Monday, July 23, 2012


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.


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!