There are many perks to living and working in the Gulf, but there are also a number of dilemmas you’ll face on a regular basis: Which bottomless brunch serves the best smoked salmon and avocado toast; Which hotel pool to relax at on a lazy Friday after a hard week at work; and finally, our favourite, where to spend those long public holidays.
We recommend Ramathra Fort, Rajasthan
Ramathra Fort is a secluded, luxury boutique hotel built inside an old fort on the outskirts of Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. Its relaxing atmosphere, incredible views and delicious, local food make it the perfect place to chill and unwind, get creative, or just switch off from the world.
Ramathra Fort is owned by Ravi Raj Pal, the descendent of a long line of Maharajas who ruled over the area. When visiting the fort, which has been in Ravi’s family for eleven generations, it is easy to imagine what it must have looked like in times gone by, when elephants and horses would carry resident maharanis down the steep hill leading down from their lavish quarters in the fort towards the lake it overlooks.
Though the days of the Raj are over for India, Ravi Raj Pal himself gives off the air of a modern-day maharaja. This smooth-talking whiskey drinker knows the local area and people better than anyone – so well in fact that the local authorities consult him to resolve disputes between local villagers. He even retains the classic and chic ‘Maharaja Moustache’, which adds to his air of authority.
The drive to Ramathra Fort is as much a part of the experience as your stay itself. To approach the settlement, you will drive through a number of tiny villages where colour clad women and small children wave at you as you go by. After passing through the villages and disappearing into the trees, you’ll spot peacocks along the edge of the orange dirt track cawing and spreading their impressive feathers. That’s when you begin to appreciate just how quiet and secluded the property is.
Upon arrival, you’re greeted by smiling members of Ramathra’s incredibly attentive staff, bearing cold glasses of homemade lemonade (produced using the fort’s own lemons!). The view from the fort stretches for miles across the Rajasthani countryside, with hills on one side, green plains on another and a lake below. Tucked away in all directions are tiny villages and temples. The best way to inhale the view is from the Jacuzzi, which sits atop of one of the fort’s turrets.
The property itself is stunning, with beautiful guest rooms, a summer blue, colonial-veranda-style dining room (perfect for that 5 o’clock gin and tonic) and bright pink flowers creeping up around the outside of the building. The staff don’t miss a trick and provide everything you could possibly need for a relaxing break. Though the Wi-Fi is temperamental at best, this can enrich your experience by forcing you to switch off from the outside world.
One of the most unforgettable things about Ramathra Fort is the cuisine. All the food is either grown on the property or sourced locally – including the lemon in your G&T and the mint in your mojito!
Breakfast includes freshly baked banana bread and honey (made by Ramathra Fort’s own bees), fresh fruit, masala eggs and fresh lemon and ginger juice. Lunch and dinner consist of an array of delicious dishes created by the talented resident chef. The okra is to die for, as are the daal, aloo, chicken biryani and paneer – all served with a seemingly neverending supply of hot, fresh chapatis. Typical Rajasthani desserts that are particularly dangerous for the waistline are also served. Beware, you’ll definitely leave a couple of pounds heavier than when you arrived.
Another highlight of Ramathra Fort is its close links with the local villages. The staff are all locals, which becomes especially clear when you take a guided walk to the nearest village, a joyful and entertaining way to spend a morning. The smiling residents are excited to meet new people and all of the children constantly demand to have their photos taken. We were dressed up by the women in local traditional clothing, to everybody’s amusement (though we couldn’t understand what was being said, there was a lot of laughing and pointing in our direction).
The local villagers have hard lives. We were informed by our guide that men, women and children work in the fields planting crops, even during the hottest months and during illness and pregnancy. Access to education is limited, particularly for girls, many of whom are married with children by the age of sixteen. Yet they are always smiling and always happy to meet new people from different backgrounds.
Ramathra Fort has offered career opportunities for a number of local people and supports the local population by buying their produce and bringing tourists to the area. It is refreshing to see such a beautiful hotel with such a rich history giving back to the local community.
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Header image: Bailey Robinson