Paradise Found: Coco Shambhala, Sindhudurg

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Image courtesy of Coco Shambhala

As reviewed for i-escape.

It took a team of some 200 craftsmen from all over India to bring owner Giles’ master plan to fruition. Four villas, inspired by the ‘Tropical Modernism’ movement, are a homage to the works of Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Clean lines and open-plan spaces abound, and the indoor-outdoor living spaces give a sense of peace and oneness with nature. It’s perfect for couples or families seeking seclusion. Whether in bed, the pool, the dining or living area, you constantly feel connected with the outside world.

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Image courtesy of Coco Shambhala

The setting? An unexplored stretch of the Konkan Coast framed by swaying palm trees. Save for a few local holiday-makers, the town of Malvan does not attract a crowd, although you may spot the odd parasailor gliding past neighbouring Tarkarli Beach: the place for watersports and diving. There’s no restaurant on-site but after a day spent languishing by your pool, the attentive catering team will come and take your order a few hours before serving it to you in the privacy of your villa. Your first dinner comes free with compliments of i-escape. Cordon Bleu-trained chef Shagun Mehra has created a distinctive menu of stand-out dishes, a saving grace as there’s nothing around for miles. And that is exactly why you’d come here. 

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Image courtesy of Coco Shambhala 

Rooms

The villas are carefully designed to let the views do the talking. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors fill rooms with natural light. White linens and mauve block prints are simple yet chic against rustic grey cement and coconut-wood furniture. Each villa has 2 ensuite kingsize bedrooms, a living area and a private sit-out overlooking your pool; drawing the blackout curtains in the morning never gets tiresome. There’s a TV in every room but you won’t spend much time watching it.

Bearing Sanskrit names, each of the 4 villas is almost identical in design. Arka, is closest to the entrance and good for those that don’t like climbing stairs, whilst Amaresha has a small grassy area behind the pool, great for families. We stayed in Inaya which (though a tough choice) had the best views. At quite an altitude sits Varenya, which offers the most privacy of all the villas. For an unforgettable group holiday, you can take over the entire place.

Eating

There are no restaurants within a sensible distance, but thankfully Cordon Bleu-trained chef Shagun Mehra and her team are outstanding. Celebrating Malvan’s spicy, seafood cuisine, the menu goes a long way beyond the usual dishes of Pomfret and kingfish. The kitchen works in tandem with local fisherman to ensure the freshest and most unusual catch of the day (stingray, anyone?) and staff are taught authentic methods of preparation. Food is locally sourced as much as possible, resulting in innovative Continental creations with an Indian twist.

Served in the comfort of our villa, the Malabar preparation (a regional dish with a spicy tomato and coconut sauce, wrapped in a banana leaf parcel) was refreshingly light and perfectly steamed. The Thai fish cakes, accompanied by a tangy salad of julienned vegetables, were so good we ordered them twice. The chocolate chilli ganache was rich, spicy and sweet enough to satiate even our sweet tooth. For something a little unusual, try the cinnamon churros made from paneer (cheese).

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Open all year round. The south Indian coastline is generally best visited between November and February when the weather is dry and the temperatures in the low 30s. The Konkan Coast makes a great alternative to Goa’s Christmas and New Year crowds. During the monsoon (typically May-August), special screens are erected to protect the villa’s indoor-outdoor living spaces. It would be an utterly romantic spot to hole up during the dramatic downpours.

To book click here.

A Home Away From Home: The White Peaks

IMG_4976Just a one-hour drive from Kathgadom Station or eight-hour bakery from Delhi brings you to the sloping village of Gagar. Greeted by the mild-mannered housekeeper Mohan, who will grab your bags and whisk you away to your new home for the next few days. This two-bed cottage, with views of the foothills of the Himalayas, and on a clear morning the Nanda Devis. An idyllic home away from home. Owners, Aparupa and Abhijit have decorated it as though it were their own private home (and they do come and stay here as often as life allows)! Feature walls of framed Rajasthani artwork paired with old family photos create an eclectic and lived in feel. The living room, dominated by a large, stone, open-fireplace is the definition of homely. While away an evening with a good book (of which you’ll find plenty around the house) in front of the log fire.

IMG_4992Both of the bedrooms are cosy with soft white linens and proper feather down duvets. The beds might be regular doubles but you’ll sleep like a Queen. Colourful cushions and wool dhurries add a pop of colour whilst antique writing desks double as bedside tables. Bathrooms are simple (it’s a bucket shower affair) but the hot water flows. You’ll find an electric heater in your room for those chilly evenings (once you manage to tear yourself away from the fire). An all-inclusive property, this is a place where friends and family (and well-behaved dogs) are meant to come and congregate. There is no Wi-Fi, however, there is a television, but the whole point is about spending quality time over a heated game of Rummikub.

IMG_4972Meals are cooked by your housekeeper Mohan: daal, rice, steaming hot chapatis, as well as home-style butter chicken, and seasonal vegetable preparations. For breakfast eggs to order with brown toast with local jams. A constant flow of masala chai is on hand, just let them know what time you’d like your bed tea for the morning.

IMG_4977Great walking routes right from your front door, the forest trail will get your legs walking and the blood pumping or make the day trip to the Talla Ramgarh river. Bhimtal and Nainital are also just a short drive away, should you wish to explore further afield. A writer’s retreat, a dog-lover’s holiday, or an escape from the city, The White Peak’s is a breath of fresh air.

For direct bookings click here.

The Roseate: A Blooming Joy

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Image courtesy of Roseate Hotels & Resorts

Delhi’s NH8 doesn’t sound like an obvious location for an urban oasis, does it? But enter The Roseate’s eight-acre property and your opinion will change. Pass an austere looking guard, and the road opens up into an expansive entrance driveway, dotted with art installations and adorned with 650,000 individually cast brass leaves, by British designer John Bowmen. Let me just write that again. Six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand individually cast brass leaves. To say it’s quite an entrance would be an understatement.

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Image courtesy of Roseate Hotels & Resorts

Designed by Khun Lek Bunnag, known for his grandiose creations, the architecture throughout The Roseate sets it apart from other hotels in the city. With everything on a slightly larger than life scale, you’ll feel a little like Alice in Wonderland as you traverse its undulating grounds and water bodies. Boasting Delhi’s longest pool, at 102 metres long it is more than many can sprint, let alone swim! The Pool View rooms include private outdoor areas and direct access to the pool – perfect for a morning dip. Other notable features include a rotating pendulum disc and The Tree of Life, also designed by John Bowmen, as well as a wall of stained-glass in the lobby.

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Image courtesy of Roseate Hotels & Resorts

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Image courtesy of Roseate Hotels & Resorts

Rooms are decorated in white and grey hues, focusing on open spaces and natural light. Totally modern, all of your gadgets can be controlled from an I-pad so you can open your blinds in the morning from the comfort of your own bed. No hard hotel beds here (seemingly the mattress of choice in India) they are sink-into with soft pillows and cloud-like duvets. There is a capacious bathtub, almost al-fresco with views outside, whilst the shower doubles as a steam room and guests will find not one, but two sinks, big enough to be a church font.

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Image courtesy of Roseate Hotels & Resorts

A lot of effort has gone into the menu design. From all-day dining at Kiyan to dinners at Chi Ni, the Roseate has roped in some of Delhi’s highest-flying chefs. At the majestic Kiyan, flanked by a collonaded wall styled on the Elephanta caves, chef Nishant Choubey heads a dynamic team creating innovative fusion dishes. The menu changes every few months and as much as possible is sourced their organic farm, just a few kilometres away. I had the Organic Pomelo salad to start, which was the perfect blend of fresh and crisp with a soft sweetness from the tamarind dressing, followed by the vegetarian thali, a great introduction to North Indian cuisine for those fresh off the boat. For breakfast, there is an array of healthy and not-so-healthy dishes (I couldn’t help but opt for the trio of pancakes, not once but twice), as well as fresh pressed juices and crispy South Indian dosas. Try to make sure you have dinner at Chi Ni during your stay, for authentic Chinese flavours courtesy of chef Ban. Starting with blanched baby spinach in a sesame dressing for starter, we were taken on a culinary journey of wasabi shrimp, vegetable lettuce wrap, chicken Siu Mai, and soft and fluffy tofu bao.

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Image courtesy of Roseate Hotels & Resorts

If you’re travelling with little ones, there is an excellent kids club, with virtual simulation technology, art walls, and so much more. Honestly, you’ll have to drag them out of there. For grown-ups, the Aheli spa, headed by Sushma Rai, is the perfect hideaway. Including signature massages and hammam treatments (the only place in Delhi you’ll find them), and using Ayurvedic Kama products, you could spend more than just a few hours in their capable hands. There is also a small but perfectly formed gym and yoga pavilion.

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Image courtesy of Roseate Hotels & Resorts

Who’s it good for?

Design Junkies, Wellness Addicts, and those wanting to escape the city

For direct bookings click here.

Tijara Fort : The 19th Century Fortress, Hours From Delhi

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Image Courtesy of Neemrana Hotels

Crawling through the vivacious village of Tijara, passing car mechanics, fruit stalls, carpenters and street vendors, I wondered if we’d taken a wrong turn? But as the traffic subsided, and settlements melted away into open road, the verdant Rajasthani countryside opens up ahead.

Located in Alwar, just 2-3 hours from Delhi and almost equidistant between the capital and Jaipur, Tijara Fort is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway, or to break up a long road trip. As you approach, the 19th-century fortress rises up from the ground like a volcano. Dominating the local landscape, it commands a sense of grandeur against a backdrop of rice paddy. A mix-and-match patchwork of agricultural themes. 

An arial view of Tijara Fort-Palace

Image courtesy of Neemrana Hotels

Its 63-rooms are spread across two buildings, the Mardana Mahal and the Rani Mahal, whilst the reception and dining hall are in the Hawa Mahal. The decor in the Mardana Mahal, in particular, is spectacular, with cavernous ceilings adorned by larger than life curtains and decorative Ikat tiles taking the places of dhurries. A beautiful space for an event. The spa is located in The Rani Mahal (the name given to the ladies’ quarters: makes sense) where traditional treatments and fragrant massages are on offer. If you like the keep fit there is an enormous swimming pool, great for a few lengths on a hot sunny afternoon. Alternatively, the hotel has seven manicured lawns and plenty of alcoves and yoga mats, so there is no shortage of spots to Surya Namaskar.

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Anju Mahal Interior (Image courtesy of Neemrana Hotels)

The Rooms

Most of the rooms are of a good size, with separate lounge areas, though some of the fittings and furnishings could be spruced up. Surprising in a hotel that is only a few years old. Though the overall aesthetic is charming, classic Rajasthani charm with bright colours and statement furniture to match. Owner, Aman Nath, is close friends with some of India’s finest artists, and he has roped in many a famous name to add to the grandeur of the property. The Anjolie Mahal is particularly impressive, with an entire mural painted by the celebrated artist.

 

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Anjolie Mahal Interior (Image Courtesy of Neemrana Hotels)

 

The Food

Generally averse to buffet meals, Tijara Fort’s culinary offerings came as a pleasant surprise. A daily changing menu of fresh salads, with plenty of Indian vegetarian options, followed by homemade ice-creams and baked tarts and pastries. A delicious broccoli soup was served with dinner accompanied by crusty bread rolls, perfect with a large chunk of butter. Breakfast was the usual selection of cereals, fresh fruits, eggs to order, as well as my favourite Indian breakfast: poha.

 

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The Dining Hall (Image Courtesy of Neemrana Hotels)

 

For direct bookings click here.

 

 

A Dose Of Vitamin Sea: Anahata Retreat

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Named after the heart chakra, Anahata is associated with balance, calmness and serenity: three things you’ll definitely find here. Ensconced by swaying palms to the east, the Arabian Sea to the west, and Mandrem and Morjim beaches to the north and south, it’s a hidden gem within walking distance of Goa’s most popular coastlines. But don’t be fooled by the rustic exteriors and laid-back vibe; owners Rishal and Angela play host to a list of chic clientele, from holidaying Londoners to weekenders from Mumbai.

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Sunset Views: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The 17 beach cottages and suites are concealed amidst an acre of palm grove, the prime spot an Ibiza-style lounge area with perfect sunset views. Ideal for those wanting to connect with people rather than the internet, Anahata hosts a variety of classes and workshops from power yoga to tai chi; 5-rhythms dance to Qigong; as well as offering authentic Ayurvedic massages. Healthy living and eating is encouraged (though happily not enforced), and the L’Atelier restaurant serves fresh salads and delicious European flavours… along with potent cocktails. Everything in perfect balance!

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Sunset deck: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The Rooms

The accommodation is split between various categories of cottage and suite, each with different views. The cottages have a luxurious desert-island feel, with exposed bamboo, thatched roofs, hanging lanterns and mirrors made from flotsam and jetsam. Light and airy, they open onto a private terrace area – book a Beachfront Cottage for uninterrupted sea views. Kingsize or twin beds have beautiful carved wooden headboards, and fans keep things cool. Walk-in wardrobes and open-plan shower bathrooms make good use of the curved space. If you value function over form, the suites, set in colourful Portuguese-style houses, are more practical. Air-conditioned and closest to the restaurant, they have charming terraces and simple white-on-white interiors.

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Sea View Cottage Interior: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

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Garden Suite Interior: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The Food

The L’Atelier fusion restaurant is the heart of Anahata. Whitewashed tables are dotted around a sandy dining area, covered by the shade of palm trees by day and lit by twinkling lanterns by night. Insisting on an open-plan kitchen, Angela is pedantic about the food. Everything, from the sauces to the pickles, is made from scratch, and the meat and fish are sourced from the best local suppliers.

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Over cocktails as the sun went down, we chose from a dinner menu of simple, hearty dishes. My peri-peri kingfish was a succulent homage to Goa’s traditional Portuguese flavours. Breakfast showcases Anahata’s ethos of ‘balance’. I chose the healthy option – a tangy Bircher muesli with spirulina and toasted cashew nuts – but they’re just as happy to serve a Full English with all the trimmings.

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Best time to go: For the best weather, visit between November and February. The Christmas-New Year period can get very busy, but things quieten down a lot from mid-January to February. In keeping with the seasons, Anahata is closed from May through to October, during the monsoon.

Top tips: Goa’s northern coastline has a growing design scene. Just a 5-minute walk away, Morjim Beach is home to some great little independent shops, including Jade Jagger’s boutique and charming local offerings.

For direct bookings click here:

Secret Lair Seclusion in Sleepy South Goa

The Cape Goa Beach

The virtually deserted beach. Image courtesy of The Cape Goa

As reviewed for i-escape.

Perched above a pristine curve of golden sand, there’s an air of Bond villain’s lair about The Cape Goa. Built into the side of a rocky cliff are 4 guest cottages, all with teak walls and rustic thatched roofs that blend into the surrounding palms. But step inside and you’ll find things are rather more indulgent: huge beds, spectacular indoor-outdoor bathrooms fronted by walls of glass, and private sun decks with alfresco hot tubs that gaze out over open ocean.

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Image courtesy of The Cape Goa

Brand-new in 2017 and designed squarely for romance and relaxation, The Cape offers a change in tempo from modern life. Think barefoot strolls along the beach, Ayurvedic massages on your deck, and evenings spent lingering over cocktails, seafood and spectacular sunsets in the open-sided restaurant. The town of Agonda is only 30 minutes away if you fancy boat trips and a bit of nightlife (scooters and taxis can be arranged), and some of Goa’s loveliest beaches are nearby, but really there’s little incentive to leave. We can think of few better places to steal away with someone special – and what’s more, it doesn’t cost the earth.

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It could be you! Image courtesy of The Cape Goa.

Rooms

Balinese in style, with thatched roofs and cavernous beamed ceilings, the four cottages are quietly luxurious. The furniture mostly consists of antique-style pieces in polished teak, but colour-pop walls, tiled floors and sliding glass doors prevent the interiors from feeling too dark. Beds are enormous, and you also get a sofa and daybed to lounge on; there’s even a TV with Netflix, though we doubt you’d choose this over the view. Bathrooms are huge, with swathes of exposed rock, pebble inlays, trailing plants, floor-to-ceiling windows (there are blinds to pull down if you want privacy!), rain showers, and sections open to the sky. But the star feature lies outside: a private sun deck, complete with loungers, a parasol, a sitting area and a sunken Jacuzzi tub.

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Image courtesy of The Cape Goa

The cottages are identical in looks and layout, but for ultimate seclusion and the best views I’d recommend 3 and 4, which are closest to the beach. Cottage 1 is nearer the restaurant, and noise from the kitchen can travel.

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Image courtesy of The Cape Goa

Eating

The breezy, open-sided restaurant is a lovely spot to while away the golden hours as afternoon slips into evening. The menu covers an extensive selection of southern and northern Indian cuisine, and there’s plenty of fresh seafood on offer. My Goan fish curry was a highlight, and the smoky vegetable tikkas were simple yet perfectly executed. There are also salads and sandwiches if you want something lighter for lunch – we liked the look of tofu and sesame, and blue cheese with rocket and onion marmalade. Service can be slow, but that just provides an excuse to work your way through the lengthy cocktail list while you wait.

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Image courtesy of The Cape Goa

 

Best time to go: October to March is the best time to visit Goa, with the most pleasant weather in December and January. This is also when the region is at its busiest, but The Cape, located in the sleepy south, isn’t affected by the crowds. June to September is the monsoon season, with high humidity and sudden downpours, but the resort stays open year-round and prices tend to be much lower during these months.

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Image courtesy of The Cape Goa

Top Tips: This is the perfect place to unwind and do very little, so bring plenty of books to work your way through on your lounger. We’d also recommend packing something a little sturdier than flip-flops for the descent down the steps to the beach, though the sand is powder-soft once you get there.

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Image courtesy of The Cape Goa

For direct bookings click here.

Bujera Fort: The Modern Mughal’s Abode

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

You’d be fooled for thinking that the little rural village had a long and colourful history with the imposing Bujera Fort. So seamlessly do its coral pink walls, cascading with bougainvillea, run through the town. One wonders about the tales of ruling Maharajas and long disbanded feudal systems. But in reality, this property is only a few years old. A miracle, that a new build fort could be created with such elegance and style; whilst most of its counterparts end up looking like gaudy cheap representations.

 

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

Bujera Fort balances the best of both worlds. Enter through a Mughal inspired quadrangle garden, complete with would be step-well turned swimming pool. No ancient crumbling walls in need of repair, instead pink stone (inspired by the walls of the nearby Kumbalgarh Fort) blending in seamlessly with the surrounding architecture. There are fourteen suites, each decorated in a unique style. Antique four posters, marble inlay drawers, and private balconies. Chintz fabrics add a quaint effect. Marble clad bathrooms include capacious baths, block printed dressing gowns (available to buy at the hotel gift shop) and complimentary Kama toiletries.

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

Owner Richard, believes that all guests should be made to feel at home, rather than as though they are staying at a hotel. This means that each of the rooms includes hand-picked book collections. The recent addition of two Labrador puppies makes this hotel feel even more like a home. The food is something to write home about, Richard is a keen cook and believes as much as possible should be made from scratch.

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

As British as apple crumble it was no mean feat for Richard taking on such an extensive building project in Udaipur and it was not without its high and lows. But hard work pays of and Bujera Fort is an utter success. An ideal spot from which to base yourself if you don’t want to be right in the heart of town.

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For direct bookings click here.