It was time to explore…Back to Delhi but now to try out a new hotel ( or a new hotel for me!) so I decided to try another favourite hotel chain the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guests) Property. Now you’ll remember i’ve had some wonderful trips with SPG in the past- In Naka Island, In Athens and even in Amsterdam to name a few but hadn’t really stayed in any SPG property in India…so it was definitely time for me to try one out!
We were checked in at the Westin Gurgaon and I upgraded myself to a Royal Suite… After all I love a bit of luxury, even if it was a work trip… I thought I might as well indulge myself a little. The lobby was kind of disappointing- cold and aloof ,I was a little worried as to what my room might be like.
There was absolutely no need to worry. the Royal Suite is exquisite. With a large living room, complete with a sit down area , dining table and bar to entertain – it is MASSIVE! With a glorious view of the bustling Gurgaon below! Straight past our living room was a beautiful bedroom with the much talked about ‘Heavenly Bed!’ The Westin prides itself on their Heavenly beds and I must say after a fabulously restful night I can understand what the fuss is all about! The room was massive but still had the personal touches of a Nespresso coffee machine,a media centre and freshly baked cookies and savoury items that were sent to our room every few hours.
The pool is rather small but surrounded by lush greenery. Compared to the starkness of the Westin structure it is rather oasis like and therefore attractive. The spa is far too hidden and tucked away and was a bit too secluded and low lit for me ! 🙂
A couple of meetings and a rather hectic day later, I found myself in the Westin Lounge. A two level lounge, don’t sit on the second level. the food stations, servers are all on Level 1. The cocktail hour and snacks had everything from sushi to fried chicken more than made up for my long day! Ending it ensconced in a gloriously large bath tub with the perfect scented salts completely revived me and I was back to the lounge later that evening for a warm cup of green tea and some biscuits!
My one day trip to Delhi was made less hurried and a lot more fun with this quick luxury break and the Westin Gurgaon! Definitely one of my new favourites!
Cost-:Approximately $500 upwards… UPGRADE yourself especially if you have family or need a relaxing break ! Definitely worth it especially if you have work in Gurgaon…!
Best times to Travel-: September to November and February for cool weather. Delhi is awfully hot in Summer and bitterly cold in winter… I like the monsoon as well but with the traffic on the road, its fun watching the Delhi monsoon from inside a room rather than from outside!
From Vivanta by Taj Malabar to Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom you can take a boat. Close to an hour either way, we decided to opt for a drive considering we were doing a backwaters boat trip the same evening.I’m glad we took the drive because it was wonderful to see Aditya’s photograph featured on one of the small shops we passed. Part of an old Peter England campaign, he was smiling down at us! Super cool!
Great start to the day , the day was going to get even better. In the midst of a slice of green heaven the Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom almost merges in with the surroundings. Small quaint cottages banks of Vembanad Lake , private sit outs, bicycles to get you around the property…this property bring s you back to nature but still keeps in mind the luxury needs of it’s guests.We were welcomed in by Prince the F & B Director who we’d previously met when we had stayed at the Vivanta by Taj Maldives. We were famished , so grabbed a quick bite and headed to our rooms. The property is enormous so I’d recommend borrowing a bicycle from their bicycle shed and traveling around the property whenever you need to. It’s fun, it’s relaxing and you get to explore the entire property.
Our cottage was beautifully furnished and tastefully decorated. With a massive bedroom, lovely sit out and even an outdoor shower- ‘luxury rustic’ became the way I defined the hotel and my room.
A quick nap later we were off on a gorgeous cruise amidst the backwater. The mangrove plants had made it difficult for the boat to come to the hotel so we took the boat from just across the hotel and marveled at the expanse of the lake which merged into the sea while the sun set.
Prince knows me and penchant for romantic dinners and so a table was set with a special menu created just for Aditya and I on the banks of the lake where we could listen to some live music and eat undisturbed surrounded by just gorgeous swaying palms and listening to the fish as they leapt about in the lake below… The dinner was superb. The chef here is EXCELLENT so definitely come prepared with an appetite! The food is marvelous!
The lake is lit at night thanks to the local Kerala women who are hired by the hotel to light up the lake at sunset…With gorgeous divas the lake looks so auspicious and divine in the night as you walk by the banks!
The following morning after cycling to breakfast we fed some of the ducks and watched as the turtles came to feed on the banks of the lake. I fed a few and I must confess I had never really thought of turtles as hungry or greedy! Cute, very greedy and very friendly…this was a wonderful experience.
Our trip to Kumarakom was short, romantic and an idyllic relaxing getaway. Far away from the madness and noise of the city we found peace, calm, cycles and ducks 🙂 and had the perfect short break!
Cost-:$300 onwards but remember with very limited rooms… book well in advance… They tend to ALWAYS be full up !
Best Times to Travel-: November to February has great weather… we did Valentines day at Kumarakom and we had a pleasant, slightly chilly evening! Perfect!
Set amidst luscious palms with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour is the glorious Vivanta by Taj Malabar. The heritage wing awaited us and in true Kerala fashion – without any fuss – we were shown to our room. Soon enough all the senior hotel members arrived- all to say hello to my father, a frequent visitor and suddenly after my Dad made the introductions- Aditya and I were also welcomed , in true Taj fashion , as family!
The rooms are modern, spacious and comfortable. The Heritage rooms with their gorgeous view of the bay and the balcony’s are easily the best rooms in the hotel! We quickly freshened up and headed to Pepper, the all day restaurant for lunch! The buffet was wonderful. I am not a fan of buffets, but this buffet had not only a wide selection but the taste of the different cuisines was also authentic- a refreshing change from buffets which often either have a limited selection , or only focus on one type of cuisine.
What I loved about this hotel was also their tea service which happened every evening where tea, cakes and some snacks were offered to all their guests on the lawn while you could watch the sun set in the bay. This is complimentary and from tasty, strong south Indian coffee, to coconut water, green tea and even the cappuccino – they give you your choice of beverage and always have some tasty snacks. after a long day of sightseeing this was always a high point in the evening!
And then ofcourse there is the Jiva Spa. With it’s traditional Ayurvedic massages and services- this Jiva Spa looked after the wellness of the guest completely. A session was not just limited to an hour. The session consisted of a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, treatments, massages and a follow up. It is not surprising therefore that people from across the world come here for 10 and 15 days for weight loss and wellness Ayurvedic programs at the Jiva Spa.
With an eternity pool that almost dissolves in to the bay and in the midst of the swaying palm trees and silence of nature- it’s easy to get lost in the magnificence of Kerala, the beautiful serenity, the meditative calm and the glorious beauty of God’s own country.
It was good to be home.
Best Time To Travel-: Winter… else Kerala does get very hot during the summer… December , Jan and Feb are ideal unless of course you are like my husband and love watching the glorious Kerala monsoon in June and July where the trees come alive…. (but you can do little else!)
Cost-:$200 onwards. But remember HERITAGE ROOMS- and you MUST TRY THE JIVA SPA!
I had stayed in all the Taj properties in Chennai save for the Taj Club House. I’d been there for my cousin’s wedding prior to it’s opening ….but I’d never seen the rooms or the restaurants or the services so when I got the chance to travel to Chennai and stay at the the Taj Club House on Clubhouse road for a show (FourSome!) , minutes away from Chennai’s historic Mount Road…I jumped at the opportunity!
Modern, young and still looking spanking new…the hotel stands like an oasis pristine towering above Chennai’s noisy, busy roads below. You enter the lobby and immediately you seem cocooned and calm. On the left is a small coffee area with cakes and pastries.
The rooms are the most modern I’ve seen among the new Taj properties. Well spaced, comfortable and wonderfully in tune with a guest’s need, it’s easy to see why this hotel has so many long stay guests!
Go up to the swimming pool and enjoy taking laps across the pool after a quick exercise at the huge , very well equipped gym ; it’s wonderful to enjoy a quick cuppa and watch the city as it slowly starts winding down. Lights come on , the sun goes down and in this mad, mad ,frenetic metro you are left feeling a funny,warm sense of peace!
The Indian restaurant-Beyond Indus, in the lobby area is exceptional. Interesting kebabs, pre-plated indian meals made for a truly tasty and quite exotic meal..The food was light (unlike Indian food often is), perfectly spiced and truly delicious!
The Moroccan-Lebnanese restaurant on the rooftop, Kefi, is also interesting but not a patch on my favourite Lebanese restaurant back home in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace… SOUK!
But the ones that must be mentioned is the high energy bar Blend serving fun cocktails and fabulous tapas….A couple of years ago Chennai had no nightlife but I have to say Blend started rocking post 10:30 p.m. and continued rocking till the wee hours of the morning!
The fabulous Sunday brunch at the Club House (the 24 hour restaurant) was also sublime! Packed tables, live singing and more live stations than you could count- The Taj Club House easily has one of the best brunches I have ever seen and going by the turnout – you’d better get there early else you’ll never find space!
A newly opened Jiva Spa gives me one more reason to go back…
See you soon Chennai… see you soon Taj Club House!
It’s annoying I can’t find more photographs… this is definitely a property that deserves many, many photographs! :)…
Best Time To Travel-: November to February…else it does get very hot and muggy!
Cost-:$150- $200 a night…well worth it! Modern, fresh and yummy!
Pompeii and Vesuvius are MUST -DO Trips from Naples. They’re not very far – Vesuvius is about 9 km from Naples and Pompeii 8 odd kms from it. The tour we booked was a small group tour on Viator and we found that Viator for the most part, gave us great deals and interesting tours! The tour started post a fabulous, filling breakfast at our beautiful hotel and soon we were on our way. We had barely 8 people on the tour and it was a small, quick bus ride to Pompeii.
I have never been particularly interested in history but had wanted to go to Pompeii and am so glad I did. The few hours that we spent in Pompeii took me to another time. The ruins are so well preserved and the city so incredibly planned , it takes almost no imagination to transport yourself to a forgotten time and to the 7th- 6th Century BC where this city flourished and thrived! Well laid out roads , perfect shop fronts with little houses on top, schools, gladiator training areas and theatres; the planning then was infinitely better than in some of our modern cities even now! Our guide was knowledgeable and interesting and I could imagine the life of a Roman man as he came to work in the city of Pompeii. I stared in awe at the amphitheater and marveled at the Roman spa. I saw holes in the footpath where horses could be tied to ‘park’ them. The vision and foresight was incredible ! I was amazed that a pizza oven even back then looks so similar to a pizza oven now. I also loved how the roads were tilted so that water and dirt could be swept downwards. Should you need to pass there were three rocks at regular intervals for you to walk across. Shopkeepers had a store front facing the road and most lived just above their store. Traders and visitors would come early in the day for trade into Pompeii and after trading through the day , eat lunch in the city. Then it was time for the spa and based on your status in society you’d move to the spa meant for you. Steam rooms and sauna rooms were still preserved and because the day we traveled was a particularly sunny day- I suddenly wished to have a quick plunge myself! They also had mosaic tiles which were still there.Bright and colorful- you could see that Romans really lived life King size!
Then there were also the brothels where in case you didn’t understand the language images were painted on the walls and you could choose what you’d like to do with the prostitute of your choice! An incredibly interesting time and an even more eye-opening experience for me!
What was also really fun were the drinking water taps all carved with Gods and Goddesses with the taps becoming the mouths- they also served as road names and helped in directions for the city. it was also interesting to see the water wells had a small indent for the left hand allowing you to drink with your right.It’salso interesting to note that the water can still be drunk and is drinkable even today!
Molds of people who died during the eruption can also be seeing which gives you an idea of how truly horrible that explosion was!
We saw temples and Piazzas(squares),remnants of a time once forgotten but so ahead of it’s time in planning and in structure, you couldn’t help but imagine what if? What if Vesuvius hadn’t erupted? What if the city hadn’t been lost? A tragic loss.I was privileged to have been able to gain just a little bit of insight into history. This is an absolute MUST DO on any trip to Naples!
And then after a quick pizza it was off to Mount Vesuvius. Here the tour got a little less interactive. You were now advised to trek on your own and meet back in an hour. Vesuvius is an active volcano and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. The climb is steep and the black volcanic mud makes climbing tricky. They offer sticks to help climb- take them! Even if you think you can do without them – they help you keep your footing firm. I didn’t take them- I regretted it! The climb is long with very few (almost none) stops to catch a breath. It gets hot. So wear comfortable clothes and very comfortable shoes. The walk down is also tricky because the black sand slips and moves quite a bit. You can also see a black river of ash from Vesuvius which gives you an idea of how the ash and steam moved down from the volcano! Truly terrifying!
An active volcano, a lost city, a dramatic past- history came to life for me that day!
Price Factor-: About $120 for the day trip! Absolutely worth it!
Dress-: Comfortably with very , very comfortable shoes and carry lots of water.
Best times to travel-: August to October.
So anyone who knows me at all…and all those who don’t know me but have read stuff that I’ve written- you’d probably know that it doesn’t take much for me to want to travel…I can make occasions out of almost anything and in my mind celebrations are occasions and are the perfect time to do something different, to travel, to explore, to dream and to make dreams come true!
It was the husband’s birthday last year and in true Divya-mystery style , I told him to take leave from work- ” I was going to kidnap him!” is what I said! And that’s totally what I planned! The Ultimate Kidnap! Nothing was bought via his Credit card. Bookings were done on email and via the phone and Aditya who was delighted about the kidnapping stayed happily oblivious to all my intricate plans!
Now Aditya had only been very briefly to Rajasthan once when in school. It had been quick , short and unmemorable and he’d always talked of wanting to go back- to see the palaces. I have spent more than a few vacations in the Palaces of Rajasthan but this was a trip and a surprise I wanted to give him…so it was up to me to try and ensure that the trip catered to HIS very specific tastes and so I went ahead and did my research! The Palace I chose was the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur.
The Taj Lake Palace has always been one of my favourite palaces. A white , carved beauty almost arising like a lotus from the lake- the Lake Palace was a palace used by the Royals for dancing, music and merriment. The Lake Palace stands proudly amidst Lake Pichola with the beautiful Aravalli range helping create the most picture-perfect backdrop!
The flights from Mumbai are limited and the one we took was rather early in the morning (3:30 or 4 am ish) so despite it being a short flight; both of us were quite exhausted! Udaipur airport is almost a shell structure with only basic facilities and I was happy to quickly get out!
All our exhaustion vanished the minute we stepped outside! A beautiful, heritage car had come to pick us up and Aditya was almost jumping in glee as he carefully examined the beautiful car! The car ride was full of ‘I don’t believe it’s’….and ‘What’s next?’s’ and before we knew it we were at the pier ready to take a boat to the fabulous Palace that stood gleaming majestically in the early rays of the morn!
The trip I had planned would be a trip fit for a King! After all my wonderful husband is my King and he deserves nothing less…so as we arrived we were ushered into one of the Palace suites! The suite was beautiful- a two level suite with all our bedroom windows overlooking the beautiful lake. The room was perfect- opulent , rich and comfortable and the minute our heads hit the bed we were off to sleep!
But there had been much planning that had gone into this Celebration and so in a few hours I woke my husband to take him off for a special Spa session. Aditya loves spas, food, water and a relaxed break and I’m usually the total opposite- loving cities, noise, adventure and fun BUT this was Aditya’s celebrations and the plans were geared to him the time of his life! And the spa treatment did just that. With an outdoor spa bed overlooking the lake as the sun started setting, even I had to admit that there was no way that city noise could compete with the beautiful serenity of that moment! We relaxed. We talked. We de-stressed.
After some fabulous green tea, we grudgingly left the spa but started exploring the hotel. As soon as we found the beautiful pool we couldn’t hold ourselves back! We jumped in! A refreshing swim later- it was back to the room to dress for dinner!
Now with the help of the hotel I had chosen some Unique Royal Dining Experiences for Aditya and me and our first was at the beautiful Lily Pond. A table had been set and our personal butler escorted us to our table where a musician regaled us with live music as we had traditional Rajasthani food sipping champagne under a beautiful moonlit sky! When we returned back to our room, our Butler had thoughtfully put out a cake, some more champagne and lit up the room so wonderfully – it must have taken him our entire dinner to have been able to make the room look so spectacular ! We cut Aditya’s birthday cake and finally called it a night!
Breakfast on the birthday morning was very special as well. I had pre-ordered breakfast and this was brought to a small garden outside our room and set up just for us! After a late night and with plenty of exciting plans today- this was a wonderful start for us!
Breakfast over we headed back to the Pier where we had a Vintage car waiting to take us on a tour of the city. Stopping at a few select stores , we took a long break at a collection of the Maharaja’s cars. All restored. All spectacular. All drool worthy ! Now it was back to the hotel and a short heritage walk around the Palace. As that ended we were escorted back to the Upstairs spa ( my request after seeing how calm Aditya had been the previous day) and a new spa treatment. Equally relaxing and fabulous…this time we chose to just let the moment take control and slowly drifted off only to be awakened at the end of the treatment with warm tea.
Now it was time for my HUGE SURPRISE and the reason why i had chosen we come to Udaipur! The Lake Palace owns and looks after the boat that was seen in the Bond movie Octopussy- the Gangaur! Aditya is a film buff and I knew it would be worth the extra expense to give him a birthday surprise he’d never have dreamed possible- dinner on the boat!The boat is kept in the middle of the lake and holds 10-20 guests but I booked it for just the 2 of us! A magnificent multi course meal on the lake had been booked while my Bond enjoyed the sunset, starters drinks and meal that I had pre-planned for him! The boat was decked exquisitely. With red carpets and 10 butlers , we were looked after like royalty. Both of us headed to the upper deck where a gadda (comfortable , padded mat) had been placed with cushions and we surveyed the whole city as it lay before us.
As drinks finished and the sun set, the boat had maneuvered around some ruins on the main land under the City Palace. Suddenly they came to life and were lit up with beautiful girls doing incredible dances among the ruins. Fabulous music, dances with fire and we felt like Maharjas (I too felt rather King-like!) watching courtesans dance as they might have done decades ago. This had been done especially for us and I was delighted when I saw Aditya’s happy surprise! The meal was served upstairs as we were so comfortable relaxing despite having seen a beautiful , intimate table set up downstairs on the boat. The food was a collection of kebabs, dals , biryanis and curries -each more delicious than the next, each more decadent than the next!
And then as the boat turned once again we saw the beautifully lit Mohan Mandir ( the temple island) and as it turned again Birthday fireworks erupted in the air once again especially for us! The excitement in the air was electric and we were really privileged to have been part of such a wonderful, well thought out experience. As dessert was served (once again a medley of all Aditya’s favourites) we wound down to live Indian music being played by our very own musicians on the boat (once again a special experience just for us!).
And then like a dream the evening ended and we floated back to our suite dreaming of the Rajasthani Royal past and grateful that we were able to have some of the experiences!
My husband felt like a King and I was proud to have been able to make him feel like that! Udaipur is the crown among Royal Rajasthani palaces and the Taj Lake Palace- the Kohinoor!
Price Factor-: Udaipur as a city is inexpensive for traditional Rajasthani handicrafts and materials. The hotels however are expensive and are traditionally between $320- $ 420 per night.
Best times to travel-: Dessert climes…so October thru to March is great to travel in though we had a wonderful time last July as well!