Is the Samode Palace the most romantic place on earth? Perhaps it’s just the sight of the moon reflecting in the pool on the roof where Mr Smith has booked a private dinner. Perhaps it’s the fireworks exploding as if by magic in the Rajasthani sky as we sip champagne in front of a crackling wood fire. Perhaps it’s our discreet, silk-turbaned waiter who keeps slipping in and out bearing local dishes each more delicious than the one before?
But I am getting ahead of myself.
We arrive in Jaipur station on the train from Agra, where we have been to see a little building known as the Taj Mahal. Agra seems to be less a monument to undying love and more a testament to mass tourism and I am ready for a change of pace. Mr Smith calls ahead to the Samode Palace to arrange for a driver to be waiting for us at the station, and we are met by a gentleman in full livery who whooshes us efficiently from Jaipur city to the hotel in about an hour.
Colourful and picturesque, the journey to the Palace is through the town of Samode, which, aside from a few signs advertising jewels and souvenirs, is remarkably untouched. The approach to the hotel is dramatic, as the 15th-century palace is located atop stairs in a lush courtyard garden complete with… rather a lot of monkeys.
They’re not the usual low-rent urban simians, according to Mr Smith, who was born and raised in Delhi, but gentle, sacred langurs. We learn that they inhabit a large tree right outside the gates where they are fed by priests on holy days.
A wedding party is departing just as we check in and are shown to our Deluxe Room. To get there, we climb centuries-old stone stairs and arrive at a narrow walkway four storeys up. I can’t help but think that it’s probably best not to have too many G&Ts late at night when staying at the Samode Palace. The room itself is lovely, with a large traditional bed, an ancient balcony and a heart-stopping view of the mountains.
The pool is my first stop at any hotel, as I like to swim every day. The one at Samode Palace is not only beautiful, but also long enough for proper laps. It’s surrounded by lounge chairs and the deck is a blissfully quiet and serene place to enjoy a cold Kingfisher beer in the sun. There’s a small spa beside the pool, but although the attendants are friendly, the massage tables don’t have head slots so unless you want to try a traditional treatment where you lie on your back, I would give this a pass.
Sun kisses the courtyard where we eat outside the buffet area, and I fall in love with the zucchini fritters. Each lunchtime daytrippers rock up from Delhi to enjoy the castle, giving it a somewhat ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ feel. Some nights Samode also hosts ‘gala dinners’ for outside guests who arrive by the busload, but this doesn’t affect us as there are two other intimate restaurants open in the evenings. One tip: the white wine is kept in the same cellar as the red, so if you want chilled white with your dinner ask the wait staff at lunch to give them time to cool it properly during the day.
Samode town is small enough to wander around with no fear of getting lost, and during our strolls everyone is happy to chat. One afternoon we meet the owner of a beautifully bedecked camel; the next Mr Smith hitches a ride with a priest in a Land Rover (wearing Oakley wraparound shades no less) who invites us to the Mahayagya (fire) ceremony at the temple that night. For me, just the sight of a procession of 10 young girls dressed in vibrant saris is enough to make my Canadian day – usually we have two national colours in winter, grey and greyer.
In the evenings, Mr Smith sits in the courtyard bar and has a drink while I get dressed for dinner, and then teeter down the ancient (and dark!) stairs in my heels before clip-clopping across the courtyard to meet him. I love this civilised routine of outdoor cocktails before dinner. It’s on our final night that he surprises me by arranging a private dinner on the rooftop terrace.
So I find myself at a rose petal-strewn table under the stars in a palace. All the staff seem genuinely thrilled that we’re enjoying the hotel so much. Perhaps it’s the fact that Mr Smith speaks Hindi, or perhaps it’s because it’s a universal truth that people in love seem to create excitement around them. Then again, maybe it’s just that Samode Palace – a location for iconic film ‘The Far Pavilions’ – really is the most romantic hotel in the world. It certainly feels like that to us…