Alila Fort Bishangarh, India: Warrior fortress turns landmark hotel

Our rating

4.5 out of 5

THE LOCATION

Looking for a backdrop to enact your wild fantasies of ancient battles or Indian spirituality? A breathing space between two points of India's Golden Triangle, this newly opened 59-suite fortress hotel is an hour's drive north of Jaipur and four hours from Delhi, set atop a high granite hill amidst Rajasthan's dramatic landscape.

THE SPACE

It's taken seven years to convert the 230-year-old warrior fortress from a deserted ruin filled with bats, snakes and gunpowder to a five-star hotel, while retaining a taste of its original austerity. The old war council room is now the library, and the dungeon is now desirable as the location of the cool, quiet Alila spa. The Jaipur Gharana architecture marries ornate Mughal arches, intricate jaali screens and whimsical chhatris (cupolas) with more restrained British turrets. The labyrinthine hotel, encircled by a two-meter thick stone wall, has secret doors and corridors that love to surprise: here a yoga deck overlooking the valleys, there a rooftop bar: don't be afraid to ask for directions. At the base of the hill, the reception is a vast, luxury tent inspired by field headquarters of old, while the gym, kids' club and infinity pool with its poolside restaurant are housed in a haveli, a courtyard building surrounded by impossibly green lawns.

THE ROOM

My room is a Grand Suite on the eighth floor, just one from the top, and the views are magnificent. Each morning, I open my windows to the sounds of the village – quarrelling peacocks, the tinkle of goats' bells, the rush of the wind through the towers. The room is divided into a salon and the bed faces the windows, with a large bathroom with a stone tub and thick towels. The fort retains its sense of place, with classic Indian block-print cushions on deep window seats, thick, studded doors and cool, locally sourced marble underfoot.

THE FOOD

Yes, there is a wellness menu that draws its organic vegetables from its own, rich gardens, but more excitingly, you can eat classic Rajasthani cuisine morning, noon and night. The adventurous diner is cosseted and encouraged, starting from masala chai delivered to the room with a wake-up call to India's innovative vegetarian cuisine and the unexpected triumph of grilled lamb's liver on kurma roti – the breakfast of warriors, served in the cool, marbled Amarsar restaurant. The Nazaara is its rooftop restaurant and bar, with panoramic views and Madhuveni is its hip little bar with a cigar and cognac lounge, with plans for whiskey blending and Indian tapas.

STEPPING OUT

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Until now, the village of Bishangarh has been completely bypassed by tourism, so the locals are curious and welcoming, without a hint of hassle found in the cities. We wandered into people's homes to see them weaving, farming or even to do a spot of traditional cooking and eat lunch, as part of Alila's curated experiences, which feel honest and uncontrived. There are ancient hillside temples to climb up to, quiet country lanes to cycle and camel safaris to undertake.

THE VERDICT

A glorious connection between luxury and the traditional Rajasthani lifestyle, the hotel is destined to become one of India's key experiences. Use it as a breathing space between the intensity of Delhi and Jaipur.

HIGHLIGHT

The fortress is mesmerising, and it's a joy to watch its many faces in the dawn light and at sunset.

LOWLIGHT

Summer temps (March-June) regularly hit the mid-40s, followed by the monsoon season's high humidity. However, the low season means less tourists and lower prices for the intrepid.

ESSENTIALS

A Heritage room costs from US$280 a night plus taxes. Bishangarh Village, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. Phone +91 142 227 6500. See www.alilahotels.com/fortbishangarh 

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Alila Fort Bishangarh and Scoot Airlines.