Caroline Eden who sings the praises of Umaid Bhawan – Jodhpur’s lavish palace hotel.
Where in the world
The medieval city of Jodhpur, which lies in western Rajasthan towards the Thar desert, is dominated by two striking sights – the stunning Meharangarh Fort, described by Rudyard Kipling as “˜the work of giants’, and the towering golden palace, Umaid Bhawan.
Jodhpur is also commonly known as the “˜blue city’ as many of the houses below the towering fort are painted with an indigo wash. Some believe this is for religious reasons as blue used to symbolise the home of a Brahmin – while others say that the colour merely keeps mosquitoes at bay. The city is also home to RIFF – Rajasthan’s International Folk Festival – an annual event of which Sir Mick Jagger is patron. The festival, which includes dawn and sunset concerts, is timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India, in October.
Part heritage hotel, part royal residence
Umaid Bhawan, a grandiose Indo-Colonial and Art Deco palace, was designed by renowned Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester. Three thousand builders set to work between 1928-1943, and famously used no mortar; instead they fixed each sandstone block in place by chisel.
Once completed, Umaid Bhawan became internationally known as one of the largest private residences in the world – with 374 rooms set in 26 acres of gardens. Nowadays it is part lavish hotel and part home to Gaj Singh II, the current Maharaja of Jodhpur.
What makes it special?
This ultra-grand, fairytale residence is a perfect venue for an unforgettable honeymoon. The experience of sweeping up to the gates of this imposing building, to then be collected by a horse drawn buggy and sprinkled with rose petals – is unimaginably romantic.
From the flawless check-in, the jaw-dropping suites, the perfectly manicured lawns – complete with magnificent, strutting peacocks – to the world-class Jiva spa, Umaid Bhawan simply oozes charm and magic. It’s no wonder that Liz Hurley chose to marry here in 2007 and that more recently it was speculated that Kate Middleton and Prince William would head here for their honeymoon (with some experts noting Umaid Bhawan as “˜HRH’ – “˜Highly Recommended for Honeymoons’).
For the ultimate in grandeur, pampering and solitude, honeymooners should book a Maharani or Maharaja suite. The first covers a huge 4850 square feet, is Art Deco in style and is decorated in striking hues of pink, black and chrome. The suite includes a large drawing room, as well as a dining room and, best of all, a private terrace with a spectacular view of the palace gardens and Mehrangarh Fort. Fit for a queen, there is an enormous feather bed and a bath that has been carved out of a single piece of pink Italian marble.
More masculine, the Maharaja suite is a little smaller at 3700 square feet – but is no less fabulous. Murals of leopards and tigers decorate the walls and there is a wonderfully handsome mirrored bar in the drawing room. Comfy Ruhlmann sofas add to the general sumptuousness and are ideal for lounging on after a day’s sightseeing.
Once the residences of visiting royalty, the Historic Suites are also a perfect choice. Incorporating Neo-classical design, each of the themed suites comes with its own private sit-out area and a five-fixture feature bathroom, including a steam room and en-suite couples therapy room.
For a full spa experience, the Jiva Spa is a must-try. With three couples’ suites, honeymooners can attend together and can choose from an extensive spa menu. The perfect treatment is the two-hour “˜Nectar of the Gods’ spa experience where two therapists perform a candle-lit, Indian Aromatherapy massage, after which there is a rose petal bath for two and a bottle of champagne to share.
Dining at Umaid Bhawan is no less spectacular. Risala, the semi-formal restaurant, with its life size royal portraits, offers romantic views of the gardens and is undoubtedly one of Rajasthan’s finest restaurants. The wine collection offers 210 international labels, so connoisseurs need not worry, and there are continental dishes on the menu as well as delicious Indian cuisine inspired by the royal kitchens of the Maharaja. The service here is both intuitive and impeccable.
For a smart-casual option, take the 1940’s elevator up to the Sunset Pavilion – Jodhpur’s highest dining point. As you step out, you’ll pass by a collection of unique framed pictures of the Maharaja’s family with various vintage cars and at Jodhpur Flying Club. There are some outstanding signature dishes on offer at this al fresco restaurant, such as Angus steak and grilled ravioli, which make for a superb alternative to Indian cuisine.
Once only accessible to kings and queens, today Umaid Bhawan offers newly weds – and all guests – an unforgettable taste of true Rajasthani royal living.
Beyond the palace
To soak up the atmosphere of Jodhpur, begin an event-filled day with an unhurried breakfast on the terrace where you can watch majestic peacocks displaying their plumage in the sun. After a walk through the gardens, or a dip in the outdoor pool, have the concierge organize a vintage car ride around the city, accompanied by the royal butler.
In the afternoon pay a visit to nearby Mehrangarh Fort – one of the largest in India – that also houses one of the best museums in Rajasthan. Then, indulge in a little late afternoon shopping at Girdikot and Sardar Markets to pick out some exquisite textiles and jewellery. At night, after a romantic walk down the candlelit pathway through the palace lawns, organise a private dining experience in a hideaway turret.
Virgin Atlantic operates a daily, direct flight to India from London Heathrow – log on to www.virginatlantic.com for the best fares. Flying Club members can earn miles when booking the one-hour connecting flight to Jodhpur with our airline partner Jet Airways.
There’s easy access from Jodhpur airport to the hotel – approximately 20 minutes by taxi. For those with ample time and a sense of adventure, it’s also possible to take the overnight Delhi – Jodhpur train which takes approximately 10 hours. Or, with a private driver, the road from Delhi to Jodhpur covers 590 km and will take approximately 8 hours. Room rates start at around £570, but vary considerably depending on the season.