The lavish Udaivilas in northwestern India opened eight years ago, but it looks and feels as though it has stood along the banks of Lake Pichola for centuries. That’s the magic of this 30-acre resort in Udaipur, which was designed inside and out to resemble a palace in Mewar, one of the ancient kingdoms of India. Landscape architect Bill Bensley of Bensley Design Studios in Thailand researched traditional Mewari gardens to give visitors the royal treatment from the moment they arrive and are greeted by two stone elephants and pink-blooming Bauhinia trees. In a departure from strict Mewari tradition, water is ubiquitous here. Besides a 300-meter pool that wraps around the property like a moat, guests can enjoy a lap pool, a spa pool, private pools and several semiprivate pools that make it possible to swim between suites. After dark, a stepped waterfall spills down 10 tiled tiers past columns topped with dramatic gas flames toward the lobby bar and its array of flickering candles. oberoihotels.com
A Conversation with Bill Bensley
Q: How did the site influence the design?
A: The hotel’s relationship to Lake Pichola was important, because in Udaipur all the royal buildings face the lake. People come to this hotel to be on the lake. However, the lake dries up in the summer.
Q: What are some standout features of the design?
A: The lap pool in the main courtyard has black granite and white marble steps that come down into the water. That’s the traditional way of an Indian water reservoir. There were always steps, which allowed people to get to the edge of the lake no matter what the water level was.
Q: Any insider’s tips?
A: The Kohinoor Suite garden is a real gem. It is highest on the hillside and has its own pool and a great view of the lake. Ask to see it if the suite isn’t occupied.
Q: What feeling do you want the guests to leave with?
A: I want them to think that this really is a 300-year-old building and to feel that they’ve stayed in a palace.
Q: What was the most unusual aspect about working on this project?
A: For much of the site work, I rode a camel because the site is so big. It was great to get up high and see everything from that perspective. It was a camel’s-eye view.