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March 30, 2010

First Look

Udaivilas

You'd think they were real palaces, only better," says hotelier Biki Oberoi, who has just opened Udaivilas, his newest and most palatial addition to the Vila-s resorts of India. Udaivilas occupies 30 acres across Lake Pichola from Udaipur, the most romantic city in Rajasthan. It's about two hours by plane from Delhi and a 10-minute boat ride from Udaipur, provided by the hotel. The resort sweeps dramatically along the lakeshore, set against some of the most majestic city views in the region: jostling cupolas, 17th- and 18th-century palaces, long stairways down to the water where saris lie out to dry. Only when you start exploring Udaivilas do you fully appreciate its size. After two days by the swimming pool, I discovered another pool, which was, in fact, the biggest of nine.

The lobby is a theatrically large courtyard surrounded by reflecting pools and white marble lotus flowers. Inside, the open-air corridors are lined with 600 hand-carved stone columns, multiple arches, fountains, and pavilions, all beneath domes covered in gold leaf, floral mosaics, and hand-painted murals.

The 90 rooms at Udaivilas would be suites by other hotels' standards, with the best (which are even called the Superior Deluxe rooms) facing Udaipur in the distance and, in the foreground, a moat-like swimming pool that you can step into from your private terrace. There are also double rooms circling the main pool (with less view) as well as five suites with panoramas of the garden and lake. Bathrooms are capacious, decked in marble, with Victorian paw-footed hip baths.

Service is exceptional to a fault. The staff have been trained to drop what they are doing—whether you want them to or not—until guests pass (even if, in one case, this meant a gardener soaking himself with a hose). Cuisine is varied—international or Indian, though the latter is more sophisticated—with salads you can eat confidently (you can also brush your teeth with the tap water).The spa is run by the Singapore company Banyan Tree, so the Thai massage is excellent, but the Ayurvedic treatments seem oddly inauthentic.

But then strict authenticity is not what Udaivilas is about. This is luxury on a grand scale. Nonetheless, Oberoi has hewed to traditional Mewar architecture for Udaivilas, employing local artisans to carry the whole thing out. "In five years," he says of the resort, "I want people to ask, 'In which century was this palace built?'"

Rooms, $370-$2,000. Haridasji Ki Magri, Udaipur; 800-562-3764, 91-294-433-300; www.oberoihotels.com.

Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.