Family Hotel Review: Udai Bilas Palace, nr Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

This eccentric family palace turned family-friendly hotel sits sandwiched between the glassy waters of Gaibsagar Lake and the property’s own forest reserve, and has oodles of activities to offer the entire family. It is approximately 120km (2-2.5 hrs drive) from Udaipur Airport.

Best For: Outdoorsy types and history buffs; big kids and teens (but all ages welcome)

Reviewed by: Katja Gaskell

Why You’ll Love It

This family palace turned family-friendly hotel was built in stages between the 18th and 20th century by Maharawal Udai Singh II and his successors. The family still own the property (they continue to live here in a private wing) and opened its doors to outside guests in 1997.

The property is a curious mix of 1920s design and Rajput architecture; there are ornate balconies, marble arches and sculptured pillars and in the central courtyard stands the stunning Ek Thambia Mahal (one-pillared palace) constructed entirely in marble. The interiors feel decidedly British with Art Deco furnishings and black and white photographs of a bygone era.

The setting, on the outskirts of the village of Dungapur, is beautiful and the hotel offers a unique opportunity to experience a slice of rural Rajasthan. The hotel has plenty of activities on offer or you may choose to simply relax by Gaibsagar Lake. The food is very good, the rooms charming and the staff are exemplary.

Why The Kids Will Love It

This family-friendly hotel is a magical place. The setting is spectacular, sandwiched between the glassy waters of Gaibsagar lake and the property’s own forest reserve, and the hotel itself is a fascinating to explore.

Children of all ages will love it here but parents with young children should be aware that the property is on the water’s edge and there are no safety railings. That said, mini globetotters will relish in the extensive lawns and squeal with delight at the aviary, home to emus, peacocks, turkeys, cockerels and dozens of chickens. For big kids and teens this is a brilliant getaway.

Kids can explore the lake and its plentiful birdlife in the hotel’s motorboat or pedal through the colourful local villages by bicycle. There’s a fantastic swimming pool, grass tennis courts and a table tennis table too.

Hotel Details

Rooms:

There are 23 bedrooms; 15 twin-bedded, five doubles with kingsize beds and two single rooms. The rooms vary in size, shape and design but all house original furniture and the décor is a delightfully eclectic.

Suites There are nine suites in total all differing in size and design. Interiors vary from traditional Rajasthani with English touches to full blown Art Deco. Within these rooms you’ll find original 1940s wallpaper, floral curtains with pelmets, glass-topped trunks as coffee tables, and even framed pictures of Britain’s famed White Cliffs of Dover. Maharawal Suite Popular with honeymooners, this grand suite was once the Maharaja’s private residence. It offers beautiful views of the lake and the Shiva Temple from both the bedroom and the private terrace. The carpet and furniture are all original and the cast iron four-poster bed, floral armchairs and antique gramophone somehow sit comfortably next to the delicate frescoes and intricate glass mosaics.

There’s an Art Deco bathroom complete with cast iron bathtub and a writing room for when inspiration strikes. Once-upon-a-time, a bridge linked the Maharawal Suite with the Ek Thambia Mahal (one pillared palace), which served as a pleasure palace for the Maharaja! Art Deco Suites There are three Art Deco Suites, all furnished with highly covetable furniture. Art Deco Suite 8, a twin bedded room, boasts dark floral wallpaper and carpet, an original fireplace, and beautiful art deco armchairs and settee. It also has a large adjoining sitting room. Art Deco Suite 5 was designed by the late Maharaja himself after returning from studying in England. In addition to the purple striped sofas and armchairs, and floral curtains, the bathroom houses an eccentric shower contraption which spurts water at you from three sides. Art Deco Suite 8 is inter-connected with Art Deco Suite 20.

Grand Suites There are four Grand Suites. Grand Suite 4 is located upstairs near the dining area and features hand painted pale blue and purple wallpaper. There is a small dressing area that could accommodate a travel cot. Also upstairs is Grand Suite 10, which is much larger and has a sitting area and cushioned window seat. This room has twin beds with ornate carved wooden headboards. Overlooking the dining area is Grand Suite 11, which has Art Deco beds, retro armchairs and a light-filled alcove with a writing desk. This suite is interconnected with Suite 12. The highlight of Grand Suite 24 is the hand painted blue and silver wallpaper by UK artist and photographer Henry Wilson, which took almost two years to complete. It’s a pretty and compact suite with a cosy living area that overlooks the swimming pool.

Standard Rooms There are six standard rooms, which are smaller than the suites but not without charm. Numbers 14,15, 16, and 17 have views of the lake. Numbers 16 and 17 are single rooms.

 

Best rooms for families: Despite the large size of some of the rooms, the hotel policy insists on a maximum of one extra bed per room, as well as a travel cot. Art Deco Suite 8 has an enormous bedroom and adjoining living room with plenty of space for extra beds and/or a travel cot. This suite is inter-connected with Art Deco Suite 20 and works well for large families or families travelling with older children.

Suites 2 and 3 are on the ground floor and open onto the veranda overlooking the pretty front lawn. Both are large and can easily accommodate an extra bed and/or cot. Suite 2 has an adjoining circular-shaped bedroom furnished with a single bed.

Suites 21 and 22 are a good option for families travelling with older children as they are immediately next door to one another. Both these rooms have small balconies, which are ideal for reading or bird watching, but the low balustrades make them unsuitable for younger children.

Grand Suite 4 has a small dressing room, which could accommodate a cot or an extra bed. This Suite, along with Grand Suites 10 and 11 are well placed near the dining room (within monitor reach) for families with young children.

Standard rooms 14, 15, 16 and 17 work well for families with older children or families travelling together as they sit next door to each other. Numbers 14 and 15 can accommodate an extra bed or travel cot. Suite 19 sits at one end of this row of rooms and has space for a cot or an extra bed. These rooms are in a separate block to the main palace, near the swimming pool.

 

Food: 

Meals, especially during winter months, are served in the Zenana Chowk, a unique dining room that is partially open to the sky. Built around a 16th century temple, with slate grey and white pebble work walls, this unusual dining space boasts a marble table that can seat 32. The table features inlay work along the edges and a scented water pool in the middle…that ‘bubbles’ after dinner! There is also an air-conditioned semi-indoor dining area with individual tables. Occasionally meals are served in the 1940s dining room, which still features the original teak ceiling, wallpaper and a 1930s carpet. Dozens of hunting trophies adorn the walls.

A breakfast buffet is served in the Zenana Chowk dining area and includes cereals (cornflakes or muesli), a selection of fruit, yoghurt, toast, a choice of eggs and orange and apple juice. A rotating Indian option is also available. Tea and coffee is available and there is also a Lavazza coffee machine, which produces frothy cappuccinos for an additional charge.

Lunch is generally served poolside. The snack/light lunch menu serves everything from toasted cheese sandwiches to paneer pakoras and aloo parathas. Hot and cold drinks are available including lassis and lime sodas. Main meals can be ordered and these are generally served in the Zenana Chowk.

The buffet dinner is predominantly Indian (subtly spiced to suit sensitive palates) and uses ingredients grown in the property’s organic vegetable garden. The food is very good although the buffet is not huge so dishes may start to look familiar if you stay for an extended period. Continental or Chinese dishes are served upon request. Candlelit dinners can be arranged by the lakeside for special occasions (for an additional charge).

There are two hotel bars; the Art Deco Bar in the main body of the hotel with original 1920s furniture and the Garage Bar located in the family’s enormous garage home to an impressive vintage car collection. This is a fun and quirky drinking den that’s been decorated with vintage car posters and furnished with art deco armchairs upholstered in a multi-coloured car print. The main seating area sits on a working hydraulic platform.

For Kids: There is no specific children’s menu but the lunch menu has plenty that will appeal to kids including sandwiches and pakoras. Options in the evenings may be more limited; the Indian buffet is mild enough for children but if rice and dhal doesn’t cut it with your youngster, then the kitchen can produce pasta with a tomato or cheese sauce. The staff are very eager and will accommodate requests where they can.

Activities: 

Activities for Parents:

Take a tour of the property starting with the 1860 marble Ek Thambia Mahal, or ‘One Pillared Palace’, which stands tall in the central courtyard.

The Africa Trophy Room (complete with tiger heads and elephant tusks) might not appeal to everyone but is a fascinating glimpse into days gone by.

Explore the neighbouring Juna Mahal, an incredible 13th century palace home that is still held by the family. The seven-storied palace is full of beautiful frescoes, miniature paintings (including some from the karma sutra) and intricate glass and mirror inlay work.

Relax by the infinity pool, take a yoga lesson or play a game of tennis.

Opt for a day trip to neighbouring ancient temple ruins, local village walks or a guided trek through the hotel’s own private forest reserve.

Visit the Dungapur Mews, the family’s private collection of vintage cars and then enjoy a drink in the Garage Bar afterward

 

Activities for Kids:

Borrow some binoculars and hop in the hotel’s motorboat for a guided tour of Gaibsagar Lake. Marvel at the magnificent birdlife and see if you can spot the 120 species that call Dungapur home.

Jump on a bicycle and pedal through the hotel’s private forest reserve and explore the colourful local villages.

Serve a game of tennis, either on the grass court or the ping-pong table and then cool off with a swim in the enormous pool.

Visit the hotel’s aviary home to peacocks, emus and lots and lots of chickens.

Facilities: 

A/C, common rooms, two cast iron baby cots available, doctor on call, a private children’s hospital is 3km away, 1 extra bed per room, Art Deco Suites 8 and 20 are inter-connected and Grand Suite 11 interconnects with Suite 12, laundry, pushchair-friendly, shop, massages, swimming pool.

Rates: 

At the time of writing rates were as follows: Standard Room: INR 7,500 Suite Room: INR 9,200 Grand Suite: INR 11,700 Art Deco Suite: INR 16,000 Maharawai Suite: INR 22,000 Extra bed: INR 2,500 Rates are per room per night based on 2 people sharing. Please contact the hotel for an exact quote based on your family’s requirements.

Travel Information 

 

When to go: 

The best time to visit is from mid/late October to March. For twitchers, November to late February is ideal as this is when the winter migratory birds congregate on the lake.

Temperatures during this period hover between 25-28C during the day and can drop to around 10C at night. The mercury begins to rise from March and soars upward towards 35C and beyond in May and June, although the hotels’ position on the lake means that it never feels quite as hot as other places in Rajasthan.

The monsoon rains arrive in July, when things get hot and sticky.

 

Location & Travel: 

Udai Bilas Palace is located 120kms from Udaipur Airport and 175kms from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport at Ahmedabad. Udaipur is the closest domestic airport located 120kms (2 – 2.5 hrs) away.

The hotel can help to arrange airport transfers or guests can head to the prepaid taxi desk at the airport, which is generally very efficient and cost effective.

The nearest railway station is at Dungapur, on the Udaipur-Ahmedabad line.

 

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Contact The Hotel

For more information or to make a booking enquiry, visit the hotel’s own website by following the link below:

Udai Bilas Palace

Katja’s Top Tips!

1) Make sure you come for a few days. There is so much to see and do here that it would be a shame to visit for less time.

2) Visit the neighbouring Juna Mahal, an incredible 13th century palace home that is still held by the family.

3) Make sure to visit the hotel’s incredible vintage car collection housed within the Dungapur Mews.

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