x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Top 10: Stay in the grandest palaces built to serve

A unique mix of glamour and heritage awaits you with a palace stay, from a 10th-century Spanish fortress to a castle on a lake built by a rebellious Indian prince.

The Palace Dome of Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India.
The Palace Dome of Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India.

1 Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, India

Built on an island in the middle of Lake Pichola, the Lake Palace hotel is a surreally beautiful sight - a white confection that appears to float on the still waters. Legend has it the hotel was built as a pleasure palace in the late 18th century by a rebellious prince, Maharana Jagat Singh II, after his father banished him from the royal palace. Hedonism still rules at the Lake Palace: bedrooms feature velvet-clad chaises longues and huge tapestry-draped beds, drinks are sipped as the sunset floods the lake with soft pink light, and dinner can be anything from Italian to Asian to classic Indian dishes.

The Jiva Spa offers therapies based on traditional Ayurvedic treatments and Indian rituals, such as "mangal snaan", a pre-wedding bathing ritual, and "alepa", the traditional Indian ritual of anointing the body with herbal pastes and essential oils.

Double rooms cost from 36,848 rupees (Dh2,777) per night, including breakfast and taxes. Visit www.tajhotels.com or call 00 91 294 2428 800.

 

2 Emirates Palace, United Arab Emirates

Nothing made a statement that Abu Dhabi had arrived quite like the opening of Emirates Palace in 2005. The mix of traditional Arabian architectural styles with almost every conceivable modern luxury and a location on the Abu Dhabi Corniche immediately put it in the top echelon of sights in the UAE capital.

The vision behind it was vast: the hotel itself stretches 1km from one side to the other, and took 20,000 workers three years to construct at a cost of Dh11 billion.

The result matches the vision, with 394 rooms and suites, the largest of which is 680 sq m. It's a short stroll to a private white-sand beach that stretches 1.3km long, and if you're in need of exercise, there's a 6.4km jogging trail through the 100-hectare grounds. The facilities are in proportion, with more than a dozen restaurants and cafes supplying everything from fine dining to casual meals beside the pool.

Real gold is sprinkled over food, with the hotel going through 5kg of gold- costing more than Dh1 million - each year.

Double rooms cost from Dh1,995 per night, including taxes. Visit www.emiratespalace.com or call 02 690 9000.

 

3 Devi Garh, Rajasthan, India

Always feared being one of those couples who sit over dinner with nothing to say to each other? It's not a rare occurrence at Devi Garh, where the 360-degree views across lush fields to the mountains from this former 18th-century fort beyond are mesmerising.

Spectacularly located on the top of a huge rocky outcrop above the village of Delawar, the first sight of Devi Garh is breathtaking: 14 floors crowned with domes and turrets that stretch up to the skies. Once inside the complex it's all about pared-down style - white marble and spotless glass, with occasional flashes of colour in bright silk drapes or semi-precious stones glinting in the walls. This is a real retreat for mind and body: begin with a dawn yoga class, then laze by the vast marble pool, indulge in Ayurvedic treatments that ooze L'Occitane goodies and settle in for a grand supper and star-gazing.

Double rooms cost from 19,558 Indian rupees (Dh1,474) per night, including breakfast and taxes. Visit www.deviresorts.in or call 00 91 2953 289 211.

 

4 Schlosshotel Kronberg, Germany

Gilt-edged four-poster beds, belle époque furniture, wide rattan sofas overlooking lush gardens - not all German hotels are temples to pared-down minimalism. The sumptuously grand Schlosshotel Kronberg was originally built for a German Empress in the late 19th century and has kept a suitably palatial feel, with antiques sourced from the estate of the last kaiser and sweeping terraces overlooking the beautiful Schlosspark.

The hotel is a destination in itself, with an 18-hole golf course, a cottage that offers a programme of wellness and beauty treatments, and gourmet dinners in the wood-panelled dining room. Don't miss English afternoon tea on a Sunday afternoon, complete with pianist, scones and clotted cream, taken in the Empress's impressive library. For an insight into the chequered past of the Schloss, there are guided tours on weekend afternoons.

Double rooms cost from €235 (Dh1,213) per night, including taxes. Visit www.schlosshotel-kronberg.de or call 00 49 6173 701 01.

 

5 Pestana Palace, Lisbon, Portugal

Pack your pill-box hat or Armani suit and play at being Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in this gloriously elegant hotel. Splash out on one of the vast suites that bring together crisp white sheets with highly polished floors and belle époque furniture, or settle for one of the more simple rooms in the newer wing. Knock the glamour factor up a notch for dinner in the Lisbon restaurant, where waiters glide effortlessly past the gilt columns and spotless table linen.

The old-fashioned style happily doesn't extend to the service, which manages the rare combination of being attentive without being overly formal, and has led to the hotel winning a clutch of awards, including Portugal's best hotel at the World Travel Awards. Ideally placed for exploring the city and lazing on the beaches of nearby Estoril, the air of old-fashioned glamour at the Pestana makes for a really memorable stay.

Double rooms cost from €200 (Dh1,032) per night, including breakfast and taxes. Visit www.pestana.com or call 00 351 21 361 56 00.


6 Chateau de Bagnols, Bergerac, France

Quite possibly the finest address in the whole of France, Chateau de Bagnols represents the passion of one woman, Lady Hamlyn, who discovered the derelict fortress in the mid-1980s and set about restoring it, discovering Renaissance wall and ceiling paintings in the process.

The atmosphere is one of refined grandeur: sink into a velvet-curtained, four-poster bed beneath an original 19th-century ceiling fresco, soak in one of the circular bathrooms where light filters in through the arrow-slits in the tower walls, lunch in the shade of the 100-year-old lime trees that fill the sunny, south-facing terrace. De Bagnols is close to Lyon, the gastronomic heart of France, and the food is spectacular - much of it sourced from the town's food markets - and the menu features dishes such as spit-roasted meats and plenty of game.

Double rooms cost from €349 (Dh1,800) per night, including breakfast. Visit www.chateaudebagnols.co.uk or call 00 34 4 74 71 40 00.


7 Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing, China

The Aman design aesthetic is clever in its simplicity - make the backdrop elegant, sleek and neutral and allow the character of each destination to come to the fore, either through internal design or external landscapes. In Beijing, willow-draped pools and formal gardens separate the century-old pavilions that were originally used for guests awaiting an audience with the Empress Cixi at the Summer Palace, which lies just next to the resort.

The gardens and classic pavilion design create the atmosphere of a traditional Chinese retreat, but look more closely and the pavilion buildings house a library, cinema and Naoki restaurant, where chefs create French-Japanese dishes at a counter directly in front of diners. Rooms - in the signature Aman neutral palette - are softened by wooden screens and bamboo blinds.

Double rooms cost from 6,940 yuan (Dh4,011) per night, including taxes. Visit www.amanresorts.com or call 00 94 777 743 500.

 

8 Pera Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

When the Pera Palace re-opened its doors last autumn, there was an almost audible sigh of pleasure around the city now that one of its most glamorous addresses was back to its former glory. Built in the late 19th century as somewhere suitably grand for Orient Express passengers to stay, the Pera hosted everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Winston Churchill and is said to be the inspiration for Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.

The revamped Pera makes the most of its location on the banks of the Bosphorus - book a Golden Horn room for spectacular views or settle in for sundowners on the Orient Bar and Terrace, where the great and the good of Istanbul meet to exchange gossip and talk business. At its heart, the Pera remains a traditional Turkish hotel, meaning there's a fantastic hammam in the spa. There also is a lively tea lounge - drop in during the afternoon for çay and a spot of live music by their resident pianist.

A standard room costs from €340 (Dh1,755); the Golden Horn room costs from €383 (Dh1,977). Prices are per night and include taxes. Visit www.perapalace.com or call 00 90 212 377 40 00.

 

9 Sofitel Fès Palais Jamai, Morocco

The bewildering tangle of streets and alleys that characterise the ancient medina of Fès can be a touch overwhelming - having somewhere calming to retreat to is a must. The Palais Jamai (on the cover) is a real oasis, with Andalucian gardens full of fountains and citrus trees surrounding the converted 19th-century palace.

Although a Sofitel, the hotel is pleasingly free of any bland, international feel - intricate mosaic walls, hand-carved wooden doors and traditional tadelakt (coloured plasterwork that is unique to Morocco) characterise the lounges and bedrooms, and the low-lit spa is just the place to soothe tired limbs after a spree in the souqs. The medina and all the main sights are a short walk from the hotel, but the views across to the mountains beyond mean that you can do a fair amount of sightseeing from your own balcony. Elegant and spacious, the Palais Jamai is the perfect antidote to the freneticism of Fès.

Double rooms cost from US$243 (Dh893) per night, including taxes. Visit www.sofitel.com or call 800 4899.

 

10 Parador de Cardona, Barcelona, Spain

On first sight, the imposing walls of Cardona seem an unlikely location for a hotel. The vast complex, dating to the 10th century, is a network of towers and moats wrapped around a hillside overlooking the Catalan countryside. Yet, once inside, the courtyards are dotted with pristine white parasols and the vast halls are warmed with muted scarlet walls and clever lighting to create a cosy feel.

Although the rooms are comfortable, the Cardona is about the experience of staying in a historic building rather than an ultra-luxury hotel. The sheer grandeur of the place makes for an unforgettable experience, and supper in the vaulted dining room, where the menu consists of traditional Spanish dishes, is not to be missed.

Double rooms cost from €130 (Dh671), including breakfast and taxes. Visit www.parador.es or call 00 34 902 547 979.