“Get under the skin of rural India at this 18th-century fort, perched high above a sacred river”
Scattered around the fort, the 13 rooms and suites vary in size and décor. Some have views of the river, others the verdant gardens, but all come with air-conditioning, minibars, WiFi and tea- and coffee-making facilities.
Cheapest are the Superior Rooms. Of these, we particularly liked Champa, Gulmohar and Kachnaar, which have little balconies to sit out on (all have ensuite shower rooms). Some Superior Rooms can accommodate additional beds, and 2 - Imli and Neem - are set around a lovely private courtyard with a ping-pong table, but they’re a little smaller than the others and have tiny windows. There's also a 2-Bedroom Superior Room; handy for families, it has a double and a twin bedroom, as well as a private terrace on a turret.
If you can, it’s definitely worth paying extra for one of the 2 Royal Suites. Narmada is wonderful - a beautifully light room built into the wall of the fort, with teak parquet floors and its own sitting room and balcony overlooking the river. It also has a fantastic freestanding bathtub in its bathroom, which is partially open to the bedroom. Naqar Khana is darker but just as spacious; it too has a separate sitting room and a balcony. It’s set outside the main fort walls, a minute’s walk from the entrance, so it’s very private.
For a real treat, consider splashing out for the romantic Arjun Royal Tent, which sits in its own garden on the riverbank. Inside it’s airy and comfortable, with a four-poster bed, a sitting area, air-conditioning and a bathroom with a clawfoot tub. Outside is a private plunge pool, along with loungers, cushioned benches and sweeping views over the water and adjacent temple.
The food at Ahilya, all included in the rates, is excellent - a mixture of Western dishes and traditional Mughal cuisine. Prince Richard is a dedicated gourmand, taking a close interest in what happens in the kitchen (he's even written a couple of cookbooks), and everything is homemade using plenty of veg from the kitchen garden.
Breakfast is à la carte and combines Western staples - eggs, homemade bread, marmalade - with fresh fruit and Indian dishes like poha (flattened rice). It’s normally served in one of the shaded courtyards, and you can opt to have bed tea brought to your room beforehand on request.
Lunch is served at separate tables dotted around the grounds, and consists of light dishes such as chilled spinach and sorrel soup, homemade quiche or papaya and carrot salad. Picnics can be arranged if you’re heading out on a day trip, and tea, cakes and biscuits are laid out every afternoon.
Evenings begin with cocktails on the terrace, accompanied by Indian snacks such as deliciously fresh pakoras with green chutney. Dinners are sumptuous affairs with plenty of wine, laid out in various locations around the grounds and illuminated by flickering butter lamps. Guests tend to eat together, hosted by Prince Richard whenever he’s at home, but private tables can be set up if you prefer. There are at least 4 or 5 dishes, many based on traditional recipes handed down through the Holkar family - perhaps Kashmiri duck with pomegranate sauce or a rich vegetable curry. We feasted on Bengali kid and sweet and sour aubergine, and enjoyed every mouthful. Special dietary requirements are easily accommodated, so just ask.
Ahilya welcomes children of all ages, and kids will relish the magic of staying in a fort. We visited with our 1-year-old and 3-year-old and the staff were very helpful, happily arranging special food at inconvenient times.
There is a kitchen garden for children to explore, as well as chickens and some farmyard animals to meet. Boat trips and swimming in the river also provide a lot of fun.
Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)
Some Superior Rooms and Royal Suites have space for an extra bed or baby cot. Two of the Superior Rooms, Imli and Neem (both doubles), are set around a private courtyard with a ping-pong table, so they're ideal for families who want their own little corner of the hotel. If you can, it's worth booking the 2-Bedroom Superior Room with has a double and a twin, plus space for a baby cot in the master bedroom.
Babysitting can be arranged on request.
Meals and mealtimes can be tailored to suit children, and snacks are available on request.
There are numerous high drops and wobbly steps, so children need to be watched at all times.