Tag Archives: luxury

India Pt 8: Into the land of luxury

7 Mar
MarariArb2

The outdoor pool at Marari Beach Resort

After our experiences in Alleppey and Kollam, I had given up slightly on finding peace and relaxation in Kerala again. When finally we found a place to lay our heads after our less than enjoyable day of canoeing around the backwaters, we were exhausted and even a cold beer did little to assuage that.

But as a new day dawned, I confess a bit of excitement was creeping in – we were off to one of the top resorts in the region for a hotel review I was doing and had two more to experience after it for pieces which will appear soon on The Arbuturian.

Now, I know it sounds terrible – after all, we were there to experience ‘proper’ India, not ‘posh’ India – but the desire to drink a cold drink without fear of poisoning myself on dirty ice cubes and the hope of using a public loo that was clean had overtaken my best efforts to find beauty in the chaos.

A welcoming arrival awaited us in our cottage.

A welcoming arrival awaited us in our cottage.

The boy and I left behind our backwater hotel (the quite nice but very buggy Palm Grove Lake Resort) in a tuk-tuk, to head thirty minutes north to the exclusive Marari Beach Resort. In retrospect, arriving at a gated hotel in a tuk-tuk is not the most logical of transport methods (we were asked four times by the guard if we were sure we were in the right place) but little could bring us down: paradise was close enough to taste.

A stunning butterfly in the gardens.

A stunning butterfly in the gardens.

With access to a white-sand beach and a large outdoor pool, the eco-Marari Beach Resort is all about keeping in tune with the environment. An organic garden supplies much of the produce for the kitchens while an on-site bio-gas plant recycles kitchen waste into energy to run the electricity. Goats and small cows roam the lawn to keep the land trim and a butterfly garden promotes conservation of rare species. Local school children are invited in to be taught about conservation as well.

The perfect lawn mower.

The perfect lawn mower.

After checking into our thatched-roof cottage and washing off days of dirt in our beautiful outdoor shower, the boy and I headed to the crystalline swimming pool to finally relax into the swing of life that the more privileged class lead. Relaxation, it seemed, is possible in Kerala – you just might have to pay for it. Finally we felt like were were on vacation.

The next day, we departed the seaside to head to the nearby Kumarakom Lake Resort, which sits on the edge of the expansive Vembanad Lake. Voted the top hotel in India in the World Travel Awards last year, the Kumarakom took luxury to a new level. Feeling slightly like trespassers with our big backpacks, the boy and I were awed as we accepted flower wreathed coconuts and leis on arrival, and saw the expansive green grounds and shimmering lake. After a day laying by our private pool, we took a boat trip around the lake to watch the sunset (something offered daily to guests) and shared a bottle of wine over a wonderful seafood dinner. It was – it seemed – becoming a lifestyle that the boy and I could adjust to.

The lake at Kumarakom.

The lake at Kumarakom.

After what felt like far too short a time span, we were off once again to head further north to the final review hotel – Vaamika Island Resort. I’d not heard much about this hotel beforehand so neither of us was sure what to expect. Unfortunately, we came into contact with a taxi strike, meaning the trip was doubled in length (and meant we had to go via Alleppey again) as our driver went all the way around the south side of the lake to avoid running into any of his colleagues who he knew would block his way since he was not on the picket line.

A tense, long and hot cab ride ensued but it was all worth it when we arrived at a dock to find a leather-lined Sun-Ray speedboat waiting to pick us up.

Sunset over the backwaters at Vaamika.

Sunset at Vaamika.

Vaamika Island Resort is situated on a private island in the backwaters near Kochi and was built by a slightly eccentric German named Klaus Schleusener who spent much of his working life teaching at universities in India. He sold the island to developers in 2011 and the company was in the midst of building more cottages during our stay.

Upon stepping off the speed boat, we were led to the largest villa I have ever seen – complete with private pool looking out to the lake, large patio and incredible carved wooden features. After dropping off our bags, we were handed a mobile phone. Confused, I asked what it was for. “That is for your private butler Nibin who will be looking after all of your needs.” To say it was all surreal is an underestimation.

The view from the pool at Vaamika.

The view from the pool at Vaamika.

Our next two days were spent lounging by the pool, ringing Nibin for beers and eating copious amounts of food (at least 10 dishes every meal) on our patio. It was a world unknown to the boy and I, and we were slightly perplexed by the idea that people can choose to live like this as a normal choice on vacation.

Ash pots in the museum on Vaamika Island.

Ash pots in the museum on Vaamika Island.

Interestingly, the island also features a private museum, which includes a collection of Kaavada (pronounced: cowardi) – stone or wood carved rectangular blocks that are worn on the shoulders of people taking pilgrimage (most often) to the Palani temple in Tamil Nadu. Pilgrims dance with these on their shoulders while making prayers to Hindu god Lord Subramanya. The collection also includes ash pots used for burying relatives’ remains, with some being 500 years old. Former-owner Klaus collected them all over the years, although he has never made a fuss about it and few art collectors/art historians even know it exists.

We finally had to depart the island for our final night in Kochi before our flight home to London. But it was with lead-heavy legs that we dragged ourselves away from it, knowing we’d be unlikely to experience these levels of luxury anytime soon.

And so, after four days of rest, the sheen of Kerala had returned. And while the relaxation was needed at the time, it is true the boy and I now talk about the hilariously unenjoyable times experienced in Alleppey and Kollam as much as the stunning beauty of these hotels. A bit of both, I suppose, can’t hurt during one’s travels.

In the final part, the boy and I wander the dusty streets of Kochi, take in a bizarre Kathakali performance and say goodbye to India.

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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

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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