Category Archives: Luxury Resorts

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica Review

Dream Las Mareas, located in Guanacaste, Costa Rica was my first experience staying in a luxury chain brand resort.

I have previously stayed in several all-inclusive resorts located throughout the Caribbean; St. Lucia, Jamaica, Punta Cana, and Riviera Maya.

While my husband and I prefer to vacation at tropical all-inclusive resorts, we tend to shy away from the luxury chain brand resorts because we also like to save money on all aspects of travel.

We broke this tradition when I came across a vacation package to Dreams Las Mareas on Groupon.

Travelling to Dreams Las Mareas

One of the only drawbacks to our stay was how far Dreams Las Mareas, Costa Rica, was from the airport.

After travelling for two days from Detroit, MI, the last thing we wanted to do once we landed, was to spend another 2.5 hours getting to the resort.

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica has an airport shuttle and arranged for the airport transfer to the resort, however, we waited outside the airport with our driver for at least an hour for the rest of our party.

Once they finally arrived, we had an hour and a half drive, over some pretty treacherous roads, until we finally arrived at our destination.

Arrival at the Dreams Las Mareas Hotel

Once we arrived at Dreams Las Mareas, we were greeted with chilled champagne and cold towels. A bellboy took our bags while we checked in at the desk. Once this process was complete, we were able to begin our vacation!

We were shown to our room and were immediately drawn to the balcony. Our balcony had a stunning view of the resort property and the jungle-covered mountains in the distance.

The balcony also had a large jetted tub that we enjoyed in the evenings as adorable little geckos appeared on the exterior walls and ceiling. The rooms themselves were pretty basic, although tasteful.

Resort Setting and Activities

I am not familiar with much of Costa Rica’s terrain, however, if the long treacherous drive from the airport was necessary for us to stay in that magical setting, then it was all worth it.

The Dreams Las Mareas resort is located on a small beach, with jungle-covered mountains on either side. The beach is public, however, it was never crowded.

I actually enjoyed the public nature of the beach because we were able to chat with locals and buy souvenirs and enjoy services for a fraction we would have paid on the resort property.

One afternoon my husband and I enjoyed hour-long full body massages on the beach. Two Costa Rican women (I wish I remembered their names) had massage tables set up on the beach in the shade of trees just a short walk down the sand from the resort area.

I have had many massages in my day, and this was by far one of the best massages I have ever had. The Dreams Las Mareas staff make the most of this magical setting by offering yoga every morning on the beach and offering a guided wildlife tour circling the area around the property.

Each morning I walked to the beach, where the sand was still damp and cool from the night tide. An instructor provided us all with mats and instructed us through hour-long yoga sessions, during which we synchronized our breath to the sounds of the ocean waves.

Some very well cared for and friendly beach dogs sat on the sand and watched us sweetly throughout the yoga class. This was such a magical way to begin each day!

One afternoon I also went on the guided wildlife tour led by Dreams Las Mareas staff. This was a fun way to socialize with other vacationers and learn the names of various tropical plants.

The Food and Buffet

Dreams Las Mareas has a buffet that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

They also have a poolside grill open for lunch, and several sit-down restaurants that are open for dinner, including a steakhouse, seafood restaurant, Mexican, Italian, and hibachi.

I am vegetarian, and they did not have an extensive list of options for vegetarians. The poolside grill was very basic food; burgers and fries mostly. It was just OK.

The sit-down restaurants were all good, although not too memorable. The best food was served at the buffet. I have been to many buffets, and Dreams Las Mareas has the best buffet hands down.

The breakfast spread had so many options, it was unbelievable! Including several types of fresh squeezed juices and champagne for mimosas (my favourite!).

Pools at the Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica 

Resort

The resort property has several pools, all with a different vibe. One pool welcomes children, with lots of playing and splashing. Another pool is adults only and very chill and peaceful.

Another pool has a swim-up bar, which is where the partiers and young adults congregate. We spent most of our time at the swim up bar and had a blast.

My only complaint about the pools is that they charge extra to use the cabanas. As a result, there were at times not enough loungers for everyone, while the cabanas sat empty.

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica Nightlife

The nightlife and entertainment were a hit or miss as far as activities at Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica are concerned. There was one bar that was open late. It had a pretty relaxed vibe.

There was also a dance club that had a lot of potential. I LOVE dance clubs, especially while on vacation. Each night my husband and I tried to enjoy the club, and each night was the same.

Early on the club started to fill up and the music was inviting, then the music changed, everyone stopped dancing then eventually left the club.

After our second night at the club, we realized that the music was from the exact same playlist! I wish they would have provided good dance music, then that place would have been a ton of fun.

One evening, the resort put on a Cirque du Soleil type show for entertainment. I definitely recommend attending this and getting a good seat.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, and even screamed out loud at one daring performer’s stunts!

All things considered, we greatly enjoyed our time at Dreams Las Mareas in Costa Rica. We will definitely stay at another Dreams resort one day.

Review Of Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort In Mexico

The Grand Sirenis is a luxury resort in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula that I loved so much that I have actually been there on three different holidays!

Yes, it is fair to say that I am a regular. But it isn’t just the resort that I love so much, but the area as well.

I truly think that if you want to take a luxury vacation to Mexico, then you should consider checking out the Yucatan especially the area between Playa del Carmen and Tulum!

And, if you are going to this area then the Grand Sirenis is an option for a great place to stay!

Where is the Grand Sirenis Located?

The Grand Sirenis is located about halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum in the beautiful Mayan Riviera. The closest international airport is in Cancun which is about a 3-hour drive away.

While it isn’t necessarily close to the airport, the remoteness is what makes the location so special. The resort is right on the beach offering lots of swimming and snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea.

It takes about 30 minutes by car to get into the touristic booming city of Playa del Carmen or the smaller but equally as beautiful town of Tulum.

What is there to do near the Grand Sirenis?

Because of the Grand Sirenis’ location in the Mayan Riviera, a there is a ton of things to do and see near the resort! One of my personal Mexico highlights would be exploring Cenotes which are large natural pools in the ground.

Some are intricate cave systems and some connect with rivers, but they are all fun to swim and scuba dive in and make for an adventure!

There are also many amusement/adventure parks nearby. Xel-Ha, Xcaret, and Rio Secreto are just a few of the most popular. I personally loved exploring Xel-Ha.

I went tubing in a natural river and conquered the water-based obstacle course. Xel-Ha even hosts special events throughout the year to celebrate certain Mexican holidays and festivals such as Day of the Dead.

There are also many different ruins to check out near the Grand Sirenis. You could go see one of the wonders of the world Chichen Itza on a day trip organized right at the resort, or explore the Tulum Ruins, or even go to the Coba Ruins.

A tour of ruins is a great way to learn about the Mayan history and immerse yourself in the culture.

Going to different beaches or visiting Playa del Carmen or Tulum are also popular things to do near the Grand Sirenis.

What makes the Grand Sirenis special?

There are a couple things about the Grand Sirenis that I think sets it apart from some of the other resorts in the area.

For me, the best is the snorkelling available right at the resort. Many resorts only have a sandy beach and there are no rocks or fish to look at.

But at the Grand Sirenis, they have a sandy beach and rocky area which attracts tons of fish! Bring your snorkel or rent one and go exploring in the sea!

The other thing that is unique to the Grand Sirenis is the “Lazy River.” While there are several pools throughout the resort, the lazy river is a special feature. It is a man-made river system that winds throughout the entire resort grounds.

The supply air-filled tubes and then you jump in the river and float around the resort with a drink in hand! It makes for a very relaxing way to explore the resort and is more entertaining than just sitting poolside.

The atmosphere at this resort is also very special. There is a mix of families, couples, wedding parties, and partiers that all mix together and seems to work.

The staff keep everyone smiling with games and the bartenders love to have a good laugh. But at the same time, there are plenty of places isolated for those who want to relax or have a fine-dining experience.

What are the food and service like?

To be completely honest, I have been to resorts with better food. One of the Grand Sirenis’ strong points is not its food. They do have “a la carte” restaurants which I find are a lot better than the buffet.

While the food isn’t always amazing, there is always a ton of it and you will not find yourself going hungry during your stay there!

The staff are generally happy and helpful. Some of them don’t speak English but still will greet you with a smile and find another staff member who does speak English to help you if needed.

The biggest downside to the resort is the paper-based reservation system which makes checking in extremely slow and often incorrect.

Is the Grand Sirenis good value?

Overall I think a vacation at the Grand Sirenis is the great value. With the rooms, you get all you can eat food, a la carte restaurants for dinner, unlimited drinks and access to the beautiful resort!

While it isn’t perfect, it is for the great value that I keep returning. I know that if I need a vacation and an escape from reality that the Grand Sirenis resort will leave me feeling refreshed after a fun and relaxing holiday.

Lyngen North: Northern Lights, Fjords and Fogbows

The Northern lights danced above our heads, cascading across the clear autumn sky in an explosion of green and purple.

The Northern Lights on our last night in Norway

As they raced in an arc across the heavens, the lights waxed and waned, and I gave up trying to use a tripod in my effort to catch something of them before they completely vanished.

It was the most spectacular display we saw

The amazing performance lasted about 30 minutes before it faded to a few lights glimmering on the horizon. It was our third and last night at Lyngen North and the most spectacular one by far.

We had journeyed to Norway from India in early September 2018  – a bit too early to see the Northern Lights, some would say – and we’d travelled around 200 kilometres north from Tromsø to enjoy the Aurora borealis from the unique vantage point of a glass igloo.

The route from Tromso to Lyngen North

Ola Berg, whose family has lived for three generations at Lyngen North, picked us up from Tromsø in his Tesla Model X, and drove us to Spåkenesveien in Rotsund, where he settled us into our glass igloo at the shore of the Lyngenfjord.

Driving from Tromso to Lyngen North in Ola’s Tesla

Contrary to my expectations (early September isn’t the optimum season for Northern Lights), we saw the lights on 4 out of our 6 nights in Norway, despite the long days and short nights of autumn.

At Lyngen North, finally

On our first night at Lyngen North, the sky was clear and we saw them dance above our heads from our little wooden bench on the shore of the Lyngen fjord.

The Northern Lights on the first night at Lyngen North

We were thrilled when we saw a shooting star streak past the lights and I managed to catch it on camera.

A meteor streaks across the sky as the lights dance nearby

The second morning, we awoke to a thick fog that enveloped our glass igloo in its wet embrace, leaving droplets of condensation inside my camera lens and concealing the peaks of the Lyngen Alps across the fjord.

On our second morning, a thick fog came down over the fjord

The Northern Lights still shone from behind the fog that night, giving it a spooky and eerie glow that would not look out of place in a Stephen King movie.

The Northern Lights gave the fog a spooky glow

On the third morning, too, we woke to a thin fog that dispersed quickly as the day progressed, but not without leaving us a magical fogbow that left us marvelling at Mother Nature’s generosity.

The fogbow was a marvellous surprise

Sometimes called a white rainbow, a fogbow is similar to a rainbow. However, as its name suggests, it appears as a bow in fog rather than rain.

Mother Nature was definitely generous with her bounty that day

Because of the very small size of water droplets that cause fog, the fogbow has only very weak colours, with a red outer edge and bluish inner edge.

The Glass Igloo Experience at Lyngen North

A year back, when I was planning my bucket-list trip to see the Northern Lights, I decided to go via Tromsø (for reasons I explain here).

While researching other interesting places to visit in Norway, I spotted Lyngen North and its glass igloos, on Booking.com’s list of options for accommodation in Norway.

Lyngen North has two glass igloos

I’d read about something similar at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland, but the glass igloos there cost three times as much as the ones at Lyngen North. At both resorts, they tend to get sold out pretty quickly.

The glass igloos at Lyngen North are self-contained studio apartments outfitted with a kitchen with stovetop,  refrigerator and electric kettle.

These igloos are the real deal

They also have heated floors, private bathrooms with tinted glasses for privacy, free high-speed WiFi and private parking. The bed is ultra comfortable and has a slightly oversized mattress.

Northern Lights planetarium for two

As of now, the property doesn‘t feature a restaurant, but the owners were in the process of laying down the foundations for one when we were there, and Ola hopes to have it running by December 2018.

The kitchen cabinets have crockery, cutlery, coffee cups, wine glasses, salt, pepper, sugar and a few spices. But, for now, you have to carry provisions and cook your own food. Ola stopped at a REMA 1000 supermarket on the way to let us pick up groceries.

The REMA 1000 is the most economical supermarket in Norway

Since I don’t have much faith in my cooking skills, we mostly picked up canned food, and stuff we could use to rustle up a quick meal.

If you stay in the glass igloos in the summer (for the Midnight Sun experience) you might have trouble sleeping at night because of sunlight streaming in from the top.

We went in early autumn and the short night (most of which we spent staying up to watch the lights) made it difficult to get a sound sleep since the sun rose pretty early.

via GIPHY

The glass igloos also act as greenhouses, trapping heat inside, which makes the afternoons quite warm. Since igloos are, for the most part, designed to keep the wind out, very little wind enters the room even if you keep the door open, which we did most of the day.

But there’s an air-conditioner to keep you cool during the warm afternoons and who wants to spend all day inside anyway, when you can sit by the shore and enjoy the breeze and the spectacular views of the Lyngenfjord and the Lyngen Alps.

Why stay indoors all day when you can enjoy this view

Since the temperature was a very bracing 10-12 degrees C in the day, we were quite comfortable sitting outside. The nights, however, got much colder and I needed 3 layers to stay warm when I was out watching the Northern Lights.

The property also features a hot bath under the stars that you can climb into when it gets too cold. We chose not to use it because of the potential for chlorine allergies.

Enjoy a hot bath under the stars

Activities at Lyngen North

Lyngen North is located in a remote peninsula of Norway. If you’re lucky, you may get to see moose or elk, foxes and rabbits in the nearby woods and fields.

Birdwatchers will find quite a few species to spot, from noisy seagulls squawking in the distance to ducks and many more species of birds that we couldn’t identify.

Depending on the time of year you visit, there are quite a few outdoor adventure activities you can enjoy, including snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, and visiting the Reisa national park nearby.

The owners offer boats on hire to go boating and fishing on the fjord. Not being well-versed in the art of boating, we chose to opt-out of these activities.

You can hire these boats for a fishing trip

Instead, being the history buff I am, I wanted to visit the ruins of an old German fort near the property. The Spåkenes kystfort (Spåkenes coastal fort) is a ruined coastal fortress built by the Germans during World War II, and it has quite a fascinating history.

The Spåkenes kystfort is on the Storbakken hill, the highest point of Spåkenes and consists of four bunker complexes, each of which included a gun, ammunition bunker, trench, and infantry bunker.

The ruins of an old German fort – Via Mainostoimisto Seven-1, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The work to build the bunkers began in 1941. After the Germans left, one of the bunkers suffered extensive damage in an explosion.

Unfortunately, the Storbakken hill was rather steep for me and I couldn’t climb it thanks to an old injury, so we weren’t able to see the fort with our own eyes. Arun, being half-German, was not impressed with German fort ruins and didn’t care to climb and explore it on his own.

It’s worth taking a walk along the coastal road

However, the view from the coastal road leading from Lyngen North to the fort and beyond was so amazing, we took a long walk along it, admiring the homes along the cliffs and imagining what it would be like to live in one of them.

An RV with a spectacular view

If you’re a Liverpool fan, you’ll find a kindred soul in one of Ola’s neighbours who seems to be quite vocal about his devotion to the football team.

Liverpool fans will find a kindred soul in Ola’s neighbour

Tips for your trip to Lyngen North:

  • Lyngen North is located at the peninsula Spåkenes in Northern Norway, 3 hours north along the E6 from Tromsø Airport. You can take a bus or rental car to Lyngen North. Check their website for transportation options.
  • If you don’t want to drive or can’t drive yourself to Lyngen North (we didn’t) contact Ola directly and ask if he can pick you up. Of course, you must pay for the pickup and drop, but Ola’s a very thoughtful and accommodating young man and he’ll do what he can to help you. As a bonus, you get to ride in his Tesla. 🙂
  • If like us, you don’t speak or understand Norwegian, you might find it hard to read the labels on groceries in the supermarket, as some of them are not translated into English. Ask for help from the person at the counter. When we couldn’t locate the butter, we asked the lady at the checkout counter and she helped us find it. Norwegians speak English so communicating is not a problem at all.
  • The sale of alcohol is restricted in Norway and it’s only available in certain stores. Ask a local for help to find a store that sells it. Ola took us via the AMFI Pyramiden on the mainland side of Tromsø city where we bought some wine and a bottle of Jagermeister.

    Picking up wine at the AMFI Pyramiden

  • To identify the mountain peaks in the Lyngen Alps and some on the way, Arun used the PeakLens app on Google Play. It helps you precisely identify mountain peaks and hills in real-time and works online and offline with pre-downloaded maps.
    The PeakLens app gave us the (unpronounceable) names of these mountains in the Lyngen Alps

     

    No prizes for guessing why this peak is called the Sleeping Soldier

  • To know how likely you are to see the Northern Lights, you can download the My Aurora Forecast app. It tells you exactly how likely you are to see the Aurora borealis and offers information about solar wind activity and high-resolution sun imagery. However, your chance of seeing the lights depends largely on a combination of solar activity, good weather, and a healthy helping of luck.
  • If you want to stay in the glass igloo at Lyngen North, you’ll have to book months in advance, as they have only two and they tend to sell out very quickly. Contact Ola if you’re not sure about availability.
  • Finally, do spend at least 2 to 3 nights (if not more) at Lyngen North. No photos can capture the magnificent views of the fjord and Lyngen Alps, and Lyngen North is truly one of the best places to stay in Norway to see the Northern Lights.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Lyngen North

Also, read:

I hope you enjoyed this Lyngen North review. Watch the video below for some of my favourite moments from our trip.

 

Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa Review: Pousadas, Ponds, and Portuguese Influences

Some of the images and information in this review were provided on request by the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa.

A light rain was falling as I alighted at the lobby of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa in Cansaulim, a 5-star luxury hotel in South Goa.

The lobby at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

I stepped out of the car and was struck by how much it reminded me of my favourite 5-star timeshare resort in Goa, Club Mahindra Varca Beach Resort, of which I’m a member.

The Front Entrance at Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa

The resemblance ended there. As I was taken to the check-in counter on the lagoon, I saw that the property was much larger and more lavish than I had imagined.

The lagoon at the check-in counter of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Here’s a 360-degree view of the lagoon from our check-in counter.

 

I was in Goa having being invited to speak on Pinterest marketing, at the 6th edition of the Exotic Wedding Planning Conference, a one of its kind event organized by Exito, and conceptualized to bring the top wedding planners across the globe to a single platform.

As the Official Country Winner in the Luxury Wedding Destination category at the 2016 World Luxury Hotel Awards, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa seemed like the perfect place to organize a conference of wedding planners in Goa.

View of the Lobby at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The conference was from the 13th to the 14th of August, 2018, and I had arrived a day early to relax and prepare for my talk, which was on the 2nd day.

After checking in, another speaker and I were transported by buggy to our respective rooms. The Indo-Portuguese style room and suites are a distinctive feature of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa hotel.

Buggy transport at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

At first sight, my room looked like any other 5-star hotel room. But when I explored it further, I saw that it had a large verandah (balcony) with a view of the lagoon that runs through the property.

Welcome to Goan-style verandah living

My room was part of the Indo-Portuguese style villas, called Pousadas, that are divided into five landscaped courtyards, each distinctive in theme, architecture and landscape.

Indo – Portuguese style Pousadas at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The Pousadas are predominantly single-storied and have spacious balconies with stunning views that overlook the sea, lagoons or tropical spaces, perfecting the concept of ‘verandah living’ that is innate to the people of Goa.

The furniture in the rooms was styled like antique Indo-Portuguese furniture, which I love. It is locally sourced with design features from the early 1900s.

The huge Portuguese-style wooden bed in my room

The other feature I loved in my room was the lavish bathroom with a sunken shower. I love beautiful bathrooms and this one looked and smelled wonderful.

My lavish bathroom with the sunken shower

I had mixed feelings about the fact that it led to an outdoor shower room with a pebble floor and vegetation, that opened out to the sky, and the only thing separating my bathroom from that room was a pane of clear glass.

The open shower made me a tad uncomfortable

Imagining that a peeping Tom could look into my bathroom made me cringe, so I called up the resort host, who assured me that there was “absolutely” no cause for worry.

The walls enclosing the outdoor shower were designed so no one could look inside, she said, so it was “absolutely private and confidential.” She said “absolutely” quite a few times. Although it didn’t mitigate my discomfort, I said, “Screw it, let’s do it,” Richard Branson-style.

Once I decided to take a bath, I found I didn’t really care after all. I was more focused on enjoying the bath products from Forest Essentials. From the shampoo, conditioner and shower-gel, to the delightfully lemon-scented hand soap, all the products felt luxurious and smelled divine. Even better that they’re cruelty-free.

After my nice hot bath, I felt relaxed and squeaky clean. I polished off the welcome platter, with delicious Goan sweets, like bebinca. Even the logo had an edible bottom, Willy Wonka-style. Nice touch!

The delicious welcome platter with Goan sweets

For dinner, I ordered a plate of saffron arancini from the 24/7 room service and prepared to spend my evening curled up watching a movie and resting in preparation for the next day.

The saffron arancini were tasty but not mind-blowing

I also got my blazer and trousers pressed by the laundry service, which returned them promptly in an hour.

The next morning, I called for a sunny side up with sausages and potatoes. It was delivered in a steel tiffin, which I thought was wise since it’s both environmentally-friendly and keeps the food warm.

The breakfast, delivered in a tiffin, turned out to be a disaster

However, the breakfast itself turned out to be something of a disaster, because the kitchen had forgotten to send salt and pepper, and didn’t tell me that toast was not included as part of the order.

In the time it took the delivery boy to go fetch the salt and pepper, the eggs were cold as ice and practically inedible. I shoved them down anyway, in my hurry to get to the conference on time.

Later, when I told a sales representative from the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa about my disastrous breakfast, she notified her higher-ups, who apologized and sent a bottle of red wine to my room, to make up for the gaffe.

I called a buggy to take me to the Pyramid Ballroom since there was no way I was going to find my way around the enormous property by myself. I was all ready for the talks, engagement and networking activities and the day went off well.

The conference was very well-organised and went off without a hitch. The food at the networking luncheons was excellent and the speakers included some actual celebrities like Devika Narain, the wedding designer for Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma’s hush-hush wedding in Italy.

The conference was held in the Pyramid ballroom

In the evening, we were invited for dinner and cocktails at another ballroom (whose name I can’t remember). A new friend of mine, Boi, and I navigated our way over the vast and gorgeous swimming pools to the dining area.

The lagoon-style pool at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The resort grounds and architecture are a treat for the eyes. Designed by famed resort architect, Simeon Halstead from Spain, and landscape designer, Peter Imrik of Napa, California, it has the cheerful and relaxed atmosphere of a small Indo-Portuguese village.

Village Square at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Spread over 45 acres, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa property is like a picturesque township, full of green courtyards and gardens, linked by Venetian-style canals and waterways, tiny bridges and cobbled streets.

The Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa resort is full of green courtyards and gardens.

Once Boi and I managed to find our way to the dining area, we were greeted by a lively bar area and a delightful singer who kept us enthralled with songs from the 80s and 90s.

The bartender was rocking

I contented myself with a couple of Pina Coladas and enjoyed getting to know my fellow-attendees. The dinner was a multi-cuisine spread that had so much choice, I was confused at which way to go – Goan or Asian or Italian?

A representative image of the food at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

I finally settled for the seafood ravioli followed by Crêpes Suzette for dessert. Both were delicious. Although many of the conference attendees stayed on to party till 1 a.m. or later, I called it an early night since my talk was the first presentation on the agenda the next morning.

I retired to my room and slept early. The next morning I rushed off to the Pyramid Ballroom at 8.30 am, without a chance to eat breakfast because I wanted to run through my Powerpoint and make sure that the animations were working.

As it was my last day at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa and I would be in the conference all day, I also packed my bags and took them with me.

Thankfully my talk went off well. Image © Exito

My talk went off well. It was well-received and I got some great feedback from the attendees.

Since I had to check out that day, I’d booked myself into another hotel for the night – a budget hotel in Nuvem called the Indismart Woodbourne Resort. It turned out that Boi was staying there too, so we decided to leave together after the conference and split the cost of the cab fare.

In the hurry for us to get to the hotel, where her father was waiting for her, I forgot to check out of the Park Hyatt. Luckily they sent me an email with my room service and laundry charges, which I paid online.

My stay at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa did not lack comfort. However, one of the things I would change was the wasteful use of plastic bottles in the rooms and conference areas. These could easily be replaced by jugs with glasses.

No plastic bottles, please

To their credit, they do use glass bottles at their all-day Village Café restaurant, but it would be great if they extended this eco-friendly practice to the entire hotel.

Sustainable Practices by the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

On request, the staff outlined for me, the sustainable practices followed at the resort. Their corporate social responsibility program is called Hyatt Thrive, which includes energy-saving and water consumption reduction initiatives, engagement in community causes, and environmental clean-up drives.

In addition, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa operates a series of initiatives under the Hyatt Thrive program that are geared for the betterment and livelihood of the local community and benefit the environment in the Cansaulim area.

These activities include an Apprenticeship Programme, organic farming programme, sustaining and promoting a local small-scale art industry, enriching the lives of village youth through sports and festive celebrations and other community activities.

Some of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa’s ‘Green Initiatives’ include:

  • Renewable sources of energy

Renewable sources of energy through windmills and solar panels that generate power used for the external illumination of the hotel.

  • Water conservation measures

The hotel implements rainwater harvesting measures. All the lagoons in the hotel are waterproofed to save water. Water circulation is kept off for five hours. Water in the sewage treatment plant is recycled and used for irrigation of landscaping.

The lagoons at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa are waterproofed to save water

Drip irrigation methods help reduce water consumption. Hedges are mulched with coir dust and grass clippings to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination.

  • Recycling of biodegradable waste

The hotel has a wet garbage plant that processes about 500 kg of wet garbage per day, and a vermicompost system that uses earthworms to convert pre-composted grass clippings to organic manure, which is then used for landscaping.

  • Air pollution control

A scrubber plant removes and neutralizes particles like dust and gases from exhaust streams.

  • Organic Chefs’ Garden

Their ‘Chefs Garden’ is an in-house, organic vegetable garden where fresh herbs and tropical fruits are grown and used by the kitchens at the resort.

An in-house spice farm grows cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper and other aromatic spices. Neem is a natural insecticide used for the plants.

Other green initiatives include the use of reusable cloth laundry bags and cane baskets in place of plastic, and energy-efficient light bulbs, instead of incandescent bulbs.

Types of Accommodation at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa, Cansaulim

The resort has two categories of accommodation, rooms and suites. The Suites include options like the:

  • Park Lagoon View Suite
  • Park Sea View Suite with Lap Pool
  • Vista Suite
  • Park Sea View Suite
  • Imperador Suite

Rooms are available with a single bed or twin accommodation with a view of the lagoon, pool and ocean.

Imperador Suite with Outdoor Sunken Bathtub. Courtesy Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The busiest times of year for tourism in Goa are from October to February. The rest of the year is usually off-season – although over the last few years Goa is becoming a popular destination for MICE Events.

Activities at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa

The Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa also seems to be quite popular with Indian families, and I saw a bunch of them lounging about the lobby on my arrival. Not surprising, since it won the Most Child-Friendly Hotel award at the 2016 KidsStopPress.

Camp Hyatt – the kid’s activity centre at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Its Sereno Spa also won the #1 award for most luxurious Spa resort at the 2016 asiaSpa India Awards. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to check it out because my stay was too short and hectic.

Outdoor Spa treatment room at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Places to visit near the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Arossim beach is walking distance from the resort. Again, I was unable to visit the beach since my visit was for business and I had no time for anything else.

Arossim Beach, Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

To see more stunning images from this property, check out the video below.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=6HJXZy-mlSA

 

Disclosure: My airfare and stay at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa was sponsored by Exito. However, this review reflects my honest and candid opinion of my stay.  

India for Introverts: 5 Destinations To Avoid The Crowds And Follow Your Bliss

One of the biggest complaints I hear from foreigners who travel to India is that the crowds and noise can be distressing. This can be even more overwhelming if you’re an introvert, like me. People and noise drain my energy and tire me out very quickly.

But India is not all crowds, noise and beggars. If you hate these, then I recommend you avoid all Indian cities, except as layovers, because you will find these three things in abundance in most cities.

Even though Indians are not known to have a concept of personal space, it’s possible for introverts to find destinations, in this vast country, where they’ll get nothing but peace and quiet. I know, because I found some of these places by actively looking for them.

So, if you love a quiet holiday, whether by the beach or in the mountains or the forests, here are five delightful destinations where you can avoid the crowds and follow your bliss.

  1. Talpona Beach, Goa

I went to Talpona Beach, Goa, in May 2018, because I wanted to take a road trip with my family and my two Labradors. I know Goa pretty well, having lived there for two years when I was completing my Masters at Goa University.

Sunset at Talpona beach

I thought I’d seen almost every beach in Goa worth seeing, until I chanced upon the perfect family accommodation at Talpona beach, in Canacona district at the very south of Goa. We stayed there for a week in a quiet little cottage with our dogs.

There were very few people, mostly locals, on the beach and the few creatures we encountered were stray dogs, cows and crows. With excellent food, Wifi and only my family around, it turned out to be a very restful and relaxing vacation, in spite of the road trip.

Read about my visit to Talpona Beach here.

  1. McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh

I went to McLeodganj a number of years ago to do a 5-day Introduction to Buddhism course at the Tushita Meditation Center. McLeodganj is a little town near Dharamshala – the Dalai Lama’s summer capital – in Himachal Pradesh.

View of the snow caps from McLeodganj

We spent hardly any time in the town itself and, except for my classmates, there were no crowds to disturb the serenity of our experience. The meditation sessions were an introvert’s dream. To sit in silence and contemplate was just what I needed at that point in my life.

The main meditation hall at Tushita. Image by Jaypee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

But you don’t have to stay at a meditation centre to find peace and quiet here. You can use AirBnB to book a quiet little cottage or room with stunning mountain views in the hills of McLeodganj.

Read about my visit to McLeodganj here.

  1. Pahalgam, Kashmir

Pahalgam is a sleepy little town in Kashmir with scenic locales and sights that would be perfect in a Bollywood movie (and many have been filmed here, too).

We went to Kashmir on a 10-day trip in 2011 and Pahalgam turned out to be one of my favourite places ever. Walking along the quiet banks of the Lidder River, listening to only the sound of gushing water, was one of my favourite things to do.

The beautiful Lidder River

There were no crowds and the only people we met in the tiny market were locals going about their business. We saw no other tourists on our visit there – none where we were staying, at least.

I envisioned myself staying for a week in a little cottage by the river, enjoying the spectacular view of the pine trees and water gushing by my front door. Oh, Heaven! Accommodation in Pahalgam is also very cheap, so perhaps I’ll do that one day.

My dream cottage on the banks of Lidder River Pahalgam

Read about my visit to Pahalgam here.

  1. Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

Mahabaleshwar is a pretty popular tourist spot near Pune, so it’s not a place an introvert would think of as peaceful and quiet. No, for that you have to avoid staying in the town and instead book yourself a room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar.

Our room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar

This quiet luxury resort is located in a forest where you’ll see very few humans around, except when you venture into the dining room for your meals. The only people who’ll disturb you are the people who come to clean your room.

You may see a monkey or two and a few forest creatures, but these are welcome distractions. The resort is pretty far from the town (most of Club Mahindra’s resorts are), so you don’t have to go to any touristy places unless you want to.

Read about my visit to Mahableshwar here.

  1. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This remote destination is an introvert’s delight. A high-altitude mountain lake with spectacular views and few people to disturb your reverie… What more could one ask for?

On a trip to Ladakh in May 2016, we stayed for a night in a tented camp at Pangong Tso (Lake). I wished I could have stayed longer, never mind that it was freezing cold and the food and amenities were pretty basic.

Pangong Lake Tented Camps

For that matter, almost anywhere you go in Ladakh, you’ll find almost no crowds, and the only thing that will assail your ears is the wind blowing through the rugged snowy peaks.

If sadhus and holy men are the ultimate introverts, it’s no surprise that they choose such remote places for their reflections.

Read about my trip to Ladakh here.

I hope that, with these 5 locations for introverts in India, I’ve done my bit to change your vision of India as a place filled with crowds and noise.

Peace and quiet can be had in many places in India if you know where to look. These 5 travel destinations will help you find it.

A Weekend At Treasure Island Resort, Lonavala

The mist rolled down over the hills, green and wet with the rain. Little waterfalls burst forth from the verdant foliage as we drove past on the expressway from Pune to Lonavala.

Driving towards Lonavala on the Expressway from Pune

Treasure Island Resort, Lonavala, is just on the outskirts of Lonavala town. You have to pass another toll naka (post) and a few roadside dhabas (restaurants) before you see the massive sign signalling you inside the gates.

It was over 20 years since I stayed at the Treasure Island Resort, Lonavala. The last time I stayed there was before my kid was born.

I didn’t remember much of what it looked like back then, except for this pool with a waterfall in the centre of the resort. Every time we crossed the corridor passing by the pool, our noses were assaulted by the stench of chlorine.

Pool and waterfall at night at the Treasure Island Resort, Lonavala

I booked a week at the resort in July 2018, because a week of my RCI timeshare was expiring and I had to use it or lose it. That’s one of the curses of owning a timeshare you don’t use as often as you should.

At the Treasure Island Resort, Lonavala

Even though we were entitled to stay for a week, we decided to cut short our stay and return to Pune after the weekend, because the hotel had no Wifi, the data network was bad and we wouldn’t have been able to get any work done.

Our suite at the Treasure Island Resort, Lonavala

Our stay was very pleasant though. The hotel had upgraded us from a studio apartment to a 1-bedroom suite, so we had plenty of place to lounge about and a massive bathroom that made me very happy. I love hotel rooms with big bathrooms.

The huge bathroom in our suite

We spent a very pleasant afternoon watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory  – the delightful 1971 musical with Gene Wilder, not the creepy 2005 Tim Burton remake with Johnny Depp.

Arun and I drove around Lonavala a bit. It had a lot of memories for us. But the dreadful traffic and lack of parking on weekends made us stick close to the Uphill mall in Lonavala, where we picked up a meal from McDonald’s.

Uphill Mall Lonavala

Our evenings were spent enjoying cocktails at the Tavern, the lounge at the 5-star Fariyas Hotel. We also preferred having our evening meals there.

The decor in the Fariyas Hotel Lonavala
My Strawberry Daiquiri at the Tavern, Fariyas Hotel

The food at Treasure Island Resort was reasonably-priced, tasty and well-made. But it was pure vegetarian (obviously targeted at the Gujarati community), and the room service was understaffed and unmotivated.

We had to waste a good deal of time trying to get through to them on the intercom, convincing them to serve us meals in the room.

Lonavala is a town and hill station about half-way between Mumbai and Pune. It’s one of the few places where weary Mumbaikars can hang up their hats on a weekend.

Punekars are somewhat more fortunate, having access to many more weekend getaways, like Lavasa, Mulshi, and Mahabaleshwar, besides the forts and hills near Pune city that attract so many trekkers.

It’s hard to get lost in Lonavala. If you can’t find your way, just follow the “Maganlal’s Chikki” signs. You can read more about the famous Lonavala chikki here.

Maganlal Chikki, Lonavala’s most famous chikki franchise

Before we returned to Pune, I tried to buy a pack of the famous Cooper’s chocolate and walnut fudge, but the long lines outside their shop made me opt for the fudge and chikki from Frend’s chikki nearby. It tastes just as good.

Frend’s Chikki and Fudge

Luxury Outdoor Vacations: A Trip Through Nature Minus The Discomfort

This year, treat yourself or your family to the experience of a lifetime by taking a luxury outdoor vacation.

Although the great outdoors have traditionally been associated with a certain amount of discomfort or “roughing it,” many guided trips through nature now have luxury counterparts, allowing you to have the best of both worlds.

Learn to enjoy your surroundings with an exclusivity that only comes with having the economic means, and immerse yourself completely in the wilderness by staying in secluded locations with your every need catered to.

No matter what the season, landscape or activity you’re looking to experience, you’ll find your perfect match with one of these luxury outdoor vacations.

Glamping

For those who enjoy the concept of sleeping under the stars, but don’t want to deal with the hassles of camping or the possibility of uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, glamping has become a popular choice as a luxury outdoor vacation.

Instead of sleeping in tents or primitive cabins, you can stay in a yurt, treehouse, teepee or even an igloo. Under Canvas offers camps near U.S. National Parks — such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Zion — that have canvas tents and teepees complete with king sized beds, ensuite bathrooms with running water, and private decks.

They’ll even create all-inclusive, custom packages for you, which may range from yoga retreats to multi-sport adventures. Prices for a family of four starts at $2,900 USD for two nights.

Wildlife Safaris

Wildlife safaris have long been a top choice for luxury outdoor vacations. While you can find safaris in countries like Jordan, India and Costa Rica, African safaris have remained the most in demand and, in turn, the most glamorous options for tracking big game and exploring the exotic terrain.

Ker & Downey offers a Botswana safari with a private guide and stays in two to three luxury camps located in the Okavango Delta. You’ll go on morning and evening game drives, explore the waterways by motorboat, and take guided bush walks to search for animals such as elephants, buffalo and impala.

Spectacular views, comfortable accommodations and a private chef await you. As Ker & Downey craft custom safaris for luxury travellers, prices are available upon request but expect to pay in the $15,000-20,000 USD range for a week and a half.

Ski Trip

If a wintery escape with the promise of exclusive slope access, chic apres-ski offerings, and a private hot tub in your backyard sounds like the trip of a lifetime, a luxury ski trip might be your perfect match.

While there are plenty of gorgeous resorts in the United States and Canada, to get a taste of classic ski culture that attracts the rich and famous, consider a European destination such as France, Italy or Austria.

In Meribel, France, you can rent out an entire seven bedroom chalet as your base of operations for a weeklong luxury ski holiday. At Chalet La Chouette, you’ll receive an exclusive experience with gourmet, catered food and drinks, an outdoor hot tub and sauna, and courtesy chauffeur service to the aptly named Delicious Mountain.

Also acting as a ski concierge, the chalet can organize equipment rentals, lift passes and lessons as you desire. While the chalet itself will cost about $15,000 USD a week to rent out, expect to pay another couple thousand for use of the mountain’s ski facilities.

Yacht Chartering

If you’d rather take to the open seas, there are luxury outdoor vacations catering to adventurous water lovers all over the world. Fancy international cruises, multi-destination scuba tours and ritzy yacht charters will whisk you off to paradise across the water while still allowing you creature comforts and impeccable service.

Choose from sailing and motor yachts to craft a luxury charter trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy and visit impossibly beautiful destinations like Naples, Capri and Sorrento. Silver Star Yachting has yachts ranging from $12,000-300,000 USD a week, with varying degrees of included services and amenities.

Most have small crews of two to four, with some mega yachts requiring crews of 10 to 15, including a private chef. Expect to find designer linens, wood flooring, fine art, water toys and impeccable interior design across the board.

Off the Grid

Off-the-grid vacations are not for everyone. They often include strenuous hiking, biking and kayaking across pristine, but sometimes unforgiving landscapes. Nevertheless, you can still find luxury amid rugged trips to some of the most remote places in the world.

While you will have to sacrifice cellphone service, TV and WiFi, going unplugged will allow you to truly bond with your travel companions, or connect with yourself.

Shakti has off the grid experiences in the Ladakh, Kumaon and Sikkim regions of India. All are unpopulous, rural areas surrounded by mountains and untouched nature.

Their sample itineraries will have you staying in luxuriously restored village houses, indulging in fresh, catered meals, and maybe even enjoying private cooking lessons from your private chef.

You’ll visit remote villages and Buddhist monasteries by foot, boat and bike while taking in the beauty of your natural surroundings. For a trip spanning 10 days, expect to pay around $9,125 USD per person.

Equestrian

If you love horses or consider yourself a seasoned equestrian, why not consider a vacation centred around these majestic creatures?

Many vacation destinations offer horseback riding day trips along scenic beaches, mountain trails and rural byways. Luxury equestrian vacations allow you ample time for riding, often with guided trips by local professionals in combination with appropriately classy digs.

Equestrian Escapes crafts unique equine trips throughout locations in Europe, Africa and South America. One of their more interesting itineraries will take you riding along a medieval castle trail in the Italian countryside of Tuscany.

Not only will you get to tour and ride to each castle, but you also get to stay overnight in the castles, sleeping and dining like royalty all for around $2000 USD per person plus airfare. The combination of history, nature and activity will undoubtedly reinvigorate your mind, body and spirit.

No matter your preference, these luxury outdoor vacations will likely inspire a sense of wanderlust within. Take the time to find an experience that speaks to you and your budget, while allowing you to become one with your surroundings.

Now more than ever you can stay active while you travel without compromising the sort of service and amenities you’ve come to expect.

Destination Poovar: An Island Resort For The Incurable Beach Lover

Floating cottages at Poovar Island Resort

Going by the amount of press Goa beaches get, one could be forgiven for believing that Goa is the Alpha and Omega of Indian beach destinations.

This belief is, to some extent, justified – in terms of getting its tourism act together, Goa still rules. However, tourist orientation alone does not a perfect destination make…

Having explored Goa extensively, we decided that it was time to give Kerala – that great, green, soggy coconut-tree-infested armpit that everyone knows of and nobody really understands – a  fair trial.

Destination – Poovar, a resort island adjoining Thiruvananthapuram (as though Trivandrum wasn’t enough of a tongue-twister). We had what it takes! We had the brochures, we had the suntan lotion, we had two squirmy brats to hold our sanity to ransom. In short, we were tourists – and we meant to prove it.

Of course, we also had the then-Club Mahindra Poovar (now known as the Poovar Island Resort) tell us that they were was booked to the rafters – but hey, we’re from Mumbai. We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

So there we were at Thiruvananthapuram airport in the middle of a furnace-like April, wondering how it could POSSIBLY get any hotter when summer hit its peak next month. Did I mention ‘tourist orientation’ earlier? Kerala doesn’t have any. I mean, it has great beaches and one helluva lot of coconut trees, but it isn’t tourist-savvy.

View of Golden Sands Beach from Poovar Island Resort

I mean, they’re friendly enough at the retail level as long as they see a wallet-bulge in your pants, but it takes more than mercenary friendliness to make you feel welcome there. At the very least, you need to feel that you’re on the same page as they are – and you will never get that reassurance.

Maybe it’s only because they mean well but can’t communicate the fact to you.  Don’t go by Kerala’s literacy level – that may be the highest in India, but it takes English to be tourist-friendly. Correction – it takes COMPREHENSIBLE English.

I believe they do speak the language in Kerala – but for all it sounds like, it could be the rattling of coconut-oil slathered chestnuts in a hollowed-out Webster’s dictionary. It does not compute. Not to Indian ears, and most certainly not to foreign ears.

English, as spoken by a native Keralite, comes across like an encrypted mix of busted bongo drums, castanets and out-of-tune guitar strings misprocessed through a waa-waa pedal and echo chamber. Foreign tourists have an advantage, though – they’re not averse to making asses of themselves using sign language.

Anyway, we did manage to get a taxi that took from the airport to the resort’s launch jetty. Along the way, we discovered that we were a mere coconut oil-skid away from Kovalam Beach. We got all excited over that (a mistake in that heat) and vowed to check it out after our four-day stint on Poovar Island.

Boat cruising through the Poovar backwaters

The boat ride took us along an amazing, winding waterway where the coconut tree ruled supreme – a relentless canopy of green. Along the way, fishermen went about their fishermanly business without paying us the slightest attention.

Fishermen doing their thing in the Poovar backwaters

I was impressed – this was the first contingent of locals I had seen who had better things to do than stare and flash their startlingly white teeth at us. The boat pulled up at a jetty that took the form of an open houseboat fitted out with wooden benches. Beyond this strange but beautiful contraption stretched a concrete lane that led to the actual resort.

Poovar Island Resort Jetty

The lane was uncompromisingly lined with… you guessed it – coconut trees. I had reached a point where I would have given a hundred coconut trees for the sight of one noxious Tata truck or overturned garbage can crawling with hunger-crazed cats.

Poovar Island Resort Coconut Trees

Checking into the resort was a bit of a challenge. Apart from the decided difference in English language versions, it turned out that they had the wrong rooms booked for us.

They had no kitchenettes in the rooms. We had been very specific about our requirement of kitchenettes and had lugged an improbably heavy bag of kitchenettable foodstuff along.

This bag was now threatening to become the gastronomic equivalent of a millstone around our necks. The Mumbai mindset we had brought along refused to dovetail with this, but we were also beginning to latch on to an important lesson in South India tourism – while in Kerala, do as the catatonic comatose do.

What about Poovar itself, you ask. This is understandable and shall be addressed accordingly.

Poovar is another world. This little island is almost too perfect to be true, which means that it probably is. It would not surprise me to learn that a bunch of gung-ho geologists from Singapore descended in this part of the Kokknut Oyl Bowl of Indya and hacked this little piece of real estate off the mainland with a few truckfuls of napalm.

Poovar Island Resort walkway

I can almost see them unleash a frenzy of high-end landscaping by the light of many full moons, adding the picture-perfect walkways and concrete paths, the self-contained houseboats that probably need to be booked an entire lifetime in advance, the statuary, the ponds and the flower beds.

Manmade or not, Poovar is the very epitome of tranquillity. The resort featured a swimming pool complete with bar, a rather neat gymnasium contained largely by bamboo thatching and a restaurant that serves out-of-this-world South Indian, continental and Mughlai a la carte and buffet meals.

Stay away from the resort’s store, however – they sold us a Korea-made pair of plastic diving goggles for Rs. 800 and wanted to follow this up with a fake piece of Nepali stoneware that would probably have cost us our mortgage, pension plan and a goodish part of my left arm.

Bring everything you need from wherever you’re coming from and returning to – and I mean EVERYTHING – toilet paper, ciggies, sleeping/birth control pills, booze, T-shirts that say “I LOVE POOVAR” (readily available at Mumbai’s Colaba, Delhi’s Palika Bazaar, Goa’s beach shacks or anywhere else where tourist dross is sold).

The sunken bar at Poovar Island Resort

Also, expect to do a fair share of sweating while at the Poovar Island Resort. The rooms’ air conditioners seem to have called an uneasy truce with Kerala’s trademark mugginess and worked only half the time.

Nothing that the somnolent housekeeping guys could do (once we managed to convince them that it would be really nice if they could do something BEFORE we checked out four days later) made much of a difference.

A beautiful sunset at Poovar Island Resort

Our four days on Poovar up, we got ferried back to the mainland and decided to put our plan of checking out Kovalam Beach before we flew back to Mumbai on the table. This cost three hours of precious lifetime, which will never be replaced.

Take my advice – stay away from Kovalam. Apart from a picturesque lighthouse, there is more charm in the least of Mumbai’s overcrowded beaches than here. It has all the character of a Bangkok flea market, with a comparable retail component.

Kovalam Fishermen pulling in their catch

Cheap restaurants, tawdry Kashmiri and Nepali handicraft shacks, touristy keepsake outlets and hostelries of VERY doubtful repute have Kovalam in an uncompromising death grip.

The ten feet of remaining beach is black with some kind of permanent oil slick, and the sight of pale-skinned Westerners trying gamely to catch a tan on this DMZ-like stretch made me want to cry softly with mortified repulsion.

Every intact seashell larger than two centimetres that have ever been retrieved there is being sold five feet up the waterline as part of some outlandish boardwalk knickknack.

Our Poovar adventure ended at Thiruvananthapuram Airport with an eight-hour wait for an Indian Airlines flight that had already been delayed by seven hours, to begin with.

This delay, which made it into the papers two days later, apparently was a record of some sort, and I guess we should be proud of having been there to experience it.

While it lasted, it was nothing less than gruelling, torturous and completely infuriating. The airport authorities were finally forced to put up all stranded passengers in the First Class lounge one floor above.

I arrived back in Mumbai with an hour to spare before hurrying to the office, my mind still a confused daze of coconut trees….

Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar: Amidst Forests And Family

In early March 2018, just after my child’s board exam was done, we took a short trip to Club Mahindra’s Sherwood Mahabaleshwar resort for a much-needed break.

For those who have never heard of Mahabaleshwar, it is a hill station at an average elevation of 1,353 metres, located in the Sahyadri mountain range. Situated about 120 km (75 mi) southwest of Pune and 285 km (177 mi) from Mumbai, it is blessed with a pleasant and bracing climate and has one of the few evergreen forests of India.

Because of its proximity to Pune and Mumbai, it is a popular vacation spot for city-dwellers looking to escape the heat and pollution of these two cities. It’s not easy to get a booking here. In fact, I tried to get one (albeit unsuccessfully) for a few days during the long Holi weekend, but instead only managed it during the week after.

This is one of the downsides of owning a timeshare and a major issue I’ve faced with Club Mahindra in recent years – the difficulty of getting a booking in the resort of my choice during the dates I want.

The reception at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar

We set out from Pune on a Tuesday morning, thanks to the travel desk that helped us book a taxi for the three (or so) hour drive to the resort.

A long, winding road takes you to the gate of the resort, which is situated in a woody, forested area about 4 kilometres from Mahableshwar town. The first thing that hits you is how peaceful and quiet it is here, with only the sounds of chirping birds to disturb your reverie.

Our room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar

Exhausted from my sleep deprivation of the previous week, I slept the entire first day, while my child entertained herself in the fun zone. The family-friendly theme of Club Mahindra resorts is why I took on the membership around 10 years ago, and I haven’t regretted it since.

My child has spent many a blissful afternoon in the welcoming arms of the Fun Zone – an essential element of every Club Mahindra resort – whether painting with one of the creative kits or playing games with another kid or participating in the evening’s housie or karaoke session.

This time we also planned to spend a day in nearby Panchgani, a charming town known for its many excellent boarding schools. This was only the second time I’d visited Panchgani, the last time being a stay at a tented Club Mahindra resort that seems to have been eliminated from the roster.

But our visit was not for the purpose of sightseeing (which we avoided altogether), but to a very special landmark called the M.V. Roach bakery, started by my great-grandfather, Manuel Vincent Roach, in 1901, and now run by my second cousin, Christopher Savio Roach, and his mum, Ruth.

The M.V. Roach & Sons Bakery in Panchgani (Established in 1901)

Before our visit, though, we stopped in the main market in Panchgani for some delicious parathas at a tiny (and not very hygienic) place called Akbarali’s. It came highly recommended by a friend who spent a few years in a boarding school in Panchgani.

Akbarali’s Paratha House In Panchgani Market

The parathas were delicious and, if you omit the butter, would make an excellent vegan meal. They were massive and a bit too heavy for us. Not being big eaters, we could hardly finish off two slices each.

Jain Gobhi (Cauliflower) Paratha at Akbarali’s Paratha House, Panchgani

We then dropped in at the Roach bakery, where we spent an enjoyable afternoon with my cousin and aunt. Christopher showed us their massive wood-fired oven that can bake around 450 loaves at a time.

Christopher Savio Roach with the wood-fired oven at the M.V. Roach bakery

My aunt, Ruth, took us on a tour of the Roach (previously called Rochas) family through all the old family albums. I was chuffed to find a photo of my great-grandpa, M.V.Roach, founder of the bakery.

Manuel Vincent Roach, the Founder of the Roach Bakery in Panchgani

Christopher’s grandpa, Francis, and my grandma, Kathleen, were brother and sister, which makes him my second cousin. With our massive family, it would be impossible to keep in touch with everyone, were it not for the twin blessings of Facebook and Whatsapp.

When we returned to the resort a few hours later, we were so exhausted, we slept all day and missed our dinner. I reminded myself that this was supposed to be a relaxing break, with the kind of downtime we couldn’t really get with all the distractions at home.

Thanks to a weak mobile network (only Vodafone and BSNL work consistently in this neck of the woods), I attempted to connect to the net only when I had some work pending. If you’re looking to disconnect completely for a few days, this is a good thing. For me, it was a working holiday, so it became a bit of a nuisance.

The upside was that waking up in the morning to the chirping of birds in the green canopy above us (which continued almost all day), catching sight of a beautiful specimen of the Indian (or Malabar) giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) endemic to this area, and being startled by a large monkey outside our room, made me feel pretty close to nature. If the objective was relaxation, we achieved that pretty well.

Indian (Malabar) giant squirrel exploring the canopy

One problem I have with Club Mahindra’s resorts is that most of them are far away from the nearby town or city, and there are few or no restaurants in the area. Which means you’re stuck having to eat the (very expensive) food in the resort restaurant.

This is not entirely a bad thing as the food, especially the buffet, is excellent and doesn’t leave you wanting. You can opt for a package that includes 1, 2 or 3 meals a day. Members get a 25% discount. This is a cost that you need to factor into your holiday expenses whenever you visit a Club Mahindra resort.

Evening buffet at the Saddle Back Restaurant

Considering that most of their resorts have the equivalent of a 4 or 5-star rating, this is par for the course. Other than the expensive food, we really have no complaints when we visit a Club Mahindra property, and the Mahableshwar resort was no exception.

The rooms are spotlessly clean and well-maintained. The beds are extra-comfortable. The staff are polite, extremely attentive and helpful. They will organise excursions and transport for you at the drop of a hat. And the locations where these resorts are situated are often exceptional.

As someone who hates waste, I was happy to see that they’ve switched to soap and shampoo dispensers instead of those wasteful plastic bottles, but what gives with these plastic stirrers in the rooms? Why not provide reusable stainless steel spoons to stir our coffee, as most of their other resorts do?

Plastic stirrers in the rooms. Why, Club Mahindra?

This was our first time at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar and we really enjoyed our downtime and the time spent with our family in Panchgani. Watch the video below to enjoy some more glimpses of this charming resort. And if you’ve been here, do share your experience in the comments below.

All images and videos are © Priya Florence Shah