Taj Bekal, Kerala

If you want to cut off from the world and just enjoy a weekend of luxury and pampering, then this is the place for you. Taj Resorts & Spa, Bekal.

Bekal is a 2hr drive from Mangalore. It has a beach and the backwaters making it an idyllic spot to relax. The sea is rough and not the most suitable for swimming. However the sunsets make up for that.

We were given a traditional welcome on arrival with cold towels and a drink. The hotel accommodated our early check-in request and we were personally escorted to room 819. This was the superior room with a lovely balcony.

The steward explained everything about the hotel and guided us on the activities and services. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the room. The interiors are done tastefully and have a lot of traditional yet contemporary touches giving it a lot of personality

The bathroom was even better! It had a large bathtub, with two showers, two sinks and the WC. The balcony had a swing cum bed, overlooking the backwaters.

There is plenty to do here for two nights. There is a swimming pool, and kayaking, yoga, spa, indoor games, gym, paint ball, bar, restaurants, library. Enough for two nights.

The spa has services ranging from INR 2500 to INR 12000.

The average cost per meal is roughly INR 2000 for two.

The best thing about this property is the staff. Just like any Taj, this one also has an eye for detail and every person we met was a manifestation of that philosophy. They were helpful, courteous and always preemptive of our needs. It really made us feel special, despite the resort being fully booked. The staff never ignored a single guest.

The breakfast was to die for! Probably the best spread I have ever seen in a long time and I travel a lot! Once again the staff was on their toes and managed the crowd beautifully.

It’s the little things that make Taj, the Taj.

1. When you remove the room key, the plug points stay on, so that your phone can continue charging!

2. If you have an issue, it is addressed almost immediately with no reminders needed.

3. The check-in happenes in the room and not at the reception unlike other hotels.

4. You might see chefs playing with kids and interacting like friends with guests. Very special!

My verdict: Taj Bekal is special in every way. It will make you miss it!

My rating: 5/5

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Coonoor, Tamil Nadu

A 7.5 hour drive from Bangalore, Coonoor is a quaint little hill station near Ooty. It recently came in the limelight because of a Bollywood movie called Kapoor & sons which was shot there. Before that it was visited by the off beat travelers.

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Nestled in the Nilgiris this town is a much better option than Ooty these days. It is less crowded and more personal. We took the road via Salem to get there, which is a slightly longer but faster route. The drive is also very scenic compared to the mysore- bandipur highway. There are 3-4 toll booths which are the only bottlenecks.

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Coonoor is famous for its heritage properties, home made chocolates and cosy vibes. We went in May and the weather was a pleasant 20 degrees. There are several nice places to stay, like:

1. Kurumba resort- away from the town

2. Taj gateway- in the heart of coonoor

But since we don’t like to splurge too much on stay, we picked the 200yr old heritage property called Wallwood by Neemrana. It cost INR 5000 a night and looked quite decent.

We booked a room called “Camphor” which had a lovely balcony overlooking the estate and was away from the noise of the main house. If you are a couple that wants to avoid families then I strongly recommend Camphor. The rooms in the main house can get very noisy during meals since the dining area is right there.

This room was quite basic but had everything we needed including privacy. Also the food at this hotel was really tasty and homely. The staff was very helpful too. The hotel is located bang in the middle of the town and is close to all the touristy places.

Although we didn’t go to any 😉

What we did was breathe, eat, drink, drive around and sleep.

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One day we went to a place which was called 43 hair pin bends on the map. This is a very popular biking route with breathtaking views of the mountains. The drive took us through lovely tea gardens coupled with thick woods. We even saw a family of wild Indian Gaur on the way!

On the way back we passed the Lovedale boarding school. A campus like no other! It really felt like we were in the UK countryside. You must try and take a look while you are there.

Some Places to eat and drink in coonoor are:

1. Hopscotch- a nice pub

2. Cullinarium- lovely food

3. Cafe McIver- nice place to chill

4. Taj gateway- good for a snack

5. Wellington club – if you have a army connection

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All in all, it was a nice laid back holiday in the peak of summer. There are some nice walking trails and also lakes that one can explore.

Waterfalls are in plenty too if you are interested. But do not go to Coonoor seeking activities. Go there for the warmth, and the chill 😉

My verdict: A lazy little hill station where there is no rat race. Enjoy the clean air and poor service 🙂

My rating: 3.5/5 Wallwood Neemrana was ideal for us since we were out the most of the day. Food was excellent. Total value for money.

River Tern Lodge, Bhadra, Karnataka

The River Tern Lodge in Bhadra is one of the many properties owned and run by Jungle Lodges, Karnataka.  Situated in the midst of the Western Ghats of Chikmaglur district in Karnataka, surrounded by the lofty hill ranges of Babubudangiri. The River Tern Lodge is a perfect blend of nature and wildlife. The lodge gets its name from the congregation of thousands of River Terns during their breeding on a nearby island.

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Accommodation:

Set next to the Bhadra dam, all rooms here overlook the serene waters of the reservoir. Rooms 1-9 are closer to the restaurant, bar and the reception and are more suited for senior citizens and families. Rooms 10-21 are a bit away from the reception and the dining hall but are more scenic and peaceful. One has to walk 50-70 steps to get there.

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We were first given room 20 which is a newly constructed cottage. The room had spectacular views, however the toilet was not fully covered with a wall till the roof. So, it was a bit strange to have the loo share the same air as the rest of the room 🙂 One could hear and smell things one didn’t want to. That too with an AC in the room!! There is always a need for a fully covered bathroom no matter now close you and your fellow traveler are 🙂 So I would not suggest room 20 and 21 for this reason alone.

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Rooms 12, 14, 16 are the best! They have big balconies overlooking the reservoir, and the bathrooms have large glass windows making it a very stunning setting! We were shifted to room 14 the next day and it was far better than room 20. The latter is also the farthest room making it even more undesirable.

Rooms have 1 double bed and 1 single bed, an electric kettle, emergency lamp, water bottles, toiletries and towels. The brightness of the cottages instantly add life to the stay and you feel immersed in nature. The constant chirping of birds and the rustling by squirrels keep you busy and entertained. There is something incredibly relaxed about this place. It grows on you!

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Activities:

People come to this lodge for the jeep and boat safaris in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. But they also have water sports- kayaking, boating, swimming etc. All included in the per head rate of INR 7,500 per day.

In the safaris, sightings of cats is low, but not impossible. However, this resort is perfect for birding. It attracts hundreds of river terns during the breeding season. Bird-lovers are in for a treat with over 200 species including, grey jungle fowl, red spur fowl, Malabar parakeet, etc. calling these forests home.

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Food and Service

Unlike other JLR properties, where food and service are nothing to write home about, River Tern was an exception. We loved the spread and the courteous staff. Every member was very helpful and knowledgeable about the forest.

The Bar has a limited menu but the rates are very reasonable.

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My verdict: This resort is perfect for nature lovers and those who wish to relax. Do not go there expecting to see cats. The safaris are more like joy-rides. Enjoy the park for other things. And enjoy the resort for its views and service

My rating: 3.5/5 Room no. 20 was a bit awkward.. but after we were moved to Room 14 it was heaven. Good service and good views make this a very relaxing and tranquil property.

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Waterwoods Resort, Kabini, Karnataka

We booked Waterwoods because we had heard really good things about it. Our plan was to stay at Kabini River Lodge (also known as Jungle Lodge, Kabini) for 1 day and then 2 days here. Jungle Lodges had really set the bar for us when we came to Waterwoods. But this property did not disappoint. Because we had no tiger sightings in the 2 safaris at Jungle Lodges, we were really glad that Waterwoods was next. Because there was a lot more to do here!

Website: http://waterwoods.in

Firstly, the rooms are breath-taking. One can see the detailing in every little corner of the property. Someone has made it with love and it is very evident! We stayed in Room 11 which is the only one with a Tree Deck and a hammock! So if you are going with your partner, just pick this room! It is secluded from the other rooms and has a great view of the Kabini River

Secondly, the hotel served much better food than JLR and we also enjoyed the swimming pool. The hotel also has room service, unlike JLR. The website is very close to the real thing and is not misleading at all. There are many more things to do at this resort than at JLR.

Lastly, The service was just exceptional! Sometimes when there are big groups on the premises, with kids etc, the staff tend to forget the couples who are around. But we never felt ignored. The staff set up a separate romantic bonfire for the two of us and it was really special!

The safari is through JLR, where one gets a bus/canter. Not a jeep. Funny thing is, it costs the same! That is probably the only point to be aware of. Everything else is just way better than JLR!! We, however, got lucky with our last safari, where we requested the JLR guys for a Jeep. Since we had stayed there the previous day, the team knew us and made an exception. And as luck would have it, we saw a tiger!

My verdict: I highly recommend this resort for a peaceful, lazy and stunning stay. Not for the safari though. We will surely be back here soon!

My rating: 4/5 only because there are no Jeep Safaris for the guests.

Ragamaya Resort & Spa, Rajakkad, Idukki, Kerala (Not really in Munnar but as pretty)

We had a long weekend this May and wanted to spend it in the hills. So we decided to fly from Bangalore to Coimbatore and then drive to Munnar from there (5-hour drive as per Google). As usual, the most renowned and highly rated resorts in Munnar were already taken. It is during this frantic search for accommodation that I stumbled upon Ragamaya Resort & Spa. The image gallery looked fantastic! Almost too good to be true. But this place even had the reviews to match the phenomenol pictures. Plus Cleartrip was running a good offer for Citibank Customers. So I booked us for 2 nights @ just 6000/- per night. Their website looks like this: http://www.ragamayamunnar.com/

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Now for the real experience…. Some points of caution:

First, we made the mistake of flying to Coimbatore and not Cochin. I say this because, while Munnar was a 5-hour drive, Ragamaya was another 1 hour 15 mins away. So it took us 6 hours 15 mins to reach the place. With breaks it comes to nearly 7 hours. From Cochin the resort is just a 3.5 hour drive. So if you plan to go, don’t make the same mistake 🙂 Secondly, when you think of Munnar you visualize tea gardens and bunglows right? This resort is not in Munnar in the literal sense. It is in a place called Rajakkad, Idukki. So if you want to be around tea gardens Ragamaya is not the right choice. Thirdly, there are very few signboards for the resort when you drive from Munnar. We saw a signboard only in the last 5 kms. Rest of the way was shown by Google maps. And the last mile is a muddy road which makes you wonder if you are going the right way 🙂 Not the best feeling if you have been driving for 7 hours! But stay patient…. …because once you reach Ragamaya the fatigue and anxiety just vanishes.

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Forget the tea gardens… this resort has the most stunning view of the Ponmudi Lake and the thick western ghats rain forests. Every room faces this picturesque set up and you feel relaxed and at ease almost instantly. We had booked the Raga Premier room which was contemporary, spacious and minimalist. The large balcony is where you will spend 70% of your time – I can guarantee it!

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Once you digest the majestic view, there are some cool activities to explore. You can go boating, fishing, trekking (night and day), cycling, shopping etc. We took a jeep ride to the lake for boating and fishing and boy was it adventurous! There is no proper road to the lake, so the 4X4 just makes its way with the help of pure engineering muscle. It is one bumpy ride but so worth it! You must try it! The staff is very courteous and enthusiastic. Typical of Kerala 🙂 Even the spa was surprisingly good. For a young property (5 months old) , Ragamaya fared very well on most fronts.

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My verdict: Ragamaya Resort is quite a find. Secluded, adventurous and unique is how I would describe it.

My rating: 4/5 The food could be better and they should have more signboards. Plus the resort has no liquor license yet 😦

Azzure by Spree Hotels, Goa, India

If you are planning your first trip to Goa, or if you are less than 25 years old, then this is not the place for you. Because in either of those cases you should stay in a shack by the beach all day.

However, for my husband and I this was the perfect hotel. We had been to Goa several times and have stayed in all kinds of places. But Azzure was different. It is a fairly new property, about a kilometer from Calangute beach.  It manages to shun out the hustle bustle of the extremely crowded Calangute area but is still within a very accessible distance from the beach. The entire hotel has a Mediterranean feel to it, and the interiors are done very tastefully. A contemporary place with a decent sized pool and a beautiful open bar really gives you a great vibe from the moment you step in. The staff is courteous and the service is good.

The best part of the hotel is the bar. An open air bar next to the swimming pool has Happy Hours running from 4pm to 9pm! Its a delight for people who like their drinks as the one plus one offer is too hard to resist! In addition to it, it has an amazing variety and some pretty good offers on margaritas which is a must try. We were also very pleasantly surprised by the breakfast spread. Its elaborate and tasty. Although this property is not by the beach, its the perfect place to chill after bathing in the sea. We had hired a bike, so reaching the beach was not an issue at all.

I would recommend this hotel to anyone who wants to be in the vicinity of Calangute, Candolim or Baga but wishes to avoid the crowds and noise.

Pros: Hotel ambience, Bar, Rooms, Sumptuous complimentary breakfasts

Cons: Slightly away from the beach (although at times its more of a boon)

My Rating- 4/5