A big comfy car collects you at the airport, hauling you away before the tourist drones on your flight get underfoot in their haste to clamber aboard their big buses. The chauffeur gives you a cold towel, asks you whether you want your water cold or at room temperature, adjusts the stereo and the air-conditioning to your comfort, and only then proceeds to drive. Agreeably over the top, I think you’ll agree, and much in keeping with the opinion you probably already have of the Leela group: ostentatious, given to big lobbies and basic coloured concrete domes and other faintly absurd conceits, but fully committed to your comfort. And then, it gets even better.
You arrive in the old city and the car stops by Lake Pichola. There, you clamber aboard a boat, nattily kitted out with curtains and bolsters, whilst a moustachioed and turban-ned gent stands to the side, lending tone. The luggage stays in the car, to be delivered to your room directly. Then, with a cargo of one travel hack, the boat turns around and makes its way across the water, past the Jag Mandir temple and the Lake Palace hotel and the City Palace and the rest of it, to the new resort that looms up under a monsoon sky and by a silver lake, its manicured lawns and tented spa and retainers all happily smiling away, it seems, only for your benefit.
A trick of the light — blue-grey and magical — and the newly minted monsoon season? Sure. But it’s also a very carefully planned entry into a pretty super resort and it gets full marks from me. It’s obvious that this isn’t your average Leela in a big city. First off, there’s no lobby. There’s a concierge — first-rate man; ask him anything, including where to get a drink in the city—and a welcoming party with the by-now de rigueur garland and tilak, and that’s it. Check in is in your room, where you’re met by your own butler. Misty — Bengali, and fully as sweet as her name — showed me the ropes and the frankly intimidating range of cakes, chocolates and fruit that were awaiting my arrival.
The room itself is well-designed and oriented towards the lake. Crucially, all the rooms at the resort are so situated. My own room’s curtains draw back to frame the Jag Mandir. Out on my balcony, the Udaivilas hotel is to my right, while the Lake Palace and the City Palace behind and the rest of Udaipur anchors the left. The currently green Aravallis brood over the entire scene. It’s almost tritely beautiful, but with a freshly brewed pot of coffee to hand and a made-leine or two to fortify me, I’m just going to have to deal.
But back to the room. There’s an entry passage, with a large walk-in closet to one side and an enormous tub beyond that. On the other side are his-and-her sinks, flanked to one side by a shower and on the other by the potty, shyly lurking behind a door. Beyond the passage is the room proper, with a desk, a bed looking out over the lake, a sitting area with a couch and a chair and a massive LCD TV, which swivels out to face the bed when you’re in it. It’s well planned and probably seems larger than it actually is, but the overwhelming sensation is one of limitless space, all flowing into the lake beyond, towards the Jag Mandir. There is even a switch-operated blind behind the tub, which deploys when you want privacy and goes up when you want a view of the lake while still immersed in suds. Nice.
Bear in mind that this is a destination resort. Udaipur is an engaging city to wander about in, and the Leela can give you a choice of its own bicycles or even a tuk-tuk in the resort’s livery to gad about in. But the star of the show is the resort itself. The spa, for example, is worth spending time in. The treatments are in fabulous, spacious tents, with views of the lake and cathedralesque ceilings, with chandeliers to match. The treatments themselves promise to be great and they use only Espa products. My own massage was pretty much exactly what the doctor ordered. A quick swim would be a good next step. The pool's right next door and is big enough to be a workout as well. My own follow-up, naturally, was a drink.
The in-house bar is a clubby affair called the Library. It’s a bit dim for my taste, but again, that’s probably so that your eyes get drawn of their own accord to the soft lights of the fountains outside and the beautiful edifices in and around the lake. The happy young men behind the bar dish out excellent cocktails and I like the fact that kalamata olives feature on the list of bar freebies. A feature of the service here, which was repeated in the dining room, is its unobtrusiveness. The waiters and the senior staff are at hand, friendly and helpful whenit’s required and absent when you’re wanting your privacy. The sort of person the Leela is targeting with this discreetly plush hotel will be interested in exactly this sortof service, and it’s a credit to the genial general manager and his team that they’ve pulled it off.
Meanwhile, in the dining room, the French chef’s cuisine prevails. As it happens, it’s an Italian- and Rajasthani-heavy menu, but there are small touches that will make you smile. At breakfast, there isn’t a gargantuan buffet. Rather, a trolley brings things like baked goods and fruits to your table and you order your mains there. Homemade preserves in little artisan jars sit by your plate. At dinner, the very competent thali — with lal maas for me — comes in a slick crystal arrangement that doesn’t actually sit on your plate but rather lies stacked off to the side, much like a tasty candelabra. And the next night, a consommé and a plate of cold artichoke hearts and marinated cold cuts led very well into my perfectly prepared ribeye steak. I almost didn’t have room for dessert.
So there it is. In season, the open-air Indian restaurant that sits by the lake’s edge will be in operation. Various local talents will be dancing and singing their heads off. Couples, comatose with romance, will be bestrewn across the little nooks and crannies by the lake the resort has thoughtfully provided. The water will be rippling and reflecting the lights of the City Palace and the Lake Palace and somebody fancy will be getting married in the Jag Mandir. And I haven’t even started describing the suites because, well, I can’t.
Does all this cost a lot? Yes. And at this price, there are niggles. Why isn't the broadband free, for instance? And why can’t the door shielding the potty be floor to ceiling? But I’m sure other people will bring these issues up as well and they will be addressed. If you’ve got the money and want an alternative to the other, older Udaipur hotels, come here and prepare to be surprised by the Leela’s newest, most luxurious property.
Location Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan
Contact 0294-6701234, www.theleela.com