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.

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.

 

 

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.

Rajasthan for Romantics: Tree of Life Resort & Spa, Jaipur

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

A world away from the frenetic Pink City and Jaipur’s modern metro city, The Tree Of Life exists in its own micro-climate of peace and tranquility. With a focus on Ayurveda, each of the rooms are named after a different tree, and their decor reflects its colour. We stayed in the Champa Villa, adorned from floor to ceiling with fuschia pink and splashes of lime green – synonymous with the shrub that shares its name. Whilst the decor borrows from traditional Rajasthani designs, especially in its vibrant colour palettes, interiors avoid the usual cliches. The private pool and in room spa area, plus indoor and outdoor showers and an outdoor bath are the height of romance.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

In fact this property is made for couples. Even fully booked (which it is most weekends) you will barely see another soul. For making the forty minute drive outside of Jaipur guests are rewarded with complete privacy. Dinner can be arranged in room, a candle lit affair by the pool or a private setting at the sunset lookout. Whether in-room or at the spa, couples therapies are available. The Aravali bath, a rose petal filled affair with fragrant oils is an indulgent experience.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

As with all Tree of Life properties, the food is superb. Chef will consult on a daily basis what you would like for dinner and create a menu tailored to you. The food, both Western and Indian, is superb, with many of the vegetables coming from the on site organic vegetable garden, and as much sourced locally and in-season.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

Yoga and meditation are available in the ‘Ganesh Abode’ as well as guided village and nature walks. Plus you are only twenty minutes from Jaipur’s most famous (and must visit) attraction: Amer Fort. An utterly relaxing escape on the outskirts of a frenetic city.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

Great for: A relaxing couples retreat. You can still tick all the Jaipur tourist boxes, Amer Fort is only twenty minutes drive and ‘The Pink City’ is a further twenty.

Best time to go: Between October – March is the best time to visit Jaipur, though it can be quite magical during the monsoon. Expect it to be chilly in the evening between December and January. In January the city plays host to The Jaipur Literary Festival, which sees literati from across the world descend upon Diggi Palace. A must visit for bookworms and Indophiles.

For direct bookings click here.

Lchang Nang Retreat: Bringing Boutique Luxury to The Nubra Valley

Lchang Nang Retreat: Bringing Boutique Luxury to The Nubra Valley

Originally published on Little Black Book Delhi.

Ten-Second Takeaway

Guests at Lchang Nang Retreat, Ladakh are welcomed like long lost friends. Gayatri and Aditya are the perfect hosts and they manage a team of ten staff with all the affection of a family unit.

Now, I don’t know about you, but there is something about mountain air that awakens an unapologetically insatiable appetite in me. So when a breakfast of fresh fruits, proper coffee, a piping hot baker’s basket {piled high}, eggs to order and if it were humanly possible to fit anything else in, your choice of waffles and pancakes, was laid out in front of us, well I thought I’d quite literally died and gone to heaven. Head chef Chet Prasad is a whizz in the kitchen. There’s no “menu” here, instead an ever changing choice of regional dishes. Traditional Ladakhi one evening, North Indian another, Italian and so on, accompanied by salads plucked straight from the kitchen garden, healthy soups, freshly baked breads and pudding.

Meaning ‘House of Trees’, Lchang Nang Retreat takes its name from the twenty acres of elm, apricot and apple trees that ensconce it; with the sonorous roar of the Siachen River in the background.

Leading by example Gayatri and Aditya combine eco-principles with a healthy dose of luxury. Running entirely on solar power {with a back-up generator just in case} and using glacial water the property has a sympathetic approach to nature and hospitality. Seventeen traditional Ladakhi style cottages are sprawled across seven acres of verdant grounds, interconnected with trickling gullies and colourful flora. Inside whitewashed mud walls and exposed poplar beams create a rustic look, with retro fabrics and furnishings giving interiors a homely touch. Stylish slate bathrooms add a modern accent.

Gently swaying in my hammock, gazing out across the Karakoram Range beyond, home to the infamous K2 mountain, I mused on the countless lives this former Silk Road trading route had changed, and those it had taken. My lodgings were certainly preferable to theirs. I don’t think I’d change places for a moment.

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Lakshman Sagar: A Kaleidoscopic Escape

As reviewed for The Hotel Guru:

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Inspired by the kaleidoscopic colours of Indian this 19th century former hunting lodge is not your average rural Rajasthani stay. Twelve cottages (each with their own private plunge pool) are dotted around a 32 acres and a man made reservoir. The sound of peacocks resonates throughout the grounds from sunrise til sunset, interrupted only by the chattering of a lively flock of parakeets. A totally unspoilt, rural idyll, staying true to Sewara hospitality’s mantra Lakshman Sagar is as gentle to the environment as it is on the eye. And what a visual feast it is! Decorated in pop palettes rooms are a riot in greens, pinks, yellows and oranges; juxtaposed against natural dried mud walls. Repurposed furnishings such as a traditional coal iron for a soap dish and baby’s crib for a wash basket add a novel touch. Though the pièce de résistance has got to be the zenana, formerly the women’s quarters. Decorated in pink and purple shades, mosaic floors and trickling fountains. The rooftop affords 360 views of the property and the best seat in the house.

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There is an Ayurvedic spa-cum-tree house run by Amul, possessing an encyclopaedic knowledge of herbology. He even takes yoga classes. Or simply spend an afternoon recumbent by that pool. Carved into the landscape, out of a giant rock, it has been named one of Conde Nast Traveller’s favourite pools in India.

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Inspired by the ‘Slow Food Movement’ all cuisine is either grown in the property’s expansive vegetable garden or locally sourced. Serving fresh, traditional Rajasthani dishes these simple meals are a blessing – compared to the heavy, oil laden affair on offer in most hotels. That said, flavours can get a little repetitive, but staff do their best to meet requests. A totally enchanting stay.

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Great for: Couples will love the private cottages and plunge pools with a view. Ideal for a few nights of rural idyll between the bustling cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.

Best time to go: October – March. Expect a chill in the evening between December and January.

For direct bookings click here.