Saturday, December 22, 2012

Loved It!

“An Outstanding Experience”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 3 December 2012
I was in Goa recently to celebrate my first wedding anniversary and I am so glad I chose this hotel for my romantic trip. We stayed in the Heritage Suite...the topmost category room which had a private pool and garden. I was in awe of the room, and well Lemon Tree's heritage wing can give any five star a run for its money. The room was a duplex and had so much of character which is difficult to find in other hotels which have nice rooms but the usual run-of-the-mill designs.

There are many resort properties in North Goa, but Lemon Tree stands out with its bright and lovely landscaping. The service was impeccable. Every little thing was taken care of. Even the toiletries were of very good quality...Lemon Tree can well sell its shampoos and beat any big cosmetic/FMCG player....yes the shampoo was that nice.

Located in Candolim, the beach from this hotel is a mere one minute walk. You can access the beach from the hotel itself and don't have to take the road. Breakfast spread at Citrus was quite delectable and I simply loved the live waffles, pancake and french toast.

But the best thing about this hotel is its restaurant Republic of Noodles! We had seafood at number of restaurants in Goa including Mums Kitchen, La Plage, Kalamari shack, Curlies...but the best seafood was at Republic of Noodles. So if you are not staying at the hotel, still you must have a meal or two at this award winning restaurant.

I am definately going back to Goa, if not for the beaches then to experience this resort.
Room Tip: Rooms in its heritage wings are nice portuguese style and provide a unique experience.

TripAdvisor Review of Lemon Tree Goa. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

THE PARK NEW DELHI --NOT FOR THE JET-LAGGED

I have had several meals at The Park New Delhi restaurants. I have enjoyed several dinner buffets at the Mist and love their Champagne Brunch. The kind of ambience and service that their pool side restaurant Aqua offers, right in the middle of the city, is quite impressive too. And of course as a Delhite and a party lover, its hard not to frequent their night club Agni.

But a recent stay at the hotel was quite harrowing. This property is located in the heart of the city so the location is excellent. But that's about it! My husband and I are members of this hotel so we get a free room to stay every year. So even though we are from Delhi itself we stayed at the hotel to avail our free room.

The check-in was smooth. But everything after that topsy-turvy. For starters, the TV was not working, mini bar just couldn't chill our wine bottle, there was sizzling hot water in bathroom and no cold water !! It was so hot the water that it could just kill if someone accidently gets into the shower. When we complained it took almost an entire afternoon for them to fix all this. When we dialled operator she would tell us to press 3, when we dialled 3 they directed us to dial 6. And after sometime even our cordless phone stopped working. Thank God it was just for a day we were staying and were not jet lagged.

Even last year when we checked into the hotel we found it shoddy. This year we were happy that we were given an upgrade, but nothing else has changed. The rooms need serious repairing and refurbishing.

Though yes the fitness centre, restaurants, night club Agni offer great service and value for money. For a meal or clubbing or going to a spa or fitness centre this hotel is great, but if I am jet lagged or meaning to spend time in the hotel I would dread booking it.

(Wrote this review for TripAdvisor)
  • Stayed September 2012, travelled as a couple

STRANGE WILDERNESS-- THE OMAN EXPERIENCE

A three-hour flight, in my opinion, is not too much of an effort to experience nature at its best. And that’s how fast we reached Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman. First things first, Oman is not your run-of-the-mill shopping-spa-massage-and-nightlife sort of holiday destination. What it offers is serene locales and ample breathtaking moments, from dolphin to turtle watching and from desert safaris to experiencing the tranquillity of a beautiful mosque.

Call it a good omen or sheer serendipity, my journey began with a visit to a holy place, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. An architectural marvel, the mosque, built in 2001, with tonnes of Indian sandstone, spells beauty just like the landscape of the country.

The first glimpse of the city says it all. This destination is not just well endowed with scenic beauty but is well designed too. No skyscrapers to make it one of the many urban concrete jungles; there is a virgin-feel to the place that makes it a perfect holiday getaway. Albeit it does not mean that Oman has no great landmark buildings. The Bait Al Alam Palace is a photographer’s delight and so are the various ministry offices. One cannot help but be amazed at how well designed the capital city of Muscat is, given the fact that modernisation of Oman began as late as the 1970s.

If a road trip is your idea of a holiday, Sultan Qaboos’s land is a delight! An envious infrastructure, with roads sans any bumps and most distances easily commutable by road, this small country, which does not have trains or public transport, is a dream come true for road travellers. We hopped from one wadi (oasis) to another in a mini-bus, soaking in the beauty of the landscape—spic and span roads, small villages, quaint beaches and rocky mountains. 

Our next stop was Sur. Around 150 km from Muscat, the journey towards the city of Sur was nothing short of a delight—we saw the picturesque Wadi Bani Khalid, the Wadi Shab, the Fins Beach, a serene white sand beach and the Hawiyat Najm Park. As we watched, transfixed by the magnificent natural appeal, our tour guide, Mohammad, regaled us with an interesting story behind the Hawiyat Najm. Locals believe that a star (najm in Arabic) fell on the spot of the land that resulted in a natural depression that is now a lake, the Hawaiyat Najm. As we gazed into the azure blue water of the lake and listened carefully to all the stories of Mohammad, we realised that Oman is a mystical place, where the ancient and modern exist in perfect harmony.

Though the country has many retail malls and local markets called souks, it doesn’t boast of huge malls like tourism-driven Dubai. However, tourists can get good bargains on cheap electronic items, local perfumes and exquisite gold jewellery.

I am not exactly a wildlife enthusiast but when there is an opportunity to watch dolphins prance around the waves and see turtles lay eggs in close proximity, who wouldn’t be game. After an hour of boat ride, off the coast of Muscat, we reached the dolphin-spotting area. It was a wonderful sight to behold: the water mammals galloping in the sea with the sun shining bright above the splendid blue sea. Oman is not typically known as a dolphin hot-spot, so seeing them in plenty came as a pleasant surprise!

Our next stop to experience nature at its most splendid was at the Ras Al Jinz Reserve that has turtle nesting beaches. Our guide led us to the beach in the night. Once we reached the spot, in the silence (lest the turtle gets disturbed), we watched a large turtle laying eggs in the sand nest it had dug, under the stars. They say there is something romantic about discovering the simplest of things in most weird ways. That night was romantic!

After experiencing a serene night, the next day was nothing short of an adrenaline-pumping adventure. Under a scorching sun, mercilessly beating down upon us, we hit the Wahiba desert for dune bashing and quad biking. And after an exhilarating desert adventure, what more could soothe the nerves than a camel ride. Spending time in a desert is probably one of most wondrous ways to come close to nature.

As I savoured some dates and sipped the traditional Arabic coffee inside the desert tent, American author Edward Abbey’s words resonated in my head—‘But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need - if only we had eyes to see.’ May we experience more such wilderness.

(The article was publiched in the Sunday Financial Express)

 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

TE AROHA SOJOURN

At this place of love it's always a threesome. You, your loved one and the hills.  While eating, bathing, making love...the breathtaking view of the hills is always there. Awesome threesome!

Author Anthony Robbins said Passion is the genesis of genius. Passion also separates ordinary from the rare. Sumant Batra, corporate lawyer by profession, has built his first hotel property with passion. And that's what makes stay at Te Aroha, a 10-room boutique hotel tucked in the virgin hills of Dhanachuli, a rare experience. For the record, Te Aroha in Maori means 'place of love'.

Batra is a storyteller, every wall in the property has a story to tell. From Te Aroha's story to India's colonial history, from interesting coffee table books to intriguing artifacts...there is never a dull moment cause there are so many engaging stories. When was the last time you saw your grandma's vintage wooden trunk or slept like a baby on a four poster bed or played a game of 'Ludo' to test whether you are still good at it! Te Aroha gifts you ample of such moments besides splendid mountain views.

 All rooms are themed at this hotel and house antique furniture sourced from different parts of India. Te Aroha is a collectors dream...Victorian piano, larger-than-life mirrors in rooms and lobby area, CDs of Hindi classics and marble chess board in the TV lounge-cum-library. For the more contemporary ones there are lots of travel and news magazines strewn all over the property. And then there's Cafe Flashback, Batra's little museum that doubles up as your adda for chai and pakoras. While posters of old Hindi movies and ads from the golden era dominate the place, there are tit-bits that will surprise you --- matchboxes from various hotels, old sewing machines, typewriter. Take a walk down the memory lane. Located on a hilltop, the view too from the cafe is mesmerizing.


The property also scores very high on hospitality--- the staff is very friendly and gives you almost a personalised experience, service is good and food is excellent. With no eating options outside the property as it is located in  a rather small, pristine village, you are left with no option but to eat at the hotel itself. Trust me you won't regret that. The Kumaouni meal that the property hosts, has sumptuous bhat ki daal, besan bhindi and pahari lamb curry. Surprisingly the chef here can present a delectable continental meal too.

When you have soaked enough of the indoors and views from the hotel, there are enchanting jungle and village walks to capture your soul. Te Aroha is a dream with even more dreamy outdoors. That the hotel organises guided village and forest walks is the icing on the cake. No wonder this place is fast emerging as a perfect weekend getaway for those who want a break from the everyday mundane life and even the run-of-the-mill holiday destinations.

Things To Know About Te Aroha

--Dhanachuli, village where Te Aroha is located, is a two hour uphill drive from Kathgodam Railway Station. Hotel provides cab service from Kathgodam/Haldwani at a price.

--The room rate depending on which room you choose, ranges from Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000 approx. There are packages available inclusive of meals.

---The hotel has a spa, poker room, library and a TV lounge.

--- It offers guided village and jungle walks.

--There is an in-house restaurant, cafe and room service option too is available.
           

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CHIC TRAVEL



 As a woman I love being on a holiday...cause that's the time I can experiment with resort wear, don even the itsy-bitsy dresses and have all the time to shop. I also like the entire process of planning my trip-- from hotel bookings to reading as many reviews as I can on TripAdvisor. Over all these years, I have learned few things about how to travel smart...nah and by that I don't mean travel light. Of course I need everything right from comfortable sneakers to sexy heels, make-up essentials and matching jewellery. I confess I carry them all on my vacation and have never regretted it. So here are a few things that I try and follow when I am planning my travel.

*  I have read on several websites that if booking online, Tuesday is when one gets best and the cheapest deals. I tried it and trust me it works!

* I don't know if it's true for other countries, but in India if you call a travel portal's customer care number and specify what you are looking for the chances are you will get a cheaper deal than the display prices on the website. Now we know why Indians still prefer offline modes to online. Call them and tell them you want free breakfast :) 

* Carry a stole in your hand bag. Always! Even if you are travelling to a warmer city/country. On my trip to Malaysia, a few years back, I din't carry one and the flight temperature was unbearable. When I asked for a blanket, the trying-to-be-sweet air hostess tells me, "Sure Madam, but we will charge you for it." Charge few dollars for a blanket on a five hour flight! Yes I was flying a low-cost carrier.

* Carry a small foldable bag. This is just a reminder. We all think we are not going to shop on this holiday but we always end up doing it. A foldable shoulder bag always comes handy.

* Buy Bus passes on Day 1. Most bus passes in European cities are valid for at least two days. When I went to Barcelona I decided to do the Ho-Ho Bus the last day, but the tour pass for two days was cheaper. Alas it was my last day. I could have done two tours for the same pass had I bought the pass a day before. Ditto for most tourist city bus passes.

* But leave shopping and casino for the last day. Go splurge, you don't have any other expenses to take care of. I still wonder that why most travel iteneraries I go through on travel websites give you the option of shopping on day 1.  

*  Carry the bottle of nail-paint that you are wearing. It takes two-minutes for the touch up and you don't want the chipping nail paint to be an errant in your pictures.

* Don't bother buying a calling card on a short foreign trip of 2-3 days. Most hotels have wi-fi with which you can access BBM, e-mails, and facebook. You are on a holiday, what more connections do you need. Plus it's not a very economical idea.

* ( For Delhi chicks) When in doubt leave it for Delhi duty free. Liquor is apparently the cheapest at Delhi duty free. So if planning to buy a bottle at an international airport while returning but are not sure of the price, leave it for Delhi airport. 



Monday, July 23, 2012

MORE THAN MASSEURS

I agree I am a spa s***.  But then tell me what can be more orgasmic than an hour-long massage followed by an aromatic bath. Given an option, all of us love visiting spas, don't we! I have visited quite a few of them myself in last six months. Now it's not always easy to pen down what you feel about a particular massage, but here I am trying to list the best of what I have experienced.



Eros Spa-- Hilton Mayur Vihar

This was one of the best spa experiences I have had, but then I am being biased because it was for the first time I indulged in a couple massage with my hubby at the couple suite of the six-month old spa. Though we have visited spas together earlier somehow we could never get a massage done together cause either the spa didn't have a couple suite or was booked or under renovation. And oh baby what was I missing out on! Not only was it rejuvenating and heavenly but a lot of fun too. While I got a soothing slumber massage done, hubby opted for the hot stone massage. It was also for the first time I was getting a massage done that involved a 'wrap'. But the high point was definitely the herbal jacuzzi bath that we went for (of course together).

All in all it was quite a treat. Must visit. And though a heavy dinner or lunch is not recommended after a spa massage, it would be foolish to go all the way to this property and not have the sumptuous buffet meal. Rules can be broken once in a while...go for it!

Espa-- Hotel Leela

Ok so you expect quite a bit when you are heading to a Spa that's an international brand. I had heard quite a bit about Espa, before I finally decided to get one done there. And because it was Espa it had to be their Signature Massage that involved hot stone therapy. So did it meet all the expectations? No! Because it clearly exceeded expectations that I had. I am greedy...I don't like a 60-minute wham-bham-thank you mam massage. I want the sessions to be long (yes like good sex). The good thing about the signature massage was that it included all the rituals from foot massage to hot-stone therapy to a facial. A good massage should linger on even after you are done with it. Even today when I hear Espa, I can feel the imported hot stones rubbing my back, relaxing it's every muscle.

Spa at the Oberoi Rajvilas

It's the epitome of hospitality. The efficacy of the hotel staff seems to have rubbed on the spa services too. Years ago (I think it was 2006), I got a massage done at the Trident, Gurgaon-- another star of a property from the Oberoi stable. The massage at Trident was brilliant to say the least. But that was the time when their spas were run by Banyan Tree, so I wasn't surprised when the masseur grinded apples and fresh tomatoes right in front of my eyes while I was lying on the bed for the massage, and rubbed them vigorously on my body. That was new to me, but then it was Banyan Tree!

At Rajvilas, couple of months back I wasn't sure if I would still be surprised by their standards, as the hotel runs the spa themselves now after the contract with the Banyan Tree added. My doubts were rebuffed. I have never loved the masseur so much! She pressed all the points to ease the stress-- that's what I call Art. I dozed off --  it was better than good night's sleep.

GENIE IN A BOTTLE

On the Holi weekend, sometime in March, I visited the Fratelli Vineyard in Akluj near Pune. It was a nice wine weekend that I spent at Fratelli's vineyard. I was also quite lucky to have met Arjunsinh Mohite-Patil personally...he's a lovely host besides being a suave businessman. Here is the travelogue that I wrote for the Footloose page recounting my experience.


Vishakha Talreja Guha
Posted online: 2012-03-25 01:41:11+05:30

What does one expect from a weekend stay at a property bang in the middle of a vineyard? Some great wine and dine options and ample free time to relax. But what I didn’t expect was a voguish guesthouse, with interiors I would fall in love with, fun ATV and bicycle rides amidst plush vineyards and impeccable hospitality at a home-like guesthouse. Nor did I expect to see, from close quarters, a bunch of passionate men working odd-hours to make their wines. And that’s what made my recent visit to Fratelli Vineyards in Akluj, Maharashtra, an experience that goes beyond wines.

After a four-hour road trip from Pune to Akluj and binging on Maharashtrian cuisine en route, I reached the Fratelli Winery. Even before I could reach my spacious room that had French windows, which opened to gardens overlooking the splendid vineyards, I bumped into the Italian promoters of Fratelli, Alessio Secci and viticulturist Piero Masi, who were busy tasting their wines, since the wee hours. It was six in the evening, and for almost 12 hours the two men were busy just tasting grape juice in its every form! Wine is serious business, and a tough one at that.

Every wine bottle has history packed in it. Three sets of brothers—Andrea and Alessio Secci from Italy, Delhi-based Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and locals from Akluj, Ranjitsinh and Arjunsinh Mohite-Patil, came together to make wines of international standards right here in India. That’s how Fratelli, which means brothers in Italian, happened. Famous viticulturist Piero Masi was taken on-board (and even has a stake in the company) to create wines that followed Italian tradition, but were cent percent Indian in their making.
For long Indian wines, mostly tucked at the end of the wine menus offered by restaurants, have been sneered at. But gradually the domestic brands are coming-of-age and gaining prominence among their European and American counterparts. And with some Indian wines being seriously considered ‘good’ by many a wine sommeliers the attention is also turning to Indian vineyards. I spent a morning visiting vineyards of Fratelli, Motewadi, Nimgaon and Garwad, that span 240 acres. I was told that around 3,50,000 wine saplings were specially handpicked by Piero Masi and his team, imported from France and Italy and planted at this acreage. I was also lucky to witness one of the late harvests, as the harvest season that kicks in January ends usually by the end of February. Even though best international practices are followed at the vineyard, what caught my attention was how locals were involved in the process, and women of nearby villages meticulously worked on 12 different varieties of grapes that were being grown. Now, this is truly glocal. The supervisor at the vineyard told me that while many wineries in India sourced grapes from contract farmers, at Fratelli, quality is the benchmark that sets them apart, and hence all processes, right from farming are undertaken directly by the company.

After soaking in the natural beauty of the vineyard, it was time to visit the state-of-the-art winery where crushing, fermentation, bottling, labelling and everything-in-between is done to produce the finest of wines. Here, too, I bumped into the two Italian men, Secci and Masi, and local promoter Arjun Mohite-Patil, with their clothes stained with grape juice, inspecting the imported Velo tanks. As we took the tour of the winery, Secci told me how the corridor will soon be adorned with paintings from both Indian and Italian artists and even a restaurant is in the works at the winery, that would offer both the cuisines!

Being a relatively new winery and a brand that was launched in the market roughly 15 months back, the cellar is not monumental, but cosy enough where Fratelli's top-end red wine Sette and other red varieties are ageing in oaks. Interestingly, you can buy a bottle of Sette personalised for you with a label that has your name or anything that you wish to have on it! The only hitch is that you have to order at least 100 bottles to own it. As the new kid-on-the-block Fratelli is promoting wine tourism to enhance wine culture in the country, but there is more it has on its platter. This year, besides Sette, it will be introducing its sparkling wine and dessert wine, upping the number of its offering to 12 from 10 at present.

A chic wine-tasting room, spacious recreation and lounge hall with an open kitchen thrown in for guests to cook or order, as they please—the Fratelli experience spells hospitality. So you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur exactly to enjoy the experience.

On day two we had lunch at the Syrah hilltop amidst the picturesque settings of the Garwad vineyards. It was a 15 minute drive uphill on a bumpy road that only an SUV can tread. But the mesmerising view coupled with some fruity and refreshing Chenin Blanc and smooth Sangiovese later, made it all worth it. At lunch I met a retired couple who drove down from Pune to spend a day at the winery and get some hands-on knowledge about the art of wine making. They looked pleased, especially so because they bought a day-package that included lunch and wine-tasting on a daily deal website for a mere R1,500.
Wine tourism is a genie in a bottle waiting to pop out, with even daily deal websites tapping the space, I thought as I sipped Chardonnay that was not perfect, but a good match for Indian food and the sweltering weather. Only love is probably more intoxicating than wine, but it doesn’t matter as long as you have the love of wine.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Biking in Barcelona

: As an inquisitive traveller I often wonder what's the best way to explore a city, on foot, hopping on to a tourist bus or just following a guide. While I am sure everyone has an opinion on this, on a trip to Spain I discovered a biking trip around Barcelona was immense fun. Of course, this was after I had done the usual touristy stuff—from taking the hop-on-hop-off bus to walking down the bustling La Ramblas boulevard to shopping at the high-end Passeig De Gracia street.
 
One morning, impressed by a colourful pamphlet on display in the hotel lobby, I decided to get more from Gaudi's city by taking a bicycle tour. It was as easy as walking down to the departure point, Hard Rock Cafe in my case, ten minutes prior to the tour. That's the story of how I met my bike. Of course, the best was yet to come.

After being assigned our geared cycles, a bottle of water and a ten-minute chat during which our vivacious tour guide Elizabeth outlined the sights that we would be visiting, we were ready to go with our machines. The mini-tour had 14 of us, and it was quite a motley group—complete with honeymooning couple, family of four, teenagers and college friends.

As I peddled down the streets of Barcelona, I realised how bike-friendly the city was—bicycle lanes and structured traffic. The roads were a delight as much as the sights and sounds of the Spanish city. What else could one ask for on a winter morning.

Our first stop was the popular tourist attraction Sagrada Familia. While Elizabeth filled us in on the unfinished marvel, we leaned on our cycles, our eyes hooked to the church, appreciating its sheer magnitude and architecture. The work on Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece is still on. The construction is not supported by any government or official church sources. Private patrons funded the initial stages and now it is being funded through revenue from tourists tickets and private donations. Indeed, it's not just architecture, but the history and controversy that makes this UNESCO site so fascinating.

After the church, it was time to hit the roads again, heading towards Barcelona's Central Park, Parc de la Ciutadella. While we crossed main roads for Sagrada, riding in close proximity with cars and other vehicles, now it was mainly pavements and smaller back lanes. That's where I had my Bollywood moment, riding in the midst of serene lanes dotted with maple oaks. The destination was equally picturesque. The right time to get the camera out and go trigger happy...clicking people, trees and the famous fountain. The park gave us some empty tracks too, where we could cycle around in abandon. Olympic cyclist John Howard was so right when he said that the bicycle is a curious vehicle—it's passenger is its engine.

But it was our next stop that completed the holiday. Yes, the beach! It's fun to ride in a group, but only if you are careful not to bump into each other. So there were some falls and giggles in between. We reached the Barcelona Olympic Port, which has a man-made beach—Barceloneta Beach—as the the area was fully regenerated before the 1992 Olympic games. The weather was perfect...the sun shining bright, but a cool breeze too that didn't make atmosphere humid. No wonder the beach was bustling with people—some taking a stroll, some eating at restaurants that abound on the beach and some just playing with their pets and children. Indeed, no holiday is complete without the sun, sand and beer! The icing on the cake was that our tour included a free drink. We parked our cycles in a corner and the group sat down to enjoy beers and cocktails. I opted for a San Miguel, a Filipino beer which is quite popular (and cheap) in Spain. After a sip, I knew this was to be my poison fore the rest of the vacation. After the beach, we headed back to Plaza Catalunya, crossing Barceloneta district and riding down the Diagnol Mar.

Walking back to the hotel, I thought how in the Bollywood flick, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the three lead actors who indulge in all kind of adventures were not shown riding a bicycle. I wondered if they tried cycling on the streets of Barcelona while shooting there. And if they didn't, well they really missed out on something!