The Rajmahal Palace was constructed in the early 18th century as a serene pavilion surrounded by a pleasure garden. After Indian independence, the flamboyant, polo-playing Maharaja Man Singh II adopted it as his personal residence. The palace soon became a kind of guesthouse for the global elite. Now, it has a new incarnation as a boutique hotel.
At present, Rajmahal offers 14 air-conditioned rooms and suites, including two magnificent Royal Apartments, but up to 15 new accommodations are planned. The two-bedroom, 3,126-square-foot Maharaja’s Apartment comes with a drawing room that opens onto a private terrace, a dining room with seating for eight, and a dedicated butler. Scarcely less lavish are the four Royal Suites, which include The Queen Elizabeth II Suite, built for the British monarch’s state visit to India in 1961, and The Kennedy Suite, inhabited by Jackie Kennedy during a three-month stay in 1962.
The hotel’s principal dining venue is The Orient Occident, where excellent Indian and Western cuisine is graciously served in a grand mirrored space. I particularly enjoyed taking light meals in The Colonnade, an exquisite glass-fronted veranda overlooking the gardens. Nearby, The Polo Bar displays silver trophies and black-and-white photographs from the former maharaja’s polo-playing days, and provides an atmospheric venue for an early-evening martini. The property has an exquisite art deco (unheated) swimming pool and a small spa.
Rajmahal permits its guests to feel that they have been personally invited to stay in a sumptuous private residence — one with exceptionally gracious and obliging staff — rather than in a hotel.
>>Related: India: A Journey Through Rajasthan
For many years, my recommended hotel in Jodhpur has been the colossal Umaid Bhawan Palace, part of which is still home to the current maharaja. For those who prefer smaller hideaway hotels, however, there is now a superb alternative. RAAS is an 18th-century haveli (mansion) situated directly beneath the walls of the city’s spectacular Mehrangarh Fort that was converted and extended into a 39-room resort in 2009.
In addition to the four original buildings of the haveli, the resort has three contemporary structures. These have been constructed in an austere modern style, but incorporate Rajasthan's distinctive red sandstone as well as traditional motifs such as handcrafted jhali window screens. One houses four Duplex Suites with private balconies. We had reserved a Luxury Room in the main accommodations block. At 484 square feet, this proved to be on the small side, but it was comfortable nonetheless. On a future occasion, I would probably opt for a Duplex Suite or for one of the three Heritage Suites in the old haveli buildings. The latter are much more spacious and extremely atmospheric.
Darikhana serves Indian cuisine, while Baradari offers a menu of international (chiefly Thai and Mediterranean) dishes. The setting of the latter, spilling out from an old stone pavilion onto a terrace overlooking a large heated swimming pool, is particularly appealing. The resort’s other amenity is a small but attractive spa. Throughout our stay, the staff members were charm personified. Overall, this is one of the most stylish and distinctive small hotels I have discovered in recent years.
George Town is the capital of the Malaysian island of Penang. A mini-boom has led to many of the city’s so-called “shophouses” being converted into boutique hotels. The shophouse is George Town’s most emblematic form of architecture. The idiom became common as a result of Chinese immigration in the 19th century, which explains why so many have a Chinese appearance, with ceramic tile roofs and elaborate decoration.
The 18-suite Seven Terraces opened in 2013. A hugely ambitious project, it was the brainchild of hotelier Christopher Ong and Karl Steinberg. In 2008, they acquired seven fire-ruined shophouses near the center of the city and undertook the massive task of restoration. While preserving the 19th-century façades, Ong and Steinberg managed to create a large, tile-floored central atrium ornamented with sweet-smelling frangipani trees. The ground floor includes Kebaya, serving a menu of classic Indo- and Straits Chinese dishes, plus a bar, a library and a small lap pool. The public rooms display Ong’s collection of local antiques, including figurines, lacquered tiffin carriers and teak couches inlaid with mother of pearl.
The suites are decorated in a similar style. The most desirable are the duplex Argus Suites, which overlook a quiet back street. Ours came with a spacious lounge furnished with Chinese antiques and colonial-style furniture of British, Sri Lankan and local provenance. Reached via stairs, the bedroom opened onto a small private balcony overlooking George Town’s Anglican church. Throughout our stay, service was outstanding. The Seven Terraces is a truly distinctive and utterly delightful hotel.
>>Related: Colonial-Era Charm in George Town, Penang
I have long been an admirer of Aman resorts, with their striking architecture and serene locations. Therefore, the debut of the group’s only urban property was of consuming interest. I was eager to see whether Aman had managed to maintain its signature style of refined luxury a few minutes’ walk from Tokyo Station.
The new 84-room Aman Tokyo is set in the top six floors of the 38-story Otemachi Tower. Designed to evoke the feeling of being inside a giant shoji lantern, the atrium lobby has 100-foot ceilings and a garden with an ikebana flower arrangement display, as well as two classic Kyoto-style rock gardens. Our Deluxe Room on the 35th floor was decorated in cream with jet-black accents and came with pale pine floors and light wood walls; a sunken living area featured low-set furniture, a long daybed and an end table adorned with a bonsai. Expansive windows provided unobstructed vistas of the Imperial Palace gardens during the day and panoramic views of the scintillating cityscape at night.
The Restaurant by Aman is located on a corner of the 33rd floor and serves seasonally inspired European cuisine. (Indigenous fare is available only at breakfast.) The chief amenity at the hotel is a two-floor, 27,000-square-foot spa. The 98-foot basalt-lined indoor infinity pool is designed so that the nearby skyscrapers are invisible from the water, and on clear days, Mount Fuji can be seen in the distance. Aman Tokyo provides a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle. The city has long lacked a boutique hotel of this caliber.