Friends often ask how I find the right hotel when I'm planning a trip to a country I haven't been before. My answer is always, "A LOT of research." No matter where I'm planning to go, the first site search entry is always "boutique hotels in city X." From that initial search, a few places may pop up that catch my eye. I'll write down the names that jump out at me and immediately take it to Trip Advisor. I can't vouch for anyone else, but Trip Advisor has done me right time after time. From the heavenly surf shack, Mick's Place in Bali to the cliff side Vintage Hotel along the Costa Brava in Spain. I've never been disappointed. Spending time to read through visitor reviews is key and although tedious, worth the effort. Of course I'm looking for a solid Excellent across the board, but even the classiest of resorts will still have its flaws, so it's important to read ALL reviews, even the negative ones. It's pretty easy to determine if the reviewer's comment was bad simply because they misunderstood the style of the hotel they were getting into or if it was bad because, well, it really was a nightmare. I also use other sites like Mr and Mrs Smith, i-Escape and Tablet to reinforce a hotel's worthiness. As you can see though, I prefer a certain type of hotel. I've never really connected with full service, bend over backward, carry my purse because it's too heavy type of handling. I feel like I can never be comfortable with someone doting on me every step I take. There's something calming about an intimate boutique hotel. Whether it's a cozy, bed and breakfast with four rooms or if it's an independently chic 30 room designer space, no matter which, I'll take that sort of lodging over a high maintenance, enormous hotel any day of the week. The attention you get from a smaller establishment is concentrated but not overbearing. Conversations with the owner, GM or staff never seem forced and they genuinely want to help provide you with the most honest, local advice.
With that in mind, I want to call attention to the fabulous Raas Hotel in Jodphur, India. I had read outstanding reviews about the Raas and it appeared to fit all of the criteria I look for in a hotel. This 39 room designer space in the desert was a relaxing modern luxury in the midst of a historic village living at a hectic pace.
The entrance of the Raas fades seamlessly into the surroundings, with its beautiful old stone walls and giant iron doors. Once in the lobby, we were greeted with a refreshing iced tea and a friendly hello. We booked the standard garden room over the balcony or suites. Surprisingly large in size with a private garden and an awe inspiring view of the Mehrangarh Fort, this room was anything but standard.
Breakfast was included and we ate most dinners on the premises. The food was wonderful and although I never asked for any special off-the-menu item, the wait staff always made mention of how willing they were to accommodate a request. Side note: I plan on posting another entry entirely dedicated to the meals I ate, so photos to come. While hanging out poolside, we were promptly brought a cooling amuse of fresh watermelon cubes and a lime wedge for squeezing. A cooling antidote to beat the heat with poolside side drink service following. The well manicured grounds and chill-out nooks transform into a seductively romantic hideaway come nightfall when candles are lit throughout the property.
My favorite space was the rooftop bar. As much as I loved the candles, photography did suffer from lighting, or lack thereof. The picture is horrible and not even worthy of posting but this was the view from the bar. Warm breezes and a cold cocktails were never more enjoyable.
This leads me to the next topic and dare I say it, a major f'ing enlightenment. Indian wines!! Yep, I said it, Indian wines. We hit the bar just about every night we were there but on the first night, I couldn't believe my eyes as I scanned the menu. Once again, forgive me for this image (the bartender actually handed me a flashlight with the menu), but now you can see with your own eyes.
As you can see, Grover and Sula are two vineyards you need to be aware of, so write it down. The bartender saw my perplexed look when I asked about the wines. Although there was a breeze in the air, it was still really warm. He suggested I start with the Blanc de Blanc from Grover and I jumped at the chance. I was excited to try it but also a bit worried that I might not like it, I didn't know what to expect. At first sip, it was dry and sweet with rich fruit flavors. I sensed peach. It was unbelievably drinkable, so much so I felt awful for thinking it wouldn't be. What did I know? Clearly very little. When I finished that glass, I ordered a second. While on the second, I thought about what perfect sense it makes that India is producing wine. With its warm, arid climate and sunny conditions, it's exceptionally ideal for making a great wine. On another night, I sampled Sula's Sauvignon Blanc. This time, I started out with a glass, fell hard for it and ordered a bottle. I nearly finished it all by myself. I don't drink whites often but when I do, it's an SB.
As much as I enjoyed the Grover, the Sula was a bit more my style. This dry white carried only a hint of sweetness, had a floral sensation for the nose and a smooth aftertaste of grass. It was a fantastic partner for my heavy dinner of butter chicken and jeera aloo. I wish I had sampled one of the reds but it was just too hot for me to want it.
Jumping ahead while I'm on the topic, when I got home I asked a wine rep if he knew how I could get my hands on either of these wines. Not shocking, but he had no idea about India's wine scene. He could see my enthusiasm for them and I could tell he was eager to seek out what he could, but I won't hold my breath. As these wines make their way to the US, my guess is they'll likely end up in New York or California long before Florida gets a shot. For now, I'll just keep asking other wine reps until they give me the answer I want to hear.
We had an epic stay and one I'll never forget. I could go on and on about the little details that made the time a delight but I don't think it's necessary. Do some research, read the reviews and you'll quickly be intrigued by this tranquil paradise in the old walled city of Jodhpur. My first taste of Indian wine will forever be remembered while rooftop star gazing at the Raas.