Rawla Narlai, in Rajasthan, India, is an absolute corker, brilliant for what is rather than for what it has. The hotel occupies the site of the former village stronghold. The fortified and crenelated buildings are a beautiful ensemble of Rajput era, blended with the occasional Mughal influence mixed in with the dash of contemporary architecture.
The hotel has character in spades. You’ll be made to feel truly welcome and will immediately sense the enthusiasm and pride the staff – many of whom are from the village – have in their work.
Wandering around Rawla Narlai, you’ll be charmed by the courtyards, little patches of shade thoughtfully created to offer quiet places for booking reading and contemplation. Add to this a superb pool area and a tented spa, and you have a little diamond, the perfect place to spend a couple of nights to completely unwind and relax in between days spent touring.
As is the case with most Indian hotels, there is a large number of room categories. Simply put, there are heritage rooms in the original buildings and contemporary rooms in the newer buildings. Those in the former are fabulously authentic with antique furniture and a general decor from the mid 20th Century. This gives them a slightly dated feel which, added to the quirks of having to configure rooms with en suites within a historic envelope, means that the rooms have a slightly eccentric feel and can be a little dark thanks to the small windows. But looking at walls lined with ancient frescoes, you won’t feel hard done by!
Those rooms in the new building are far more standardised and modern in style. Inevitably, there is a loss of the great character but a gain, at least for some, in comfort.
Throughout, you’ll be soothed with fine cotton linen, elegant bed throws in the royal colours of Jodhpur and interesting art on the walls, both photographic and by brush.
One of the most exciting aspects of staying at Rawla Narlai is the activities available on the doorstep. The village and surrounding countryside is alive with opportunities to explore. Rawla Narlai has its own 4x4s which can take you out out on leopard sighting safaris or to nearby lakes for birdwatching experiences.
If you prefer traditional horsepower, the stables in Narlai have beautiful thoroughbred Rajasthani horses which are meticulously cared for by their award-winning owner.
RATING: The only one in town
Thoughts on a postcard
We were transported to the stepwell just as the sun was setting by bullock cart. We were greeted by Gareema, the hotel manager. There was magic in the air. The ancient stepwell was illuminated by hundreds of lanterns and dressed with silken floor cushions on which we feasted until we could eat no more.