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. 

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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

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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.

A Jaipur Gem: 28 Kothi

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As reviewed for i-escape:

Hidden down an unassuming lane in Jaipur’s residential Civil Lines district, 28 Kothi brings a new level of luxury to the guesthouse experience. A joint venture between Siddharth Kasliwal (co-owner of Gem Palace, India’s most glamorous jewellery business) and Abhishek Honawar (eminent Bombay chef), it opened its doors in early 2016 to instant acclaim. It was envisaged as a place for Kasliwal’s clients to stay that would be “as extraordinary as the jewels they come to Jaipur for”, and is filled with stunning objets d’art and eye-catching commissions.

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With just five stylish rooms, a lush garden, a peaceful library and a bijou spa, the atmosphere is particularly special; intimate and welcoming, and ideal for solo travellers as well as couples. There’s no restaurant or formal menu; meals are made to order using farm-fresh vegetarian ingredients – you’ll breakfast on the terrace and dine under the stars at night. But most seductive of all is the peace here – it’s a true urban oasis. You’re more likely to hear the resonant call of a peacock than the thrum of traffic, yet Jaipur’s ‘Pink City’ and its numerous attractions are just a tuk-tuk ride away.

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Interiors lovers will lust after designer Nur Kaoukji’s flawless rooms. Her passion for the organic percolates its way throughout the entire property, from the miniature Indian mural in the library to the palm prints and bespoke Rajasthani furnishings in the bedrooms. Each of the 5 is decorated in the colour palette of the gemstone that bears its name, and ornate beds have mirrored headboards worthy of a Maharani.

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The largest suite, Sapphire, has a floor all to itself and doors leading out onto a private terrace; perfect for couples who want complete privacy. Topaz also has a private terrace – a welcome extra for a standard room – whilst the other standard Spinel has a lovely cushioned window seat. Suite Moonstone is the only room with a bathtub (a fabulous, deep-soaking affair), and Peridot is a great-sized single room that’s excellent value for long-stay guests or families with an older child.

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Co-owned by culinary legend Abhishek Honawar, you’d expect the food here to be first-class – and by all accounts, it is. With an emphasis on the freshest food of the best quality, meals are strictly vegetarian with international flavours, market produce dictating the daily-changing menus. On balmy evenings, dining under the stars is a real treat. We love the sound of a chickpea and vegetable Moroccan stew served with warm herbed couscous, or a spicy Rajasthani thali with gluten-free chapatis and chilled cucumber raita.
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Come morning, a continental or Indian breakfast is served on the terrace – try the Rajasthani version with green split-pea pancakes and an exotic fruit salad. Teas are sourced from Goa (marigold, saffron, lemon green tea), coffee is roasted in Delhi, and the Bhuira strawberry preserve and bitter orange marmalade are handmade in a local village. Provenance is paramount here. Reliable WiFi, bathrobes and air con are welcome extras, and toiletries by KAMA Ayurveda are a fragrant treat, with old soup ladles for soap dishes.

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Best time to go: October to early April, when it’s warm and dry, is the best time to visit. December, January and February can be cold in the mornings and evenings, though warm and sunny during the daytime. March and April are fairly hot. In May and June it gets humid and the heat can become intense and uncomfortable. The monsoon breaks in July and lasts until September. January sees the city play host to the Jaipur Literary Festival and bookworms from around the world descend.

Top Tips: For the best insider’s guide, bring a copy of Fiona Caulfield’s Love Jaipur, which is filled with local tips such as the splendid Saturday Hatwara flea market; whilst fashionistas can create amazing souvenirs at the Anokhi Museum of Handprinting, where you can block-print your own shirt!

For direct bookings click here.

 

Rural Rajasthani Refinement at Shahpura Bagh

As reviewed for The Hotel Guru:

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Amidst sprawling gardens this historic estate oozes elegance and charm. Suites fit for a maharaja include four-posters, ornate textiles and large, airy windows. A feast of traditional Rajasthani dishes is served in the dining room or al-fresco whilst the heated outdoor pool is the place to relax.

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An oasis in unexplored Rajasthan. Dating back to the 19th century, Shahpura Bagh provides a stay amidst history with the family of this ancestral mansion house. As you take the turning off the main highway spluttering traffic and screeching truck horns are replaced by stubborn bullock carts driven by be-turbaned Rajasthani farmers in dusty dhotis. Wandering distance from colourful town centre the white gates of Shahpura Bagh are a portal to a bygone age of refined luxury and undisturbed tranquility.

3118049-shahpura-bagh-rajasthan-indiaAccommodation is spread across two colonial style bungalows, ensconced by 40 acres of verdant lawns and farmland, plus a heated pool. An intimate affair there are just nine rooms, all divine, packed with antiques and featuring lounge areas meant for lingering; bathtubs meant for soaking. Our favourites would have to be the Royal Suites for their capacious four posters and open fire places. Generous touches such as complimentary birdwatching and farm visits or sundowners at Dikhola Fort make one feel truly spoilt.

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Getting to know your fellow guests over drinks, canapés and an open fire make you feel right at home. Dine surrounded by family portraits and hunting trophies to the beat of a long unplayed rock n roll score. Another whiskey, sir? Why on earth not. A daily set menu of regional dishes (it is a veritable feast) is served, whilst a continental spread is provided each morning and lunch is set to order. Let’s just say you will not go hungry here! But what is most impressive about Shahpura Bagh is how committed Jai, Sat and their families are to their local community. From monetary donations, personal property converted into schools and employing a team of all local staff, Shahpura Bagh and its town are one. For an authentic yet luxurious, rural Rajasthan experience stay here: no questions asked.

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Great for: A bucolic break between Jaipur and Udaipur and is easily accessible from Jodhpur and Ranthambore.

Best time to go: Between October – March is the best time to visit Rajasthan, though it can be quite magical during the monsoon. Expect it to be chilly in the evening between December and January.

For direct bookings click here.