Tag Archives: hotel

India Pt 5: Turtle trains & Ramshackle Chic Lodgings

28 Jan

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

I peered out the window of the moving train to see the oddest sight: a jeep filled with ten, terribly squished passengers speeding past, its occupants smiling and waving at us.

This was unusual mainly for the following reason: a jeep so laden down with body weight was still going faster than our train.

The boy and I had finally decided to say our goodbyes to Darjeeling, having had a wonderful three day break in the little town. But instead of taking the speedy route of a shared taxi down the hill 32km to Kurseong – our next stop – we opted for a lumbering and hilariously slow train journey instead.

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

At first, we thought it would be a quaint way to travel. It was to take three hours to cover the short distance but – with the turtle-slow traveling – we figured we’d get the chance to enjoy the views down the mountain in a wonderfully relaxed manner and all at the low price of around £3 each for “first class” tickets (this relating to the ancient, dusty seats covered in a carpet-like material that were an upgrade from the wooden benches in “second class”).

But, as soon as we boarded, we realised our mistake – we’d forgotten how much people in all parts of India love to use horns. While we’d only experienced this in cars, as it turned out, the same logic goes for trains.

That’s right – THREE hours of a blasting, blaring train horn.

So much for a laid-back journey!

One of the many shops one passes a few feet away from on the Darjeeling-Kurseong route.

One of the many shops one passes a few feet away from on the Darjeeling-Kurseong route.

But, regardless, the trip was incredibly memorable. The old diesel locomotive runs along a frighteningly narrow track that zig-zags back and forth across the main road. This seemed to be the primary reason why the conductor had to blast his horn constantly – to stop distracted drivers plowing into the side of the carriages. When the train wasn’t trailing over the roadway, it mainly traveled alongside it, giving us a good view of the inside of the jeeps that beeped their way past. As we lumbered our way downhill, villagers would come out of their houses to wave at us, while dogs howled at the horn. At times, we passed so close to shops and houses, we could have easily leaned out the window for a packet of crisps or a pair of pants off a laundry line. It was – quite possibly – the oddest journey I have ever taken.

"The most tourist friendly hill station in the world."

“The most tourist friendly hill railway in the world.”

When finally we arrived in Kurseong – which labels itself the “most tourist friendly hill railway in the world” for reasons unbeknownst to the boy and I – we were longing for some peace and quiet.

P1170437We’d made reservations at Cochrane Place – a hotel on the town’s outskirts. Since we weren’t spending the extra money on a trip up to Sikkim, we thought we’d treat ourselves to a couple of nights of more upscale lodging.

The hotel was formerly the home of British colonial Percy John Cochrane who acted as the area’s magistrate in the early 20th century. It has been restored to house a wide variety of individually decorated, slightly ramshackle rooms and has a restaurant on-site, which made for easy dining.

At the back of the first floor was our room – am expansive, two-floored deluxe space with lounge, bedroom and a balcony that overlooked nearby houses and mountains. We even had a teddy bear to greet us.

King Kong anyone? Odd decor at Cochrane Place.

King Kong anyone? Eccentric decor at Cochrane Place.

But despite the more upscale space and welcoming soft toy, everything about Cochrane Place felt slightly haunted – from the old abandoned games room, to the colonial pictures on the walls and strange antique dolls in cabinets.

And, while at the hotel I can honestly say I experienced something that will haunt me for years to come – a stick massage.

Billed by management as a local treatment, I expected a “stick massage” to use, well, sticks, that would likely be rolled up and down my spine or arms to help the masseuse work out tough knots. Given I’d had 10 days of lugging around a heavy backpack, it seemed like just the thing that would relax me.

But oh how I was wrong. A stick massage is – quite literally – a massage that uses different shaped wooden instruments that are hit against the skin in a tapping manner to stimulate the nerves. As I lay on the bed, fully clothed, and had sticks rattled against me like a drum for an hour, I realised it probably would have been best to confirm how this massage was done before agreeing to it.

I’ve never seen the boy look so happy to have missed out on something than when I regaled him with the tale of being rat-a-tat-tapped for 60 long minutes.

Local tea workers off for lunch.

Local tea workers off for lunch.

The bizarre nature of Cochrane Place was, however, one of its most charming aspects. We would dine each afternoon and evening with a different group of guests in the large dining room, chatting about our travels and asking them where they had been, while looking out towards the sparkling, lit up hills where thousands of strangers were likely eating their meals in their homes. In the daytime, we trekked around tea estates and up long, winding hills near the hotel.

Both it and the train journey will stick with the boy and I for years to come – and, sometimes, that’s what traveling is best for: experiencing the unexpected!

In Part 6, the boy and I head south for our last leg around Kerala and fall head over heels for Varkala.

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Highland Adventure: The Torridon

29 Apr

“I don’t want to leave,” I whined to the boy as I looked at the purple hued mountains that had finally cleared of mist.

“C’mon,” he said, grabbing my hand and nearly dragging me along the pavement due to my feet having firmly frozen themselves to the tarmac.

The Torridon Hotel at Loch Torridon

The day before we’d arrived at The Torridon hotel, which sits at the base of Loch Torridon in the far west of Scotland. A former stately home, the space has been converted into one of the most blissful places I have ever rested my head.

With crackling fires that beckon you in from the cold, to cosy drawing rooms filled with chess sets and walls lined with whisky, the Torridon exudes a certain level of relaxed opulence I have yet to find elsewhere in my travels.

The warming entrance with smoky, crackling fireplace.

In our room, which looked out onto the vast mountain landscape, was a bed so plush and high, I had to do a little leap up to get onto it. In the bathroom, a roll-top bath and REN products awaited to warm my bones, chilled from the feisty Highland air.

The view from our room at The Torridon

After settling in, we – like every guest – were treated to some lovely hot coffee and shortcake in the comfort of the drawing room. Tastefully decorated and holding on to a certain “classic” charm, the room is a welcome space to sit back in the large leather chairs and look out onto the manicured and misty gardens out front.

Coffee & delicious delights awaited us in the drawing room.

The Torridon has 58 acres at its disposal, which include long walking paths, gardens and a lochside boating launch. The boy and I put on our walking shoes and headed around the squelchy paths, taking in the fresh air so uncommonly found in Londontown. A kitchen garden, filled to the brim with various herbs, spices and veggies, was reassuring: everything that can be grown for the food served at the hotel’s AA three Rosette restaurant will be. That includes the friendly, shaggy highland cattle which munch happily nearby, not knowing their fate but at least allowed to roam and be as natural as any creature should be if it’s going to be eaten. There is a separate inn onsite which includes a pub. As it was Sunday, the boy and I stopped in for a swift pre-dinner pint – a perfect remedy after all that muddy trekking.

A Highland Cattle soft toy in our room - just as cute as the real version!

But the final and, potentially, most rewarding part of the evening came with dinner: five courses of delectable delights starting with the sweetest mini eggs benedict amuse-bouche and a starter of creamy, sweet almond soup. A starter of handmade, juicy lobster and crab ravioli, and mains of tender guinea fowl and the best sea bass fillet I’ve ever had, followed.

The delicate yet fully flavoured food of the Torridon.

After dinner, over a raucous game of chess and a cheese platter, I sat back and thought about the day – how far we’d traveled in the rain and how warm I felt now. I can truly say, the stress had completely left me by this point and I think it was the most relaxed I’d felt in months.

Chess and cheese: my kind of night!

Next time, I become shaky with nerves over the bends along the Applecross Way, feel weepy at the sight of the Isle of Skye Bridge, try some amazing Talisker whisky and land at another delightful hotel…

Thank you to the Torridon for hosting the boy and I. For more information on the hotel, its activities and rates, visit: http://www.thetorridon.com

Highland Adventure: Monster Hunting

26 Apr

“Don’t go onto the moors,” quipped the boy in hysterical voice as we drove through a particularly craggy area of northwest Scotland.

Rolling my eyes to look confident, I quickly looked out the car window to see if there were any boogeymen following us.

“We’re not in Yorkshire m’dear,” I responded once clear we were not being tracked.

You see, northern Scotland has this effect. It’s misty and rocky, slightly desolate and, in our experience, often grey. But, like Ireland, it has a certain appeal in its darkness.

We’d arrived in the Highlands the night before having stopped off in Inverness after a very long train journey up from London. The town was lovely – quaint and proudly Scottish, with a compact castle sitting atop the hill and the crystal clear River Ness running through.

The view of Inverness Castle from our room at the Columba Hotel

But, being keen to get into the countryside, we headed off early the next day to see just what this part of Britain had to offer.

Driving south along the B852 we took the less-touristy way around Loch Ness, determined as we were to find some monsters. If you’re in this area, skip the west side of the Loch (with its wider road and hoards of traffic) and opt for the thin, winding road along the east side of the Loch. It’s quieter and the road rises into the hills, allowing a dramatic views from up high.

A grey day over Loch Ness

After driving back up the west side of the Loch (which one must do to connect to the direct route west) we were taken through more beige and rusty red landscapes, along slim roads where one must pull into small passing points constantly. For those not raised in the UK and who are used to wide highways for most of your driving, this will probably raise a few hairs on the back of your neck – more so even than the thought of a monster wandering by. I’ll never get used to having to reverse on a roadway when another car comes careening around a corner and there isn’t enough room for both vehicles!

But, even with the fear, it was beautiful. Loch after shimmering loch appeared from out of nowhere, wedged between rolling hills and mountains still topped with fresh snow. Even looking at the scenes made me chilly and I suddenly understood better why the Scots love their whisky so much.

Mizzle was the order of the day in the Highlands.

And so, what better way to finish off a chilly drive, than to arrive at a hidden lochside turreted villa that rises out of seemingly nowhere? Surely, nothing…

Next time, the boy and I pet our dinner, squelch in the mud and discover a stunning Highland hotel…

Luxurious Lusciousness of a Palatial Stay

29 Feb

The rather opulent entrance for the Kempinski Hotel Dukes' Palace

It’s not every day you get to stay in a former palace. In fact, it’s really so much rarer than it was in, say, the 15th century.

So it was with great excitement that the boy and I recently headed to the Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace in Bruges. I was doing a review of it for the Arbuturian magazine and we were determined to soak in all the luxuriousness of the hotel’s surroundings during our stay.

Now, I’m not exaggerating. The hotel really is a former palace. It was built in the late 15th century by Philip the Good, a duke of Normandy, for his wife, Isabella of Portugal, and served as their family’s home until the 17th century.

More than 500 years on, after a six-year renovation, the hotel now acts as one of the top spots to stay in Bruges.

And it is a sight to see. With soaring turrets and a gold gated entrance, one feels regal just stepping onto the property grounds. Inside, a stretching, swirling staircase catches the eye, while a modern-art inspired bar and lounge await just off the entrance.

A relaxing lounge awaits guests of the hotel

Up the stairs, one finds floor after floor featuring extensive stained glass windows that look out onto the hotel’s frontage. I managed to catch a glimpse at sunset and, pausing in silent wonderment, I breathed a quiet sigh as the white tower began turning gold and pink.

The hotel's grand turret

On a tour of the hotel, I found the stained glass and historical elements continue throughout – downstairs sits a chapel, in which classical concerts are sometimes held. Every surface still holds frescoes painted when the palace was first built, while a gargantuan stained glass window flicks green, gold, blue and red lighting around the room through its panels.

Our room – in the old part of the hotel – reminded me of my own internalised visions of how the Tudors lived: over-sized feather bed, gold and red striped walls and lounge chairs, heavy bronze hanging drapes. The only difference: the Tudors were unlikely to have such a grand bathroom with soaker tub, rain shower and heated floors. Pure and utter opulence.

A giant pink poodle watches over the grounds

A look outside of the petite windows revealed an Alice in Wonderland scene: large tables sat amongst the trimmed green grounds flecked with snow, while a giant pink poodle (a recent installment) watched over it all.

The boy sits down to a brekkie fit for a king!

But one of the best parts came the next morning. Having never had room service in a 5* hotel before, I thought it would be a real treat to finish up our stay in Bruges. And so, as the boy and I sat in the plump chairs in our cushy bathrobes, drinking champagne and eating eggs, I realised this was about as pleasurable as it gets in a hotel. Or, I should say, as pleasurable as it gets in a palace.

The boy and I were guests of the Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace. For more information about the hotel, rates and history, see: http://www.kempinski.com/en/bruges/

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