Heritance Tea Factory – Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

With breathtaking views, aesthetically inclined interiors, superbly preserved factory machinery and high standards of hospitality, the Heritance Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya is an upscale luxury hotel that has been converted from the erstwhile Hethersett tea factory.

The access to the hotel is through a narrow uphill road that leads up to the beautiful estate gardens. The facade with the chimney of the hotel is a very basic structure and it looks more like an industrial shed than a hotel; albeit a very pretty shed surrounded by the prettiest Flaura, manicured lawns and stagnant tea plantations. The building along with the surroundings is reminiscent of the bygone Colonial era.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The interiors of the hotel are really unique; some machinery from the establishment’s earlier days like the original generator has been preserved. There are huge fans towards the ceiling of main hall that are attached to the generator through rubber bets and they rotate in tandem with the generator every evening, when the generator has its scheduled run; it is really fascinating. There has been no tinkering with interior layout of the original tea factory. At the time of conversion to a hotel, the management ensured that apart from mandatory reinforcements, the original layout was retained and they strongly dissuaded any attempt by the authorities to the contrary. The woodwork, the iron pillars, the brass, machinery have all been salvaged from the erstwhile establishment and expertly preserved. A tasteful use of colours reinforces the colonial character.

A magnificent copper elevator with manual doors took us up to our rooms. As we entered our room, we felt like we opened a door into the clouds; three walls of the room were essentially ceiling to floor French windows.  The view was beyond words, the folks at the hotel called it paradise view; couldn’t agree more.

The following morning we were up at the first light. The clouds magically dissipated at the break of dawn and allowed us a stunning view of the entire valley.

The kids went to the play area and we got ourselves a cup of delicious home grown F.B.O.P. There is a train carriage parked adjacent to the play area, it amuses the children by the day and converts into a fine dining restaurant in the evening.

There are various excursions on offer. These include bird watching tours, hikes to nearby hills, tea plantation tours and other land tours. We opted for the plantation tour.

The tea planation tour makes you experience tea plucking first hand. To begin with you are draped in a tea pluckers’ attire, provided with a basket and taken to a nearby plantation. The guided tour concluded with some history of the tea factory being jogged about, a tea tasting session and a visit to the in-house mini tea museum where they explained the tea making process and way in which it had evolved over time with the advent of machines. The Hethersett plantation and factory was one of the most important contributors to the popularity of Ceylon tea and once sold the most expensive tea in the world. The kids intently listened to the guide while the tea segregator graded FBOP and PEKOE variety of teas. The tea produced is the same tea found in the room and all the restaurants of the hotel.

It was bright and sunny out – a perfect day for a hike. Ten minutes in to our hike and it was brisk and damp, no wonder this place was called Little England.

Got back to the hotel, sat by the fire and had hot chocolate, marshmallows and tea.

The following day was sunny and luckily it stayed that way. We went to the  garden maze and then went on a little birdwatching trek and walked down to the rabbits at the Flower Dew cottage. Mr.Flowerdew was the first resident planter and manager of the Herthersett Estate; his cottage has been preserved.

The kids were having a fabulous time here at the factory; not only were they completely off  the gadgets and screens, but without prompting, they were preferring the outdoors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Surrounded by acres of lush green tea estates and perched on a hill, the gorgeous Heritance Tea Factory offers a most astounding rendition of the colonial era. It leave no stone unturned to provide you with a unique and an unforgettable experience. The sweeping vistas will leave you spellbound.

Emeraldised – a family holiday in Sri Lanka (Nuwara Eliya)

We were on our way to the city of lights Nuwara Eliya; Sri Lanka’s quintessential hill station and tea country. On our way, we stopped at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a sanctuary to three generations of orphaned and abandoned Asian elephants that were rescued from the wild. Pinnawala is located in a beautiful valley surrounded with beautiful rolling green hills. The sight of the elephants playing in the valley coupled with children standing on galleries and feeding other elephants there, was really adorable. The massive campus is totally dedicated to elephant welfare and they house a small museum amongst other things. One of the major highlights of Pinnawala, is that at a designated time of the day, the entire parade walks down to the nearby river Maha Oya to bathe and play. Prior to a visit to the orphanage, do check the timings of feeding and bathing.

After a quick elephant ride at Pinnawala, we made our way through winding roads by tea estates, silver waterfalls, mesmerizing scenery and after encountering thick fog at the final leg of our ascent, we arrived at the very British and Colonial Town of Nuwara Eliya.

ne2

Perched at an elevation of 1,868 m above the sea level, Nuwara Eliya or the city of lights or little England is reminiscent of a quaint British village. The Gregory Lake sits at the centre of the town and is surrounded by majestic tea hills, sprawling golf courses, beautiful botanical gardens, old colonial houses and Tudor styled bungalows with Gabled roofs. The town has a marina, an old brick post office and a racecourse with its horses sits at the edge of the lake. It is really refreshing to see free horses roaming across the town.

We went to our hotel – the Heritance Tea Factory, an erstwhile tea factory now converted into a beautiful hotel, surrounded by tea plantations.

The following day we went for a tea plantation tour. To begin with, we were draped in traditional tea pluckers’ clothing and provided with tea plucking baskets. We were then led to a nearby plantation for the plucking; surrounded by lush green plantation hills; descending  clouds descending, a cool breeze in your face, bird songs; it was surreal.

Following our tour, we went to the tea factory at the hotel. The tea making process was explained to us; we watched the kids as they listened intently.

In the evening, we went for a hike. Nuwara Eliya is a bird watchers paradise with over 80 bird species including migratory birds. There are many bird watching opportunities on offer.

The following day we had a flight back from the Colombo airport. After checking out from our hotel we visited the Gregory Lake, jet skied and speed boated. 

greg2

En route to Colombo, we visited the picturesque Ramboda falls. The access route tis from a hotel and it is really amusing to get an elevator to get to the falls.

We were now on our way to the airport. As we approached Colombo, we decided to take a small detour to the ministry of crab, one final time. We called them and thankfully we got a place. Left Colombo on an extreme high!

moe final

From Pristine beaches of Bentota in the south, to the central tea hills of Nuwara Eliya, to an enthralling mix of history and culture in Colombo, the verdant land of Sri Lanka has a lot to offer to its visitors. It is no surprise that Sri Lanka has emerged as one of the most loved family holiday destinations in southeast Asia. All the accolades this beautiful nation has earned over the years are well deserved.

family

Thank you Sri Lanka, for the memories

Emeraldised – a family holiday in Sri Lanka (Bentota and Colombo)

Since the day Lonely Planet ranked Sri Lanka as the top travel destination for the year 2019, we had been waiting for an opportunity to visit the Emerald Island.

As soon as the holidays arrived, we catapulted on to a red eye flight to Colombo. When we landed, despite the late hour, everybody from the immigration officers to our chauffeur welcomed us with smiles and were extremely warm and hospitable. No wonder this island nation is becoming an ever-popular travel destination by the day. We had booked a hotel close to the airport to crash for the night and the next day, bright and early, we hit the road. After driving for a couple of hours on the southern expressway, we were at the pristine beaches of Bentota – a fishing village on the Colombo-Galle coast on Sri Lanka, famed for its gorgeous beaches and umpteen watersport offerings.


The beach at Bentota

Taj Bentota Resort & Spa

There are tons of exotic hotels in Bentota and it is really difficult to pick one. Our hotel of choice was the stunning Taj Bentota. Soon, we were at resort pool and then to the beach for surfing lessons, keen as mustard.

Never have I seen our kids so attentive about lessons. Way sooner than we expected the kids were jumping on their boards perfectly and gliding. The wife was good at it as well; from her days surfing at the Californian coasts I guess; as for me, my instructor had given up, he tried to pacify by telling me that it was much easier for the kids and your wife seems to have some experience. Our younger son very subtly described my efforts as TOTALFAILURE!!! Ah, fun fun.

We were at the beach through the evening. For dinner, we we went to an in house restaurant called “The Shack”. It is arguably the best restaurants around and has won many accolades for one of the best seafood restaurants in Sri Lanka. A visit to the Shack is an absolute must when visiting this part of the world.

The next day was at the beach again as the surfing lessons continued. In the evening we visited the Induruwa Sea Turtle Conservation Centre. We saw different turtle species viz. Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Green and the Albino sea turtle. We were explained the life cycle of the turtles, the current challenges facing their existence and  rescue and rehabilitation operations of the conservation centre; it was very informative, especially for the children. We saw turtle eggs, a video of their hatching and new born baby turtles in a massive water tank. We concluded the tour with the kids releasing baby turtles in the ocean.

IMG_0197

Releasing baby turtles in the ocean

We then visited the Bentota town and dined at a local restaurant. Tuk Tuk’s are very easily available and extremely convenient for short distances. As per our guide at the conservation centre, many turtles would come ashore at night close to our hotel beach. So we grabbed on to searchlights and hit the beach. No turtles but tons of crabs. With absolutely clear starlit skies coupled with the rhythmic sound of the waves hitting the rocks; the beach at night was fantastic.

The next day we bid goodbye to Bentota and drove north to Colombo. Encountered a lot of traffic on the way as we had hit the peak hour. After the laid back life of Bentota, it was extremely difficult to fathom such traffic. We dumped our luggage at the hotel, ubered a tuk tuk (most convenient way to travel in Colombo) and went to the Galle Face Drive. Dined at the Golden Dragon across the street.

golden dragon

The Golden Dragon at Taj Samudra Colombo

A short drive through the city of Colombo and one can witness a captivating juxtaposition of city’s colonial roots and modern architecture. Colombo is also famed for a very thriving nightlife scene.

The following day we ubered a tuk tuk to Colombo-Galle road. The are tons of coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, pubs in this part of the city. We went to the barefoot cafe and spend some time exploring the neighbourhood. We visited the Gangaramaya Budhhist Temple Complex in the evening – an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Indian, Thai and Chinese architecture. It has a massive collection of Buddha Statues in jade, ruby, crystal and other precious stones. There is an impressive collection of vintage cars there as well. Across the main temple complex, there are steps that lead to a huge Bodhi tree; seems the sapling of the tree is from the time of Buddha.

At a short walk from the Gangaramaya temple is the Seema Malaka. It sits in the middle of a lake and with the night time illumination, the temple looks magnificent.

Following our spiritual escapade, we made our way to the oldest building in the Fort area – the Old Dutch Hospital. Known as the Old Dutch shopping precinct now, it is essentially a gourmet ghetto with upscale restaurants, shops, pubs and the famed Ministry of Crab. We dined at the ministry. If you are visiting this eatery, ensure that you make a reservation a couple of days in advance; the eatery is insanely popular and for good reason-it is simply the best. A must while in Colombo.

After dinner we walked down to the Dilmah Tea Lounge at the precinct. They house an  impressive collection of Ceylon tea. The children went gaga over bubble tea there. 

A blog on our trip to Nuwara Eliya follows…Coming soon!

Taj Bekal Resort & Spa – Hammocks and Kayaks

Short breaks instead of a long holiday make people happier said a study; obviously, it was not conducted by our kind. Ask a traveller and he will say any excuse for a holiday, no matter what the duration, is pure happiness. This time around, our excuse was a mid term break for the boys and we were on our way to the Taj Bekal Resort & Spa.

After driving for a couple of hours from the Mangalore Airport, we had reached our destination. We were warmly welcomed to the resort with seashell garlands. The Taj standards of customer service were very evident.

 Rayan K

The lobby                                                           Photo by Rayan K

The kids were already feeding the fishes in the koi ponds adjacent to the lobby with fish food they had got from the reception. The architecture of the resort is beautiful, it is inspired by the traditional “Kettuvallam” houseboat. After a quick checkin we we were led to our room. Nested in nature’s lap, our room had the local houseboat design, a huge courtyard, a daybed, a sit out overlooking the meandering backwaters and a victorian bath tub with candles on the wall adjacent. The walls of the room had Chitra Pothi art on it.

While we were busy checking out our room, we could hear footsteps and then a scream of CANNONBALL and a splash in the plunge pool.

Startled, we looked inside the room to find that our bags were stripped open. The kids had pulled out their swimming gear and torpedoed into the plunge pool. When we saw them in the pool and we couldn’t agree more; it was really inviting!

In the evening, we went for quick tour of the resort. Set on the bank of the Kappil River, the property is spread across 26 acres of lush green. Every corner of the resort is exceptionally well designed. The view of the pool, the backwaters, the sandy beach and the ocean, all in one frame is beyond words.

The pool, the backwaters, the beach, the ocean

By the backwaters, snacks and tea was being served, a daily evening feature.

The snack cart

We went river rafting across the backwaters of the Kappil river in traditional solid wood raft.

The raft

As the evening settled in, the evening sky, a myriad of hues, looked beautiful.

After our trip, we visited the creche. I had an outdoor play area, pool and pingpong tables, e-games and other daily hosted activities. A nice space for the kids to be entertained.

By the pool, there was a restaurant where a variety of grills were served. A very pretty setting under a clear starlit sky. We dined at Grills and More

The next day…

We were up early and out with our cameras

Rayan K with his equipment

We were on a bird watching trail to spot “the winter migrants” that arrive in South India towards the end of September. We could spot Magpie, Sunbirds and White-bellied sea eagles.

The Magpie                                            Photo by Rayan K

There are guided tours by specialists that offer viewing opportunities of the more majestic birds; for the interested folk. After our birdwatching trails, we visited the beach. In the early morning mist, the beach looked stunning. We clicked a few pictures and went to the spa for a yoga session.

The beach

We got back to our room and hit the pool. Lunched at the Backwater Café , an all day that serves exquisite regional dishes, the chef recommendations are a must try

After lunch, we visited the spa. The spa here, in our opinion, is one of the most beautifully designed spas in the world. It is an island of tranquility and bliss; not figuratively, but literally, the spa is  set on an island that is connected to the resort by a bridge over the Kappil River.

The Kappil River

 

The bridge to the spa

Spread over 1,65,000 square feet, the Jiva Grande Spa is massive, it has speciality areas and eight private treatment rooms with each room having a private courtyard and a private bath tub. It offers exceptional rejuvenation therapies undertaken by highly trained therapists and offers various signature experiences. They have kids treatments on offer as well. There is also a juice bar that serves fresh juices picked from a nearby garden.

In the evening, we vistied the nearby town of Kasargod.

The next day…

My wife and I had an in room breakfast at the sit out overlooking the backwaters.
Once the kids were up, they wanted to go to the resort pool. Set amidst swaying palm trees, and overlooking the backwaters, the pool area is very pleasant spot. We stayed there till noon and lunched at the Ivory Bar.

Afternoon, we went kayaking in the backwaters. We could spot various colorful birds including herons and white-bellied sea eagles. There are various other professionally supervised activities on offer here such as archery and paint ball. A ride to the Bekal fort on a cycle and a visit to Ratnakar’s Thonikadavu are very popular.

Kayaking the backwaters

After Kayaking we went to the beach for the sunset. By the beach, there is a speciality seafood restaurant called By The Bay. It was undergoing a renovation while we were there but from what we heard, it is the best seafood restaurant around. The playful beach looked beautiful, as the sun disappeared in the ocean.

The sunset

The next day…

Today was our last day here and we spent all our time at the plunge pool.

The swaying palms, the hammocks, the kayaks, the sunsets, the backwaters, magical family times!

Thank you for the memories Taj Bekal.

 

 

 

Lux Belle Mare, Mauritius – All about soul

Day 1

The much awaited was finally here. Driving from the north, we took the scenic route through the Bras D’eau National park to reach Lux Belle Mare, in the Northeast corner of Mauritius. It’s reputation certainly precedes; the much lauded property has been absolutely adored by its guests. The moment we entered the mint tea scented lobby, we could feel the warmth and the vibrancy. After a quick lowdown on the facilities at resort, the friendly staff led us to our room. En route, the kids club – play appeared and our kids, well, they just disappeared. They were on their way to a glass bottomed boat cruise.

play

The Kid’s Club

With uplifting interiors, comfortable beds, mesmerizing views of the silver sand beach and the azure waters, our tech savvy room, a family suite, was just perfect.

roomview2

from room

from our room

After lunch at the K-bar, we strolled through the resort. At the heart of the property is Mauritius’ biggest free form pool.

kbar

The K-bar

The gardens resplendent with colorful fauna, the gently swaying palms trees and the sparkling clear waters of the pool, looked absolutely stunning. Right next to the pool there were retro carts serving delicious ice cream.

We came across a giant clock showing it was 4 o’clock. I told the guy at the desk there that clock was not working. He smirked and said nope and continued with his work. I was quite amazed at this, it was certainly not 4pm and clearly the clock was broken and clearly this guy was nuts. Suddenly he stopped doing whatever he was doing, looked at me, smiled and said that it is always 4 o’clock here and that the watch was perfect. He handed me a cup of a flat white and said welcome to Café Lux, its was always time for a coffee here. The coffee was delicious, properly brewed beans roasted perfectly.

cafeluxphoto.jpg

A caffeine kick

He then led us to a coffee roasting session and explained how Lux Belle Mare roasted its own island blend on site. The milk used here was freshly sourced from the island’s first working dairy. The coffee was indeed very special here and the baristas were extremely talented. They would become our best buddies in the days to come and every time we saw the gigantic 4 o’clock watch, we would stop by.

The kids were back from their expedition and were now on their way to “hunting crabs”. I am going to the beach to catch a big one shrieked our younger one. We were tempted and joined them. The purposeful entourage of about 8 along with the kid’s club staff hit the beach with a bucket, a white cloth and flashlights. They caught quite a few and then released them in the ocean.

We had dinner at the restaurant besides the pool called Mixe. With the night-time illumination, the pool had now transformed into an almost magical backdrop. The gentle breeze from the ocean, the starry skies and the live music added to the magic. It was a lovely evening.

Day 2

After breakfast, the boys made their way to the kids club and we went to the boathouse, an in house activity centre that offers tons of on shore and off shore activities. We went for a snorkelling trip. The friendly staff at the boathouse got us all suited up and after a short boat ride, we were amidst beautiful purple coral and colorful fish. The water was absolutely crystal, making it a perfect viewing spot. I got really up close to the coral, as my wife “ in an attempt to rebalance herself”, as she describes it, grabbed on to me and pushed me deep under water.

On our return, we grabbed a quick lunch and visited the quaint village of Belle Mare. On a different day, we would have cycled by the Belle Mare beach an to the village but since it was a little damp now, we decided to just cab it.

On return, we dined at the BEACH ROUGE – a bright and airy Mediterranean restaurant at the beach. Loved the cocktails and the tapas.

colorsky.jpg

Cotton candy evening skies

The restaurant spills out onto the beach with cabanas and beanbags on the sands. As the light faded outside, the lighting inside the restaurant shifted to fiery red. The backdrop had completely transformed and so had the music, a sax player was performing in tandem with a DJ, incredible.

Day 3

Today, our excited kids left early for the kids club.

pizza2

Little pizzaiolos

With an outdoor splash pool, outdoor a culinary school with baking and decorating sessions, a buffet station, ezone, a reading corner, beach games, many expeditions, film showings, nature tours, tennis lessons, the kid’s club at Lux Belle Mare has innumerous offerings to entertain kids aged 3-12. With an extremely attentive staff and great infrastructure; Lux Belle Mare is in a league of its own,  when it comes to family friendly beach resorts. There is also a place for the older kids to hang out and socialise.

With the kids busy, we visited the spa. Set in a peaceful zen garden, the spacious and modern spa offers a plethora of spa therapies, steam, sauna, a chilled plunge pool, a heated swimming pool and a tea lounge to relax and sip on herbal infusions. Also, the spa boutique offers various oils and skincare products created from island sourced ingredients by the aromatherapist Shirley Page.

A few steps from the is the tea house, it serves an impressive list of fine tea from around the the world. This is one of the most peaceful places in the resort. They also have a real good collection of books. The kids joined us at the tea house.

We went to THE FOOD TRUCK for lunch; true to its name, Latin American Street food –  fries, burgers, hot dogs, ceviche, is cooked in the trailer kitchen attached to a 1933 Phantom Hooper Rolls Royce. Very close to the beach, it is a fun place, insanely loved by the kids.

We then grabbed a coffee at Café Lux. Besides  Café Lux, there were two London style phone boxes where you could make free international calls. They call it the phone home.

IMG_2171

The babyccino

We hit the beach and went paddle boating. The turquoise waters, the crescent white sand beach, the palm trees and the typical Mauritian thatched roofs of the resort; the view of the resort from the sea was stunning. At the southern end of the beach,  we could spot a high tower – an old lime kiln which had now been transformed in a viewing point.

As soon as we hit the shore, the kids rushed back to the kid’s club and we went to Amari by Vineet, an in house fine dining restaurant. The Michelin starred chef Vineet Bhatia is the mastermind behind the menus at the restaurant and they offer a masterfully constructed culinary experience.

Day 4

We were up early today, in tine for the sunrise and made our way to the beach with our camera. We also visited the gazebo, it boasts of the most sublime views of the sunrise from the resort. Nestled amidst landscaped gardens and sitting atop a pond, is the gazebo. The gazebo is perhaps the prettiest spot within the resort and everyday early morning yoga sessions are scheduled here.

palmpool

gazebo

The Gazebo

There are various excursions on offer such as horse riding by the Belle Mare beach or a visit to the popular Ile aux Cerfs, but we decided against it as we did not want to leave our hotel. Soon we hit the beach and went  jet skiing. Loved it!

yaas

IMG_9736

Famished, we lunched at Beach Rouge and then we went to Junk Art Studio. Here, an in house artist helps you upscale salvaged material into beautiful art forms, It is a fantastic concept, especially if you are artistically inclined. Our kids loved it.

Next to the junk art studio is Photo Fanatics – you can get professional photography guidance here to capture great shots

In the evening we lounged by the pool and took a stroll at the beach. We dined at an exquisite Chinese restaurant here called the Duck Laundry. Lounged at the pool while the kids nibbled at some ice cream.

After dinner, it was movietime! There was a movie showing by the beach; Cinema Paradiso as they call it. Beanbags at the beach with headsets, you could even hear the ocean with the headsets on, it was amazing experience.

Day 5

This was day we bid goodbye

After breakfast, all of us went to the pool. Soon, my older one and I embarked on hunt to discover hidden treasure. Message in a Bottle, as they call it, is a resort wide game where you have to find hidden bottles with messages in them and you win prizes. We won coffee packets from our beloved Café Lux. We went for a quick lunch at the food truck.

We also visited the Tree of Wishes where you write your wishes on a piece of paper and hang it on the tree. Our older one posted an emotionally charged message, our younger one, on the other hand was very clear with his wish – Koenigsegg, Mustang and McLaren.

So, here it was, we went to Café Lux for a coffee to bid goodbye. The moment we entered the resort till the time we were waiting for our ride back to the airport, there was something about this place, a spirited vibe, an unmistakable sense of warmth and happiness, that just does not want to let go.

The personal touches in the subtlest of things are very evident, the staff is extremely hard working and always busy ensuring that their guests have a pleasant experience. Each one of them went miles to ensure that we had a great stay and if we were to pick a hotel with a soul, it would be Lux Bell Mare, undoubtedly.

Thank you for the memories Lux Belle Mare

Shanti Maurice, Mauritius – A Corner of Paradise

A Corner of Paradise: Shanti Maurice – Chemin Grenier, Mauritius

We were cruising through the serene south side of Mauritius, when, a slew of race cars throttled past us. The roar of their revved engines was almost deafening; as the drivers maneuvered their machines through the south corners of the island. We approached a stretch of road that passed through the Black River Gorges National Park and the landscape changed completely, we were in the midst of a thick rain forest with streams, waterfalls, the prettiest flora and fauna. On a different day, we would have loved to visit the park, known for its waterfalls, viewpoints and hikes. We could now see the turquoise coastal waters ahead of us and we knew that we were close. We drove past immaculately manicured lawns and beautiful putting greens nestled in lush green surroundings, we had  now reached Shanti Maurice. With 15 acres of lush green gardens, the approach to the resort is extremely impressive, an epitome of a natural hideaway. Notations in Sanskrit of wellbeing fostered the calm and tranquil atmosphere, the kids, however, were busy trying to figure out what to feed the fishes at the Koi pond at the entrance.

The Koi pond at the entrance

As we entered, one look at the view from the lobby and we knew that we were in for something extraordinary in coming days. The check-in experience was very peaceful and the efficient staff got us to our room in no time. We were provided with a luxury pool villa with a direct access to the pristine beach. It had a jacuzzi bed, a temperature controlled swimming pool and a dining pavilion. The room was extremely chic, spacious, embedded with lots of creature comforts and an unobstructed view the Indian ocean. The pleasant sound of the waves hit the beach and then faded; it was mesmerizing. The kids, well that’s a different story, there was a bunk bed in the room! The kids went ballistic. If all this wasn’t enough, the bunk bed also had a couple of T-shirts from the kids club and some goodies. There were no half measures here indeed! The excitement levels of the kids had morphed in a different level. It was prefect for all of us, we were absolutely overwhelmed with setting of our room and the ocean, while the kids, were too happy with what was offered to them.

First look of our room

The bean bags outside our room

The bunk bed

After an intensely persuasive session, we finally convinced the kids to step out of the room. We went straight to the kids club. It was a well laid out kids club with lots on offer, not to forget, the extremely hospitable staff. There were bikes parked outside the club for people interested in cycling, in and around the resort. With the children at the kids club, we leisurely strolled through the resort and went for a walk on the beach. We passed by the lobby and the view was surreal. We could see a beautiful infinity pool, the sand at the beach and the sun setting over the Indian Ocean; all in one frame, it was a picture perfect postcard in the flesh. Shanti Maurice boasts of the best sun set views in Mauritius and we could not agree more. We got the children from the kids club and went for dinner at the Rum Shed, a tavern-style bar. Live music, barbecue, exquisite cocktails, steak cooked to perfection and a good kids menu, a lovely evening. After congratulating and thanking the chef for a super delicious meal, we returned to our room to call it a day.

The Sunset

Evening at Shanti Maurice…Stunning

The swing at the beach

Pool at evening

The Rum Shed

The next day…

Breakfast was served in a lovely gallery restaurant overlooking the pool, offering an exceptional view of the ocean. Post breakfast, the kids rushed to the kids club and we went to the spa.

The views from the restaurant

The views from the restaurant

Spread over an area of 75,000 square feet, the Nira spa within the resort is one of the most revered spas in the world. A state of the art spa complex houses yoga rooms, a gym, meditation studio, jacuzzi, etc. Associated with the Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, the Nira Spa offers a plethora of superlative spa experiences, all of which comprise signature treatments and authentic remedies. After the spa, we visited the in-house herb and vegetable garden organic. Over 30 vegetables and herbs used in the kitchens at the resort are all organic, homegrown and sourced from the garden. The bio agriculture at the resort is really diverse; they house lavender, lemongrass, seasonal fruits, etc. Make sure to ask the gardeners to give a brief on the use of bio-products in organic farming. After touring the gardens, we went to the lobby restaurant for lunch and later, we joined the kids, who, after a peacock feeding session, were “fishing for fun” at the Samy Lake, an activity arranged by the kids club.

Fishing for fun

We then hit the beach and went kayaking, paddle boating, zayaking. We went snorkelling at the Coral Garden, a snorkelling site with many coral species, tropical fish and other marine life, directly accessible from the Shanti Maurice beach.

Hitting the beach

In the evening, we had a private screening of a movie by the beach. The set up was out of this world; beautiful seating arrangements by the sea, light decorations, comfortable couches, a hammock under a starlit sky. It was an absolutely unforgettable experience. We were served with a culinary extravaganza – an exceptional five-course meal and an exquisite Crème brûlée, as the finale. Kids loved the popcorn served with movie and the ice cream that followed.

movie2

Movie time

the next day…

The day started early for us, with my wife and I having a cuppa sitting on the bean bags, enjoying the beautiful view of the ocean. Soon enough, the kids were up and sitting in the bean bags, staring at the waves in the ocean. I have never seen them sit that still, it was over 57 seconds, a new record. A testimony of the magnificient view, I guess. After a quick breakfast by the infinity pool, we made our way to the seas for the water sports. It was a nice day for water sports, the seas were extremely calm, perfect for snorkelling, offering a crystal clear view of the corals and the colorful fishes.

The bean bags

Pristine waters

We then, went to the infinity pool. The infinity pool sits in the middle of the resort and the view from the jacuzzi at the infinity pool is simply breathtaking. Near the pool, there was a kiosk setup serving fresh seafood called the Fish Market where locally sourced fresh seafood is displayed and once you have made a selection, it is immediately grilled and served, Bon Appétit!

The beach

The boys at the beach

Jacuzzi

The Boys

The fish market

Soon, the kids wanted to go swimming in the villa. Jumping in the pool, sleeping on the jacuzzi beds, it was great fun. For us, it was just so heartening to see the kids enjoy themselves to the fullest and yes, this would also mean making them leave was becoming a bigger challenge with every passing minute. We had a late evening flight and now it was time for us to check out. One last cuppa, sitting in the bean bags and it was time to bid adieu.

Thank you Shanti Maurice

In the midst of natural waterfalls, beautiful mountains, turquoise seas, and private beaches, Shanti Maurice is a simply gorgeous resort and our experience here was absolutely unforgettable and unparalleled. Going forward, whenever there is a remote reference to Mauritius or its coastal backdrop, we will surely be tempted to go back to Shanti Maurice.

The Magic Ingredient Sea – A family holiday in Mauritius (The South)

The South

Breakfast time! A storm in the kitchen unfolded. My older one and I were cooking the first breakfast of our vacation. Working in perfect harmony and with clockwork efficiency, we cooked and served the breakfast. It was sheer brilliance, or at least, that is what we thought. The wife and the younger one were not too amused.

Moving on with the day, we embarked on a cross-country expedition. As we drove to Pamplemousses, the turquoise waters gave way to the windy straights of mid-land and we could spot the Old Man of Maurice.

Pieter Both –  the old man of Mauritius

Pamplemousses, has a beautiful botanical garden which is supposedly the oldest botanical garden in the southern hemisphere most famous for its gigantic pond of large water lilies. They house giant tortoises but they do not offer any interactive experiences, you cannot touch them. This did not go well with the children, as they wanted a “fuller” experience and by that what they mean is they wanted one next to our seat on the flight to get one back home. We hit the roads and were southbound to La Vanille nature park. We drove past Port Louis and the many model miniature ship factories. The model ship is a premier Mauritian souvenir; we bought a couple. I must admit the road network in this tiny island is par excellence and comparable to that of the most developed nations. The South is simply gorgeous, as we drove past some stunning scenery into a thick tropical rainforest of the Black River Gorges National Park – famed for its incredible hikes, views, waterfalls and approached the crystal clear waters at the south end of the island. The cellphone reception here is excellent and G-Maps was our primary navigator. After driving for a couple of kilometers on an unpaved road, we reached La Vanille.

Through a forest

Spread over 3.5 hectares, La Vanille nature park offers close encounters with the Aldabra giant tortoises, feeding shows, a museum and is a home to fruit bats, crocs, monkeys and various other species of animals. etc. Set midst a lush rain forest, it houses a restaurant, a nice play area for the kids and offers pony rides.

La Vanille Nature Park

Pony ride at La Vanille

The play area

The children absolutely loved the tortoise nursery with the baby tortoises. This is one of the best places in Mauritius to get really up close to the giant tortoises, do remember to keep your hands while you feed them! And, bear in mind, the captive breeding program of the Aldabra Tortoises here at La Vanille is one of the most successful ones, it is inevitable that the children will witness an act and ask you some really “interesting” questions – be prepared with the answers.

baby-turtle.jpg

Baby tortoise

While in the South, a visit to the Chamarel Rhumerie and Seven Colored Earths is also highly recommended. Do check the timings, before planning a trip as they shut shop early. The Rochester falls are stunning –  a word of advise from the locals, one should plan a visit in the daylight hours and to be aware of your belongings at all times, especially when travelling with young children.

After La Vanille we drove to Gris Gris viewing point to witness the magnificent views of the Indian Ocean from the South.

We spent some time there and made our way to the Bagatelle Mall – a super mall that houses an excellent food court and some of the best restaurants in Mauritius.

dodo

The Dodo at the mall

After dinner, we made our way back to the North through the M1/M2 Motorway. They are lit motorway, making it a safer option for driving in the evening

 

 

 

 

The Magic Ingredient Sea – a family holiday in Mauritius (The North)

“We are going where the sun shines brightly, we are going where the sea is blue” from the song Summer Holiday by Cliff Richards was one my favourites growing up. Something about the jingle, whenever it plays, it brings back fondest memories from my early childhood, memories of our summer vacations at a beach town; the euphoria, the excitement, the chaos, the frolic and now, to see my children live through it and make memories of their own is extra-ordinary. No coincidence, we were listening to Summer Holiday while we were packing for our trip.

Our flight was on its final approach descent, a peek through the window and we were spell bound with the beautiful aerial views of ILE Maurice. There lay an expanse of turquoise blue with a scattered patchwork of green. The water was so inviting, one could have dived right in! Our youngest child even grabbed onto his backpack with his swimming gear, in anticipation.

On landing, the usual parental algorithmic mechanism of running, chasing, simmering and calming after a longish flight was at play (If you have children you know what I say). It helped that the “visa on arrival” immigration process was very efficient and we were out in no time. As we exited the airport, the sunglasses were out and we were excited, RESFEBER

Our holiday begins:)

The North

We had reserved a serviced apartment in Trou-aux-Biches in the North of the island. From the airport, it took us around 90 minutes to reach the North, as we meandered through thick greens, paddy fields and on to a surreal landscape with beautiful mountains.

The beautiful landscape

One of the rock formations, a mountain called  “Pieter Both” resembled a noble watching over the island, sitting in his ceremonial chair. The children named him the Old Man of Mauritius

Pieter Both @ 820m 2nd highest peak

As we approached Trou-aux-Biches, we were greeted with the same turquoise blue that we saw from the airplane. A sense of anticipation and restlessness crept in, all fatigue way behind us.  Soon we were at our hotel, we dumped our luggage in our room, the kids grabbed on to their backpacks and we were all set to explore the island.

Our ride was waiting for us. After the paperwork was in place, a quick check of the vehicle – especially the wheels, lots of pictures and with car hire excess insurance already in place (This is a must, I usually take it from worldwideinsure.com) and we hit the road.

Our ride…yaaasss

We drove around Trou-aux-Biches, Mont Choisy, Grand Baie. It was a Sunday, a siesta day for Mauritians and this made it extremely difficult to find a decent restaurant that was serving a late lunch.

Driving in the north of the island

Spoke to some locals and they directed us to “Super U”. The complex, besides having a humongous supermarket houses many restaurants and a nice gelato corner. On a late Sunday afternoon in the North of Mauritius, if you want to find decent grub, this is the place. Post lunch, we went to the supermarket to stock up on some essentials. We then explored the beautiful Grand Baie and Preybere and made our way back to the Mont Choisy Beach where we spent the evening.

As the sun sets

The Mont Choisy Beach

We dined at Luigi’s, an Italian restaurant that served super wood fired pizzas, must visit if you fancy an Italian meal. Drove back to our hotel and called it a day

 

 

Road trip from London to Scotland (Isle of Skye, Days 13-15)

Day 13

To the Isle of Skye! We wanted to take the Applecross “Pass of the cattle” to reach Skye but we decided against it due to an overcast weather; didn’t want to get caught in the narrow roads of the pass, if it rained. It was a 5 hour drive from Inverness to Skye, we took the A2 to Kyle of Loch Alsh and drove by beautiful lochs, streams and castles, including the Eilean Donan castle

As we reached the Kyle of Loch Alsh, we came across a humongous bridge – the Skye bridge connects the mainland of Loch Alsh to the Isles of Skye.

While I was on the bridge, there was a stretch, where I could not see any road but just the sky; it felt like we were airborne!. Manicured gardens greeted us as we entered the Isles of Skye, however, they soon give way to a rugged terrain surrounded by enormous mountains and the sea. There seems to be no distinction between the edge of the waters and the sky; it was absolutely gorgeous.

We got to our hotel, a cozy Cottage nestled in the mountains. The temperature outside had started to drop and the rain was picking up. After checking in, we drove down to Skye through the beautiful town of Portree, saw the Storr and the Cuilins and stopped at Kilt Rock, a beautiful waterfall in to the sea and a viewing point with breathtaking views of Skye, right outside Staffin.

Kilt Point

We then made our way to the beach at Staffin to see Dino footprints. There are prehistoric Dino footprints there that are visible when the tide is low. Recently, the island was in the news as another 50 dinosaur tracks were discovered near Brother’s Point. It had started to rain heavy but we were determined, we got to the beach in our gear and commenced out hunt for the prints.

After our fossil hunting session was over and we had documented  the findings, we made our way to Portree for dinner.

Day 14

Rains had hit the island, making it a perfect day to visit the Talisker distillery. Since, I was the only one visiting the distillery, I quickly rounded it up and we went to a cozy waterfront restaurant near the distillery.

The weather had cleared by the time we were done with lunch, however, venturing for any hikes was still off the tables. On a clear day, visits to the fairy pools and Ness Point lighthouse are recommended. We went to the Kyle and took a ferry tour with the Sea probe Atlantis. Enroute, we stopped at a native candle shop called Isle of Skye candle company on Ford Road . If you love hand made candles and are fond of aroma oils, this place is as good as it gets.  They have glass bottomed ferries tours to the underwater Kelp Forests, view otters, seals and a worldwar 2 shipwreck. It was a big sized vessel with very clear glass bottoms to view the underwater forests and it also gets you really close to the seals and the otters. Not to mention, the views from the deck are breathtaking and the birdwatching opportunities on offer.

Seaprobe Atlantis

After lunch, we began our journey to Glasgow. You can exit Skye by using a ferry to Mallaig as well and it is really beautiful, but we wanted to drive through the scenic Glencoe valley again.

Ahead of Loch Alsh we found a nice picnic spot. We had bought a disposable barbecue from one of Co-op markets on the way and some food to grill. We took help of nearby campers to fire up our barbecue and it was alive, we were all set. The picnic bag was out and it was chow time. This was the highest point of our trip, we absolutely loved the time together and it will always be one of our most cherished memories. The wife and the older child went walking in the icy cold stream below, I have no clue how they did it but it looked like they were absolutely loving it. The younger one and I were quick to decide that we were happy watching them go in icy waters.

Soon we hit the road and in about an hour we were passing through the mesmerizing Glencoe valley. After Glencoe, we drove by the shores of Loch Lomond to Glasgow. As we approached the city, our reverie that we had lived over the past two weeks wthe dichotomy of being welcomed by concrete instead of surreal natural beauty, was almost disheartening.

Day 15

Had a flight back today. We were all packed and ready. We retuned the car to the rental car park across our hotel and walked about 5 minutes to get to the terminal.

So this was it; while our vacation came to an end, our smiles did not. We had loads and loads of wonderful memories of this trip, memories that we would reminisce and cherish all our lives.

Happy Times:)

 

Road trip from London to Scotland (The Highlands, Days 9-12)

Day 9

Today, we took a day trip to Edinburgh. Hit the M9 and in an hour we were in Edinburgh. We parked at the car park in the Waverley station and strolled through town’s historic centre. Edinburgh is an easily walk able town with beautiful parks, lots of monuments, Thistle street for its many cafes, bars and restaurants and the looming Edinburgh castle. The old town is majestic. The views of old town at sunset from princess street is beyond words.

magnificent old town

Princess street gardens

Late evening, we took out car and drove up to the Stirling castle, it was shut by the time we got there but we were just interested in the drive and the views from the roads leading to the castle. Dinner in Edinburgh and back to Stirling

Day 10

After breakfast, we drove for three hours via the A82 to Fort William. As you approach Fort William, you go through the beautiful Glencoe valley. Its one of the famed drives of the Scottish Highlands. Super roads through the massive mountains and the Glen running by the side, stunning

We arrived in Fort William, the town known as the gateway to Ben Nevis, UK’s highest peak. It is known for its forest hikes, ski runs at the Nevis Mountain range and the Steal falls. It is a hillwalker’s paradise and is in close proximity to a very popular downhill mountain bike track . It is also the home to the Ben Nevis Distillery

The town centre was beautiful, had many nice restaurants and a beautiful waterfront. The walls of the fort dates back to the 1600’s; the fort’s boundaries mark the outlines of the waterfront. After lunch we decided to do some forest walking and just explore the beautiful fort waterfront area

Forest trails

The town is also home to the “Jacobite”, a steam train made famous from the Harry Porter series. The steam train features in the movie series as the Hogwarts Express. The journey from Fort William to the sea side town of Mallaig is regarded as one of world’s  best train journeys. Always a good idea to book tickets in advance as the seats fill up real fast (https://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/jacobite-steam-train-details.cfm)

Day 11

Enroute to Inverness, we stopped at Fort Augustus and took a ferry ride across the Loch Ness. My older son spotted something in the water with a long tail, a long arched neck and looked like a Mosasaurus. My younger son was soon to spot the same. We all shared a laugh. As for my wife and I, we were just too happy to take in the views of the gorgeous lake and the surrounding lush green mountains. We could, however, spot a lone stag atop a mountain.

The  cruise of Loch Ness, while it was extremely enjoyable for us, the children also  loved it. Inspired by Peter Rabbit, our older one keeps a journal where he document his travels. He made a map of the lake and pinned the location of his sighting of Nessie. Soon after, our younger one also got his crayons out and sketched up a Picasso. Next two days all our talks revolved around Nessie and there was no inclination from the kids towards any gadgets. We were glad that we took the cruise. Apart from the cruise, there is the Neptune staircase of the five lochs and a beautiful turn table bridge that makes way for traffic to and from the Caledonian canal.

Cruising on Loch Ness

Our Lil monster

We had our lunch by the loch, bough some Nessie toys and were Inverness bound. It was really late in the evening by the time we reached Inverness, we went straight to the hotel and called it a day

Day 12

There was nothing really on our plate today, more off an off day. Explored the town, went to a nearby shopping complex to get outdoor gear and be Skye ready. We explored the beautiful parks by Inverness river and drove around the beautiful town. We also discovered a super local brewery called Black Isle Bar and Rooms, a must visit while in Inverness

Blackisle brewery

Our trip continues, please visit our next blog:

Kingdom Come! Road trip from London to Scotland (Isle of Skye, Days 13-15)

Road trip from London to Scotland (Legoland and the Lake District, Days 6-8)

Day 6

We went to Heathrow to pick up our rental car. With the usual checks were in place –  many pictures of the vehicle before taking over, a check on the conditions of the wheels and a check on the rental excess car hire insurance from third party providers viz. worldwideinsure.com, we drove to Windsor. At an hour’s drive from Heathrow, the Lego Land at Windsor is an absolutely fantastic amusement park and waterpark. It was a perfect day today, sunny, great fun for the kids.

Day 7

This marks the beginning of our road trip. After bidding an “until next time” to one of the most charismatic cities in the world, we were on course to the Lake District National Park; a four-hour drive from London to “the lap of nature”. We had booked our hotel at Ambelside, a really pretty part of the Lakes. After parking our luggage at the hotel, we went to the town of Windermere and spent the evening strolling through the magical lakeside town.

Pretty Windermere

Day 8

Today, was a very special day for us, we visited the world of Beatrix Potter in Windermere. Peter Rabbit is regular feature of our school mornings back home and it was Beatrix Potter’s time at the Lake District where she was inspired to write the tale of Peter Rabbit and brought the loveable character to life. Her time at the lakes developed here life long love for the countryside. A natural scientist, she wrote many children’s books featuring animals. The lakes and the countryside of the Lake District feature in all cartoons and movies of peter Rabbit. We loved the museum. It was very special. Immaculate attention to detail and very well maintained.

Peter Rabbit

Immaculate exhibits

After visiting the museum, we visited the local market. While we were walking through one of the bylanes, we discovered a small shop named Roly’s; they were cooking fresh chocolate fudge. They had various combinations and blends of the chocolate fudge, we sampled some and ended up buying a lot. I reckon it was the best chocolate fudge I have ever tasted and it was absolutely loved by the many for whom we carried it back with us. Get some fudge from Roly’s in the Windermere market. A must!

We spent sometime by the Windermere Lake, visited the popular Windermere Ice-cream. There are many shops selling items made from locally sourced materials in the market.

By the lakes

We, then drove to the Bowness Nab and took a short vehicle ferry across to the village of Sawrey. We visited the many pretty villages by the lakes, the sheep and the horses stroll  freely in the green forests and farms of the countryside and impromptu, they turn towards you; it is very amusing. We soon hit the freeway and after a picturesque three hour drive through the countryside, we were in Stirling, Scotland. We saw many sheep on the way, a dramatic change in the weather and the landscape, stronger accents and some fabulous fish and chips!

As you approach the Highlands

As we entered Stirling, the first thing we noticed was a massive castle sitting atop a hill surrounded by steep cliffs. The Stirling castle one of the largest and most important castles and a must visit, but we skipped it.

Checked in to our hotel. Ordered in dinner and called it a day.

Our trip continues, please visit our next blog:

Kingdom Come! Road trip from London to Scotland (The Highlands, Days 9-12)