Ramathra Fort

Sapotra, Ranthambhore N.P., India Book from

Reviewed by Kate Darnton
On a hilltop far away, this intimate hotel and camp within a 350-year-old fort has staggering views and offers a window into rural Rajasthan
It's safe to say that the craftsmen who built this Rajput battle fort were not thinking about luxury tents and sundowner cocktails; their minds were on elephant attacks, tribal skirmishes and marauding warriors. But 350 years later, the beautifully renovated stronghold is a real gem, and far from repelling invading forces, it welcomes visitors warmly.

Staying here is impossibly romantic. There are 6 luxury tents spread around a central lawn, and 6 suites in the fort building with views of the river valley and misty, undulating mountains beyond. The Raj Pals have cleverly renovated just enough to create a haven of fading grandeur and tumbling bougainvillea-covered walls with indulgent touches like outdoor bathrooms, storm lanterns and hand-woven dhurries. It's well-placed for a honeymoon tour of Rajasthani palaces and tented camps (this is a bit of both), and you could spend a few days in Jaipur and Ranthambhore then come here on the way to Agra. It's also a destination in itself thanks to its remote location, boat trips, jeep tours and utter tranquility.

Highs

  • A peaceful, rural setting - a world away from the chaos of urban India - with fresh breezes and clear night skies (there's a
    high-power reflector telescope for stargazing)
  • Awesome views from the outdoor bathtubs of the Luxury Suites (magical when candlelit), and romantic tents that are a perfect marriage of outdoor space and stylish living
  • Activities that reveal a hidden side of Rajasthan: guided tours to villages, cave temples and gorges, plus sunset boat rides on Lake Kalisil, a haven for migratory birds
  • Delicious, locally farmed food, cooked in the traditional style from family recipes and included in the room rate
  • Welcoming owners: affable Ravi, a wildlife enthusiast who's extremely knowledgeable about the history and geography of the region, and gracious Gitanjali

Lows

  • Getting here is an adventure and the last 100km of road are rough. There are no airport transfers so you'll need to come by car or train - the owners can collect you from the station for a fee
  • No TV reception and limited mobile phone signal (all in keeping with the tranquil rural setting)
  • If you're staying in a tent, expect noise to carry
  • No pool for cooling off in the hotter months (though one is planned), and the communal areas aren't air-conditioned
  • No restaurants or shopping nearby

Best time to go

The weather in Rajasthan is highly seasonal. December-February can be cold in the evenings, though lovely by day. June to September is the rainy season, though this area of India can be very beautiful during the monsoon. The hotel is closed from April to June, and the tented accommodation is closed from July to September.

Our top tips

  • Add Sher Bagh or Khem Villas in Ranthambhore National Park to your itinerary when visiting this area - both are beautiful tented camps with tiger experiences
  • Bring The Jungle Book to read - you can easily imagine the monkeys taking over the fort
  • Great for...

    Eco
    Family
    Great Outdoors
    Honeymoon
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Fort Hotel & Camp
    • 6 rooms + 6 tents
    • All meals included
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Bicycles Available
    • Turrets and ramparts
    • Kayak
    • Jeep safaris
    Room:

    Rooms

    While it is crumbling majestically, the fort was restored stone by stone by local craftsmen and the accommodation is excellent. The suites are decorated with simple teak furniture and brightly coloured dhurries, all made in Rajasthan, but it was the little details that charmed us most, including Ayurvedic toiletries and, in winter, hot-water bottles in bed.

    The 6 suites have carved sandstone pillars and dark-wood windows with expansive views of the valley. They are divided into 2 types: Luxury and Deluxe. The 2 Luxury Suites are on the second floor, each with a terrace with loungers, an outdoor bathtub and a rainshower. Inside, there's a bedroom with a four-poster bed, a sitting area with a stone fireplace and hand-woven rugs, and a huge bathroom. The 4 Deluxe Suites are on the first floor and open onto a courtyard. These have sitting areas and a shared portico, and are convenient for families or a group of friends to share.

    The 6 beautifully designed tents (not available during the monsoon months of July-September) are set around the lawn area against the inner rampart walls. They are vast - some of the most spacious tents we’ve found in Rajasthan - with white cotton fabric block-printed with geese forming billowing walls and roofs. Each has a private porch with chairs, a full indoor seating area and a writing desk, as well as a double bed, side tables, lamps and everything else you could need. The bathrooms are attached and private, set in a building rather than a tent, and can be locked. They have hot water, flush toilets, tiled showers and dressing areas.

    As well as your room, you have access to communal spaces stretching across the whole fort, with ramparts and parapets framing views of the plains, a wide river valley and the mountains. Sunset is a special experience, especially if you watch it from one of the daybeds on the ramparts, cocktail in hand.

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Bathrobes
    • Coffee tea making
    • Extra beds
    • Fan
    • Hairdryer
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi

    Eating

    All meals are included, as there are no shops, bars or restaurants nearby. They’re served outdoors on the breezy tented patio or in the dining room, an elegant area with creamy limestone pillars, woven rattan blinds and hanging lanterns. It's the main communal area in the hotel and used to be a stable block.

    Breakfast is a buffet of cereals, seasonal fruits (mouth-watering mango, papaya and pomegranate in our case) and tangy homemade yoghurt. Waiters serve up fresh-pressed juices, toast and eggs to order (we had a tasty chili-flecked masala omelette).

    Lunch and dinner are also buffets, though both start with a lovely soup served at your table - fresh pea and spicy tomato when we visited. These are accompanied by addictive snacks such as fried baby aubergines.

    We found all the meals to be delicious and innovative - truly remarkable for such a remote spot. Of course it helps that the ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal, many of them home-grown in the hotel’s farm at the base of the fort. We particularly enjoyed the vegetarian options - smoky spiced vegetables, vibrant green tomatoes in a sweet and sour sauce, tender cauliflower florets with toasted cumin seeds. Enticing meat options might include butterfly chicken curry or minced mutton with peas, and chappati and poori breads are served piping-hot from the kitchen. Even the desserts are imaginative (beetroot halva, anyone?) and we defy you not to have seconds. Special diets can be accommodated and mealtimes are flexible, depending on when you arrive.

    The clusters of comfy white chairs on the green lawn make a perfect spot for aperitifs, or you can enjoy a sundowner on the ramparts as goatherders bring their flocks back to the village for the night. Staff can even set up a table for post-dinner coffee as the stars emerge above.

    Features include:

    • All meals included
    • Bar
    • Children meals
    • Coffee tea making
    • Organic produce
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity: Lake

    Activities

    • Take a row-boat trip on Lake Kalisil. It's great for birdwatchers (keep your eyes peeled for kingfishers) and the sunset views are wonderful. Bring a camera; the hotel provides life jackets, a bird book and binoculars
    • Alternatively, stay on shore to bird-watch: grey partridges, night jars, hawks, doves, peacocks, orioles, curlew, pelicans, kingfishers and cranes. There's a ticklist of species in your room
    • Go on a jeep safari (organised by the hotel). They can take you to several attractions in the Kalisil river valley, including cave temples at Ghanteshvar, Gujar hamlets, Chuaki gorge, and Utgir Fort at the rim of the Daang plateau. Photographic and wildlife-spotting stops included
    • Take a walking tour of Ramathra village, a small hamlet of farmers and herders with painted houses. Visit friendly families at home and in the fields (don't feel shy - this is a highlight for many visitors) and see 2 prominent temples, one of Ganesh and one of Shiva. You can also volunteer to listen to children read at the local school
    • Have a romantic picnic at the lake - borrow the rowing boat and set out to one of the islands for a hot Rajasthani meal and views of the birds, ducks and undulating mountains
    • Borrow one of the hotel's bikes and take a gentle cycle tour (staff can provide a 10km route map of the valley), or go on a camel-cart excursion
    • Take a night safari. Tours run by the hotel traverse the Kaila Devi National Park, across the Daang plateau and east to the Chambal river valley. Visitors regularly see deer, blue bulls, wolves, jackals, hyenas and foxes, plus wild boars, bears and leopards if they're lucky
    • Follow a temple trail by boat - or by jeep, if you prefer - for a glimpse into local traditions and religion
    • Take a day trip to Karauli. It’s an hour’s drive away with painted frescoes, spectacular stone carvings, the Madanmohanji temple and a busy bazaar. Lacquered bangles are a speciality and you can see bangle makers at work
    • Or simply relax in the hotel's Jacuzzi, sundowner in hand

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Boat trips
    • Camel-cart rides
    • Cycling
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Jeep safaris
    • Kayaking
    • Night safaris
    • Private guided tours
    • Safaris
    • Traditional cultures
    • Wildlife

    Kids

    Ramathra Fort is a magical place for adults, so imagine what it would be like for children. It accepts kids of all ages, and those under 10 stay for free (though note that they don't have any cots - under 2s have to sleep in a bed). You can have 1 extra child per room.

    That said, it does appeal to couples, honeymooners and those seeking a quiet, back-to-nature experience, so do bear the atmosphere in mind if you want to come with children. Our kids loved exploring the turrets and ramparts, but staying here with our toddler was a little stressful due to the many stone stairways and steep drops.

    All in all, we'd say it's best for older children who can sit still on a 3-hour jeep ride or who will enjoy walking around the village and valley nearby.

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    The tents are a fun option and have plenty of space for an extra bed. The suites each have space for an extra bed, and these can be set up in the living area.

    Children's meals:

    The hotel offers all-inclusive food; meals are traditional Indian except for breakfast, so you may want to arrange something in particular with the chef if you have picky eaters.

    Kids Activities on site:

    • Hire bikes and cycle down to the local village
    • Take the kayak or boat on the lake
    • Keep as quiet as you can and go bird-spotting for peacocks and kingfishers

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • Night safaris
    • Jeep trips to cave temples and gorges
    • Help out at the local school and make friends with the children

    Families Should Know:

    There are lots of unprotected drops here, so keep an eye on adventurous tots. It's a long drive from the airport, so bear that in mind, and there's a lake and canal that could be hazardous. It's also a long drive to medical facilities.

    Kid Friendly:

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