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.

Vana: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Art

Vana: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Art

As you take the turning off the main Mussoorie Road towards the Vana, Malsi Estate you leave behind with it the distractions of every day life. Car horns are replaced by bird call as the fragrant smell of the neighbouring sal forest stimulates the senses. Only a month old Vana is but a baby and located just round the corner from Ananda, India’s most luxurious yoga retreat, it has some serious competition. However Vana’s emphasis is not on luxury, it is on wellbeing, meaning “physical, mental, emotional and spiritual”. Whether you treat it as a modern day ashram or (as they put it) a utopian “microcosm of everyday life”, you will leave feeling refreshed and revitalised and ready for whatever life has to throw at you.

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Upon arrival you will have a one-to-one analysis of what your personal goals are and a tailored wellness programme will be devised for the duration of your stay, incorporating everything from your treatments to your meals. There are two restaurants at Vana: Salana, offering cuisine based on wellness principles and Anayu, offering Indian cuisine based on the principles of ayurveda. All of the produce is organic, locally sourced and new menu is devised seasonally. And with all of its chefs being specially trained in wellness cooking no-one will be left feeling as though they are eating rabbit food! Nurture yourself from the inside-out whilst bringing the outside in with a panoramic view of the surrounding forests, which all rooms benefit from.

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Set amidst the sprawling 21 acre Malsi Estate, the property itself looks like a work of modern art and the architecture, with its emphasis on straight lines and earthy palettes, blends in with the local surroundings. Their ethos of simple, stripped back luxury is apparent in every aspect of life at Vana, from the living spaces to the treatments.

Treatments on offer: Guests can benefit from Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Natural healing techniques as well as regular yoga classes, aqua therapy, fitness improvement and full spa facilities. Treatments cater for anything from mindfulness to weight loss meaning there really is something for everyone! The Signature Vana massage is a must!

Detox specials: Until August 2014 book between 3-5 nights and receive a complimentary nights stay.

Pricing: Starts from R32,000 a night with a minimum three night stay.

Vana is the place for any serious yogi (with a few rupees to spare) to head this 2014!

 

Jodhpur: A Hotel Guide

Jodhpur: A Hotel Guide

Working in travel one has to be sympathetic towards almost any whim, requirement and diet fad of a client. Life and people are full of surprises but when trying to second guess someones preferences it is necessary to (like it or not) pigeon hole. Luckily I am very familiar with each of the extremes. On the one hand we have myself: I will literally eat, sleep, pee anywhere and on the other: my mother, who to put it simply, will not. Even the most globalised of cities in India could prove a culture shock to some but there are certain places that offer a pretty PG portrayal of India.

Jodhpur is one of these and a pretty safe bet for even the most cautious of travelers. Saying this, a client of potentially difficult disposition is not going to rock up at any old guest house. For some travelers, hotels are as experiential as the cities that house them. My most recent jaunt in Jodhpur was a self-appointed work trip which meant I visited and stayed in some stunning hotels that I would certainly not have been able to afford myself – especially on my Indian salary! So, here is my whistle stop tour of the best hotels in Jodhpur.

RAAS

It claims to be a heritage property when in reality about 400 sq feet of this hotel is heritage. Why? I do not know. RAAS is beautiful and does not need to pretend to be anything it is not. An excellent Design Hotel RAAS is “three parts Rajasthan, one part LA”, implementing traditional Jodhpur colours and textiles with a modern twist. And with the best views of Mehrangarh Fort as its backdrop, RAAS is an excellent option for anyone wanting high end luxury in a town setting. The food is lip-smackingly good (they have pretty much re-invented the chicken korma), the service Western standard and the staff are beyond friendly. An afternoon spent lounging by the pool listening to the Asr call to prayer, home-made lemonade in hand, would be an afternoon well spent.

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The pool at RAAS and the view from most of its rooms.

Things to bear in mind:

  • RAAS’s central location is great for being able to wonder straight out your front door into the thick of things. However it also means that the thick of things is right out your front door.
  • Garden View rooms (as the name might suggest) do not have a view of the fort, which considering they are some of the best in the Jodhpur seems an awful shame.

Who is it good for?

  • A city dweller. Someone used to five star luxury who does not mind a bit of back ground noise.

Ratan Vilas

Do not let the website fool you. I was so pleasantly surprised when I arrived at this little gem of a property. A colonial heritage hotel located just a few kilometres outside of town, Ratan Vilas offers guests an incomparably personal experience and piece of history. Now in its fourth generation of ownership, the current owner Maharaj Bharat Singh and his wife do their best to personally greet all the guests and answer any questions they might have about the property. The hotel itself is decorated with portraits of long lost family members: from successful polo players to keen hunters and much of it is furnished with antiques from when the hotel was still a permanent residence. With a delightful swimming pool and lots of cool shady areas to retreat to with cup of their delicious masala chai, Excellent value for money!

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The tranquil pool area and shady courtyard at Ratan Vilas

Things to bear in mind:

  • Request a room in the front courtyard – it is in the older wing and much more quaint.
  • The “continental” breakfast was very average however I would imagine that their India food would be excellent.

Who is it good for?

  • A country bumpkin looking for a family experience.

Pal Haveli

This very Indian Haveli is a great way to ‘play pretend’ and really step back into Jodhpur’s past. The rooms are decorated in traditional haveli style: kitsch to some; tacky to others. Personally it’s my least favourite of the the four but the rooms are really “fun”. Pal Haveli has an exceptional roof top from where diners can “witness all of Jodhpur’s history” with 360 views of Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan and the clock tower. Private Bhopal dinners can also be arranged at the restaurant for a truly memorable evening or party.

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An extravagantly decorated bedroom at Pal Haveli and the view from its rooftop restaurant.

Things to bear in mind:

  • Not good for older people. This property has more narrow, winding staircases than the Hogwarts astronomy tower.

Who is it good for?

  • The undisputed Indophile.

Umaid Bhawan

The history surrounding this property is as fascinating as the building itself. The Palace was allegedly built “to provide employment to thousands of people during the time of famine” which seems like a very elaborate solution to me: “Give a man a fish…” and all that, I suppose. The architect behind Umaid Bhawan, Henry Lanchester, also designed Leeds University’s (where I spent three blurry years) Parkinson Building. Maybe it is something in Lanchester’s architecture but I felt the need to whisper as I shuffled along the bordering austere corridors of Umaid Bhawan. It is stunning, don’t get me wrong, but it is a little too flawless for me. I looked like some sort of street rat wandering around (not so) fresh from the day’s sightseeing. The grounds on the other hand I love and I share my friend Ellie Boulstridge’s appreciation for its pristine lawns (she is borderline obsessive for a well maintained bit of turf). However for me it is the view from the swimming pool and the peacocks strutting around like they own the place that makes it such a memorable property. Plus the fact that you can see its’ silhouette from just about all of Jodhpur.

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Umaid Bhawan, the pool area and its award winning Jiva Spa (excuse me in the background)

Things to bear in mind:

  • Luxury comes with a price tag and palaces don’t come cheap. Whilst a stay at Umaid Bhawan is worth the money (if you can afford it) you get a lot more for your rupee for certain rooms in the same category. Being a palace all rooms will differ but to be on the same side ask for a Garden View Room rather than a courtyard.

Who is it good for?

  • My mother. Plus those for who the hotel is as much a part of the experience as the place.

I’ll leave you with this: the prettiest tuk-tuk in town found in the RAAS driveway. Sadly it was not for hire.

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