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Forget Palace Retreats. These 5 Indian Boutique Hotels Showcase the Country’s Contemporary Design Ethos.

These slick stays are an alternative India’s sumptuous palace retreats, adding a contemporary air to urban oases and tented camps across the desert state.

The courtyard at the Johri the johri

Sure, India may be synonymous with its palace hotels, and with good reason: These storied royal residences transformed into opulent retreats come with centuries-old pedigrees. But across the country, a clutch of intimate boutique hotels are paying tribute to India’s contemporary design ethos. From a chic conversion of a historic haveli to a safari lodge with tents splashed with colorful nods to local flora and fauna, here are five stylish properties across the desert state of Rajasthan where old and new mingle in delightful ways.

Villa Palladio 

Villa Palladio
Villa Palladio

Jaipur’s buzziest opening this year is VIlla Palladio, a ruby-toned jewelry box courtesy Swiss-Italian expat Barbara Miolini (she’s also responsible for the Pink City’s iconic Bar Palladio). The nine-key hideaway takes its inspiration from Mughal tents, miniature paintings and an idyllic Italian country estate—all awash in vivid scarlet shades. While the energy and glamour of Jaipur are just 20 minutes away, a bucolic rural setting bordering the Galta leopard sanctuary means the estate is designed for living the slow life amid maximalist splendor. Block-print motifs and graphic patterns in shades of red, pink and white adorn the walls, and the lamps, carved marble screens, printed cushions and china have all been handcrafted nearby in Jaipur. Spend your days lounging in a candy-cane-striped daybed by the pool or tucking in to hand-rolled pasta and regional Rajasthani fare—this is a taste of la dolce vita in the Pink City. villa-palladio-jaipur.com; doubles from $365 per night

Suján the Serai, a Relais & Chateaux property

Suján the Serai
Suján the Serai, Suján

All eyes are on the this 100-acre seasonal desert camp in Jaisalmer, the land of the golden sand dunes, reopening after a two-year hiatus. Inspired by the royal caravan sites of the Rajput royalty, the tents here maintain a simple elegance in shades of cream and gold enlivened with the region’s famed artwork, carpets, curtains, throws and turbans—a sharp contrast to the stark landscape of the Thar Desert. A towering inverted stepwell reveals a tranquil pool, and the tented spa was conceived by spa consultant Rosamund Freeman-Atwood of the globally renowned Raison d’Etre. Come for a dose of luxury amid raw nature and rich culture. thesujanlife.com; doubles start at $850 per night; season runs from September to March

The Johri

The Neelam suite at the Johri
The Neelam suite at the Johri The Johri

A sparkling diamond tucked away inside Jaipur’s chaotic gemstone market, this intimate five-suite hotel is a hot favorite with the creative set who frequent the Rajasthani capital. The salmon-pink façade of the Lal Haveli, a restored 19th-century merchant’s mansion, looks like it’s been plucked from a Wes Anderson film set; inside, each suite features a unique color palette based on the gem for which it is name—the Neelam, or sapphire, suite, for example, is done up in shades of sky blue and turquoise. Designer Naina Shah, who runs a couture embroidery business based in New York and Mumbai, enlisted local artisans for traditional accents like brass lamps, bone-inlaid furniture and wall murals. Downstairs, the all-vegetarian Johri restaurant is the trendiest table in town—and a new cocktail program in collaboration with India’s award-winning gin brand Stranger & Sons, featuring gemstone-inspired drinks with local ingredients like pomegranate and caraway seeds, is making it even harder to get a reservation. thejohrijaipur.com; doubles start at $270.

RAAS Chhatrasagar

A luxury tent at Raas Chhatrasagar
A luxury tent at Raas Chhatrasagar Raas Hotels

Legend has it that the erstwhile ruler Thakur Chhatra Singh of Nimaj wanted to create a water source for his villagers, which led to the construction of the 19th-century reservoir that RAAS Chhatrasagar now overlooks. Raas has spearheaded efforts to rewild the surrounding land, spanning a 1,500-acre private wildlife reserve near Jodhpur; today, it’s a bird-watcher’s delight, with 250 species including golden orioles and green-winged teals. The award-winning design includes tents adorned with block-printed fabrics and embroidered birds and greenery; a standout is the restaurant, a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Rajput pavilion with 12 pillars covered in hand-cut chitar stone panels. raashotels.com; doubles start at $390


Amanbagh Aman Resorts

Hidden away in the Aravalli Hills surrounding Jaipur, Amanbagh is a modern Mughal palace reimagined in clean lines by architect Ed Tuttle. “Amanbagh” literally translates to “garden of peace,” and Tuttle has brought to life an oasis of subtle luxury. Salmon pink domes, cupolas and high arches rise from lush greenery and are crafted in local sandstone and marble, and suites have Udaipur marble bathtubs, each carved from a single slab. The centerpiece of the property is a 100-foot emerald swimming pool and its magnificent pavilion, where the mesmerizing Manganiyars (Muslim folk musicians from the deserts of Rajasthan) perform every evening. If you can tear yourself away, Sariska National Park is just 45 minutes away and has tigers, langurs, sambhar deer and even the rarely spotted caracal cat. Afterwards, the spa beckons—decompress with a signature Maharaja/Maharani massage or Ayurvedic scalp oil massages. aman.com; doubles start at $1,298

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