About Aline Dobbie


Latest Posts by Aline Dobbie

Featured: A Comprehensive Guide To Visiting Scotland

April 9, 2014 by  

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Spring has sprung as they say and the milder sunny weather has returned to Scotland. We live in the beautiful Scottish Borders which have gentle hills and valleys and famous rivers like the River Tweed running through – the Tweed is world famous for the salmon that are spawned and live and then leave the river and go to sea and return to spawn again and this river is the haunt of serious fishermen and women for both trout and salmon. 

The hills are alive with sheep and bird life, the fields full of young cattle and the air on a summer’s day is mellow with the sound of contented livestock and the curlew’s cry in the sky.

Peebles is a most attractive town to visit south of Edinburgh and it is an easy drive of 25 miles with many lovely little restaurants and coffee shops in which to assuage your hunger and rest your feet.  Peebles has a nearby castle called Neidpath standing proudly right on the banks of the Tweedand the River Walk is a delight.

At nearby Innerleithen Traquair House is a wonderful old mansion that is reputed to be the oldest inhabited country house in Scotland.  I can declare an interest in that over 40 years ago I used to rent the cottage that is now the very attractive tea room and it is full of interest and charm.  Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, these are all fine Borders towns and worth a visit and one can see the ruined Abbeys that are so evocative of times past.

Abbotsford is the historic house of the great Sir Walter Scott the 19th century writer who helped to create the romance and myths of Scotland and this fine old house is very close to Melrose which is famous for its rugby.

Another area of Scotland that we love particularly is Argyll and the area around Oban.  That region is in the Highlands of Scotland but with wonderful coastline and sea lochs (lakes), and little villages and hills and valleys; there are superb historic gardens to visit with ancient castles and keeps and other heritage sites.  It is a sailor’s dream area and much loved by ‘yachties’ and the marine wildlife are abundant as are the birds. 

From end of April to end of October Scotland is a wonderful country to visit, the early months show you her beauty in Spring which turns into Summer and then by late September the Autumn colours prevail and they can be truly stunning and rival Canada or the East Coast of America in their vivid array.  Further north from Oban there is yet more stunning country and the Western Isles which are easily accessible by ferries which ply to and fro across those waters. 

Ferry Tickets can be bought in a group to make it economical and indeed last year we went by ferry from Oban to Mull and then drove across to Iona which needs another tiny ferry ride.  The historic and beautiful tiny island of Ionahas great Christian traditions and heritage and is really worth visiting.  On a good day the sea around is an azure colour with the white sand, the yellow gorse bushes and bluebells in May – outstandingly beautiful. 

Tobermory is the colourful town in north Mull from which you can take a ferry to Ardnamurchan and then again it is wild and stunning Scotland with so few people.  The lack of people would be the great find I imagine for most visitors!  Deer, seals, otters, and birdlife – these are in abundance for those who have patience and are quiet and respectful of wildlife.  From Mallaig one takes a short ferry ride to the famous Isle of Skye

Yet again wonderful vistas open up with much to see and do.  One can access the mainland by the Skye Bridge and visit Plockton which is enchanting heritage village and then drive down and visit the famous Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie – this could be the most photographed castle in all Scotland at the confluence of three lochs. 

This must be the most romantic of Scotland’s castles and is beautifully presented and has a wonderful visitor centre as well.  There are small hotels and guest houses and B & Bs in which to stay very comfortably mostly with their ensuite bedrooms (which I find essential) and a very good breakfast of your choice provided each morning.

Above is the chapel at Dawyck. 

Other places I strongly recommend are Pitlochry, Dunkeld, Aberfeldy, Inverness, Perthand the area around Loch Tay.  Around Oban the most wonderful and huge loch (lake) is Loch Awe which we love and visit regularly, but Loch Tay is also very large and has lovely areas around it with interesting things to visit and enjoy.  Everyone has heard about Loch Ness and the mythical monster therein.

I have not even touched the Far North of Scotland, or indeed the East Coast, or the Kingdom of Fife with St Andrews the original famous home of golf, but in one short article that cannot all be achieved adequately.

In 2014 Scotland and Glasgow plays host to The Commonwealth Games, The Ryder Cup and the anniversary of the Victory of the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago.  In early August HM The Queen will along with the nation commemorate the start of the Great War of 1914-1918 in Glasgow Cathedral and in September Scots vote on whether they will stay within Great Britain and the United Kingdom or become independent…..I am passionately for remaining a proud nation within Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

Most visitors might start their visit to Scotland by arriving in Edinburgh by plane, train or car.  It is a most delightful city with so much to intrigue and entrance. 

Edinburgh is not a big city and I think that is part of its magic; certainly as a teenager when I returned for tertiary education that was the feeling I experienced which made for a sense of security.

Moreover, because there are four universities and other colleges of education the city is alive with thousands of young people, many of them from overseas; indeed Scotland now has many thousands of foreign students studying at her various universities four of which are considered ‘ancient’ i.e. very very old, the oldest of which is St Andrews on the coast of Fife together with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, but there are modern institutions that have been designated as new universities and these provide a plethora of courses for overseas students.

The new Missoni Hotel joins The Balmoral and The Caledonian and others as a luxury destination and there are also good boutique hotels like Channings, The Howard and others. 

Edinburgh is full of good B & Bs which can suit many budgets.  Most tourists find the whisky centres of great interest and a visit to the distilleries in the Highlands & Islands can be very rewarding!  Knitwear and designer wear for the cold can be found in lovely specialist shops and there are Harvey Nichols and Jenners as well as designer shops on the famous elegant George Streetwhich are a delight. George Streethas many restaurants and cafes; some of these are beautiful conversions from erstwhile bank properties. 

In decades past, Edinburgh had numerous grand bank buildings which are now mostly superfluous as so much business is now done on the telephone and internet banking so they have become gracious restaurants that particularly at Christmas are decorated and give one a really festive feel.  Indian restaurants abound as do Thai and Chinese along with good budget priced French and Italian and Mexican.

In my personal opinion Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’s Cathedral (in which we were married), The Palace of Holyrood House, the Royal Mile which is the ancient street between those grand buildings, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh, the New Town of Edinburgh (which is not new at all as it is over 250 years old, but just not as ancient as the Old Town!), Princes Street Gardens and Arthur’s Seat are some of the main attractions. 

At Leith which is the port for Edinburgh and had its own ancient history the Royal Yacht Britannia sits at anchor and is a worthwhile attraction and nearby there are many restaurants in which to eat and rest your weary feet.  Every year in July HM The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh make a week long visit to the City and undertake engagements in Scotland.  The Royal Family value dearly their country seat at Balmoral Castle which is personally owned by HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales has the nearby mansion of Birkhall. 

He is a keen gardener and the castle grounds and the mansion both have lovely gardens which people visit when the Royal Family is not in residence.  At the end of the famous three week long Edinburgh Festival (which takes place in August and early September) there is always the most stupendous firework display which is set off with the background of the castle.  On a fine dry night it is nothing less than stunning accompanying grand classical music being played in Prince’s Street Gardens

The City’s streets are awash with pedestrians and there is always a good festive atmosphere.  The fireworks display also takes place on New Year’s Eve and that is the Winter Festival which also lasts for three weeks over Christmas, but it could be very cold and may not be that attractive to some visitors for that reason! 

The Castle itself is fascinating and is now often used for grand events and government functions.  The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is always a wonderful event and usually booked out months ahead of the three weeks duration.  Foreign armies and relevant bodies take delight in also participating in this annual and stirring event when the skirl of the pipe bands, the skills of the armed forces and others are shown to perfection against the backdrop of the amazing Edinburgh Castle.

Below the west coast of Scotland and Traquair House (in that order)

Top photo credit: equivocality.com and Edinburgh Castle shot from wikipedia.org. 

Serenity & Bliss at India’s Kumarakom Lake Resort

April 9, 2014 by  

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Admidst the grey and cold in Europe lately, in my mind’s eye I am back in the sunshine and warmth and clear skies of Kerala where I spent six weeks recently.  My Comfort Corner for three whole blissful weeks was Kumarakom Lake Resort.

The morning would start at 06.30 hours with me making us a pot of our favourite breakfast tea; I had requested a teapot for our heritage villa with its plunge pool and Jacuzzi.  I had also specified a jug of fresh cold milk in the fridge….these are essentials for a tea purist such as myself!

Out on our little veranda of the heritage villa I would sit and observe the mist clearing on Lake Vembanad with the fishermen gliding out in their canoes about their daily tasks, then the sun would nudge in at about 06.50 and the soft sunshine would bring the whole garden and its water channels alive whilst the birdlife tweeted and chirped and made themselves busy.

The garden staff would be working and always wish with a smile as they picked up leaves and left the beautiful surroundings immaculate.  The newspaper girl would come with our daily paper and those intent on Yoga would walk to the Pool Pavilion for their morning session. 

Meanwhile I could read my tablet with its emails and the paper and Graham would go on his daily constitutional walk around the property.  Then there would be a dip in our plunge pool with a burst of Jacuzzi followed by a glorious hot shower and the prospect of a superb breakfast.  Again we had asked for fresh orange juice despite the many others on offer and a bowl of curd. 

After that…well the buffet delighted with dosas, eggs of any sort, bacon, breakfast dishes, fresh fruit like papaya and pineapple and masses of breads.  By this time the resort is busy with people departing or arriving or deciding on their morning’s activity but we would return to the villa and josh the Housekeeping Team about their latest towel artistry on our bed and go off to the infinity pool and find where we wished to sit.

The tranquil Lake Vembanad is just right there, the pond heron is watching for fish, we even saw an otter and another time we watched a water snake.  The Kettavellums would arrive with disembarking passengers or ready to take people out for a day or overnight….others would arrive to lounge or swim and me….well I would be in my beloved infinity pool in lukewarm water swimming, relaxing and looking out onto the beautiful lake with all its activities.

 

At midday we returned to our little villa for fruit and cool drinks but others ordered snacks and drinks from the Pool Pavilion; we had decided we would become spherical if we ate too much so contented ourselves with fruit and a swim in our plunge pool in bright sunshine.  Having brought two Kindles full of books we were not short of reading material and so the afternoon would be spent either in the cool of our room or on the veranda.

At 3.30 to 5.30 pm there is complementary tea and snacks served on the lawn and that is a nice time of day and an opportunity to meet other guests and exchange information or just enjoy the coming and going.  The tea is masala chai or a tea of your choice or even coffee if you so wish.  The snacks….well they are freshly made banana fritters, savoury eats, and more prosaic items like shortbread biscuits if that is what you want.  In the late afternoon light it was a most attractive venue with the greenery, the flowers, the birds and the guests’ comings and goings.  Then at 5.30 the Sunset Cruise would depart daily for those wishing to observe the sunset.  We have done this previously but instead would return to the infinity pool and watch the sunset from there in the warm water and it is spectacular.

I should add that Kumarakom Lake Resort has another huge pool in the meandering pool with villas alongside and others liked that very much and it always looks most inviting.  Whether in a Pavilion Room (which they consider their most basic provision) which is large and luxurious with beautiful bathroom with its own heated Jacuzzi, or the Pool Villas or the Heritage Villas (such as ours) or indeed the two Presidential Suites there is something to satisfy everyone.

In the evening if there was a large party of guests they might be given dinner on the lawn preceded by a cultural show of dancing or martial arts; sometimes the guests were encouraged to don Indian cultural clothes which seemed to work a treat with a party of Americans; there were quite a few Americans on this visit and they were delighting in it all.

The Buffet Dinner also has a la carte and there is the alternative of the Seafood Restaurant.  Our favourite entertainment was the Ottanthullal Dancer called Kannan who is very skilled and amusing and if you haven’t ever seen him is a revelation with everyone loving his antics.  The food is multi cuisine so most people are satisfied and the a la carte takes care of anything special.

The Executive Chef and his Team and the Maître D are always keen to give you what you want and all the waiting Staff soon know a guest’s likes and preferences.  In no time at all they knew what we liked and when and anticipated our needs…..the senior management, junior management and all the Staff are particularly friendly and attentive and there is no question of what can sometimes happen in India where the staff are too busy chatting to each other to see to the guests’ needs!  A happy crew who work hard and add to one’s enjoyment.

Naturally there is Ayurveda which people really enjoy, but also a little lady demonstrates weaving, and the potter encourages you to try his skill.  Graham made a special pot….which is amusing! There is naturally a shop for gifts and jewellery, antiques and the usual requirements.

The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is nearby and there are other visits that can be arranged.  I would definitely recommend a night in a kettavellum (spice boat) or at least an afternoon with lunch if that has never been experienced.  There is also a smaller craft which if hired early in the morning takes you to the smaller channels and waterways to observe the start of the day in Kerala…this was enjoyed by everyone who did the two hour trip.

Kerala has much to commend the State.  It is a green lush friendly place with lovely homestays, hotels, beach and lake resorts…all of which usually offer Ayurveda for those who seek an alternative to conventional medicine.  But, if you want luxury and comfort but without the ‘bling’ KLR as I call it will tick all the boxes….good service in immaculate amenities in a beautiful location and with good food, lovely swimming pools and nature all around you with the tranquil lake and gardens and wildlife.  Even the Prince of Wales loved it here when he and the Duchess spent two nights over his birthday last November!

DETAILS:

Kumarakom Lake Resort

Kumarakom North, Vayitharamattom

Kumarakom, Kerala 686566, India

Phone:+91 481 252 4900

Top photo credit only: www.luxoindia.com

London’s World Travel Market at Excel

November 21, 2013 by  

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As we do annually we caught the ‘red eye’ down to London’s City airport to attend two frenetic days at the World Travel Market at Excel.  City Airport is right next door on the banks of the old river Thames and it is all so convenient for us.  50,000 people from around the world converge for the four days of this vitally important travel mart annually.  It is always inspiring and now that the UK is coming out of the financial depression there was a real air of optimism this year.

My expertise is in India and Indian Ocean countries and Greece.  This year I had written a special feature for The Buyers’ Guide about four beautiful Greek Islands in The Cyclades.  This has been very well received.

I was invited to film an interview with the chief secretary for Tourism for Bodoland in Assam which was a pleasure and this is an area that is hardly known but unspoilt beautiful and a wildlife treasure of India with big beasts, big cats, elephants, birdlife and butterflies; the local tribes are into weaving and silk production.

We attended a party at the Goa Tourism stand and they asked me to give an impromptu speech of welcome which was also a pleasure.  Goa takes its tourism seriously and professionally.  Equally, we met with the chief secretary for tourism for Karnataka and he had a proposal for me which involved highlighting this lovely State’s glorious wildlife.

A favourite hotel is The Imperial in New Delhi and we were glad to chat to their general manager and colleague.  Kerala has a host of lovely places and Kumarakom Lake Resort is a special favourite with us.  India has lovely places, Orange County Resorts in Karnataka, CGH Earth resorts in Kerala, Reni Pani in Madhya Pradesh as well as Ahilya Fort.

The Samodes in Rajasthan and others in that lovely princely state….indeed there is so much diversity, not forgetting West Bengal where I have so much family history and which has woken up to promotion of its heritage and spiritual tourism.  A cruise down or up the Ganges is a must and a walk through Kolkata with Living Roots.

Greece was a stand with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and the Greek Cycladic Isles were well represented.  I looked in at Poland and South Africa and Scotland and Italy and Srilanka and The Maldives as well as Bhutan…..I could go on and on….but after two busy days we wended our weary way home to bed in Scotland, safely and efficiently with BA!

 

Scotland In The Fall: Breathtaking, Colorful & Magestic

October 30, 2013 by  

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Annually we make a pilgrimage to some of our beloved beauty spots in our native Scotland to see first the gorgeous spring blossoms in mid-May and then again in mid-October we go to glory in the ‘amber colours’ of autumn.

This year we went up to Dunkeld which is an ancient little town in Perthshire and stayed at the Atholl Arms Hotel.  This quaint old hotel played host to Queen Victoria’s daughter the Princess Royal in the second half of the 19th century so you will gather it is a heritage building; the food was excellent however, the bed was comfortable and the shower was hot. It is well located right beside the famous River Tay which is actually the longest river in the whole of the United Kingdom.

The weather lightened soon after our arrival and we pottered about in Dunkeld which has an ancient cathedral, some of it in ruins but nevertheless attractive with fine river walks and other interesting sites.

We then drove up the A9 to Pitlochry which is an attractive town beside the Tay full of shops, cafes, heritage interest, a famous theatre and lovely scenery.  Then we proceeded up to Blair Atholl where the Duke of Atholl’s fine castle stands in the valley and is truly lovely.  It is about 20 years since I visited but it is well worth the stop to see round.

Onwards we went to Bruar where the House of Bruar is a most elegant shopping complex where some of the finest clothes manufactured in Britain can be found – the home of fine wools, cashmeres and other glorious upmarket clothing.  There is moreover a very fine Food Hall which would rival Harrods or Fortnum & Mason in London.   I indulged myself with chocolates and other goodies for Christmas.

At Pitlochry during the autumn colours there is a hugely popular sound and light show, held among the giant trees of Faskally Wood once the light has gone….I did not manage to see it myself but am assured by young grandsons that it was ‘awesome’.  It is called ‘The Enchanted Forest’.

That evening as the light died with a glorious sunset we had a lovely bottle of house wine back at the hotel and then a splendid dinner…and so to bed.   The next day we went to see The Queen’s View which is where Queen Victoria marvelled at the beauty of the Scottish scenery and fell in love with Scotland.

We drove along Loch Tummel having passed the Pass of Killiekrankie (renowned for a battle three centuries ago).  That whole area of Perthshire is beautiful and in the autumn one can be lucky and see the Stags preparing for the rut with their roaring and stamping.  We had coffee in Kenmore which is at the east end of Loch Tay and then drove along the south shore of this famous long loch.

I reflected that I had first set eyes on it 50 years ago when very young and then had the good fortune to catch two great salmon in its dark waters in April 1965.  Playing a 25lb salmon took almost an hour before I won against this king of fish; then half an hour later I managed to land an 18lb salmon as well! – a memorable afternoon indeed.  Now I would not think of fishing as they are far too precious to kill, yet those experiences gave me my lifelong love for Scotland and her wild places.

Aberfeldy is another lovely little town to the east of Loch Tay and worth a visit.  We however made our way along the south shore and stopped for a light lunch at the Ardeonaig Inn which is now a most elegant place with upmarket facilities and excellent cuisine.  Half a century ago that inn was not a place for a young girl to enter whereas now it is a wedding location and honeymoon destination and most elegant and well managed. Times change and progress happens!

Killin is the town at the west end of the loch and the famous Falls of Dochart give the visitors much pleasure.  There are one two small hotels here as well.  After that we made our way home by way of the road through Strathyre and Callander and then home to Peeblesshire where we live.

The colours of autumn in Dawyck the Arboretum at Stobo which belongs to The Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh are well worth a visit and at this time of the year the colours of the Acers are truly stunning.  There is moreover a first class little restaurant serving home made good food.

Scotland welcomes visitors throughout the year but I generally recommend that people come between late April and the end of October.  It can become very cold over Christmas and New Year though the City of Edinburgh hosts a world famous Christmas Festival with ice rink, fireworks, street parties and Christmas Market.  Haste ye Back!

Rajasthan’s Samodes: A Unique Experience & Oh So Royal

May 16, 2013 by  

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I had long wanted to visit the Samode properties in Rajasthan India and then someone distinguished raved about their newish safari lodge at Bandhavgarh.  That was the stimulus I needed and we arrived in mid February to stay at Samode Haveli in Jaipur.  We travelled by Shatabdhi train from Delhi where we had stayed with pleasure yet again at The Imperial.  The train journey is fast and efficient and one arrived in good time for lunch.

   

Samode is a beautifully presented town hotel that was/is in fact the town residence of the princes of Samode.  Samode itself is a little town about 50 minutes travelling north of Jaipur…but more of that later.  The haveli is a large regal residence in the Indo-Saracenic construct which is the signature look and décor for all the Samode hotels.  This charming place has ancient rooms carefully furnished with every comfort and lovely courtyards, lawns and flowers in full bloom giving their fragrance to al fresco meals; the swimming pool is large and so beautiful and there is a spa to one side.  A stylish shop and a business centre complete the facilities.

We loved it and were soon at home with attentive staff, good food, either Indian or a fusion of European and Indian.  The swimming pool gives a centre for leisure and there is a Jacuzzi.  Located at the end of a narrow lane in Jaipur one is immediately aware of the antiquity of this city and the haveli becomes a haven when one has gone out to sight see or experience something or indeed shop!  We spent three nights there and then had the delightful prospect of transferring to the Samode Palace.

   

The rulers of Samode trace their descent from Prithiviraj Singh ji, the 17th prince of the Kacchawaha Rajputs who ruled the kingdom of Amber (later known as Jaipur) 450 years ago.  Traditionally the rulers of Samode were the principal thakurs (nobles) of the royal state of Amber now Jaipur.  These fine nobles served the Maharajas of Jaipur and their successors the Rawals of Samode continued to wield power and influence through the 20th century.

Samode Palace is a total delight…and indeed it has been the setting for a number of well known films on India which necessitated heritage settings.  The palace is 500 years old and it remains a haven of tranquility under the impressive Sheogarh Fort on the hill tops.  I recommend that you stay three nights at Samode to fully appreciate this lovely serene and interesting place.

  

There are suites, royal suites and beautiful public rooms with their stunning ancient murals and décor; there are two swimming pools each charming; one on the ground floor and large but the other higher up and an infinity pool with its own Jacuzzi as well with shady areas in which to rest and relax and also eat a light meal.  We were given a most charming and spacious royal suite which is at the top of the building so necessitated quite a climb, but there are bedrooms on lower floors.

The peace, the change in the light, the birdsong are all part and parcel of this rural place.  The Staff are well trained and attentive and knowledgeable and eager to please.  The dining room is stylish with a buffet and also a la carte.  Then there is a second restaurant for evenings should you fancy a change.  The spa is good and there is also a business centre. There is a good hotel shop.

   

The florist carefully laying out flower petals for an evening function delighted me; the Classic India Car Rally 2013 used this palace hotel very sensibly as a stop along their route and delighted us with all their great cars that had been shipped into India for the rally.  We were invited to go on a camel cart ride to see the sunset.  This was amusing and enjoyable and when we reached our destination and said farewell to the camel owner a butler and two assistants served us a splendid tea on a sand dune and we waited companionably for the sunset which did not disappoint.

Then we amiably all climbed into the jeep and returned home in the twilight waving at the camel owner as he made his own way home.  That ride to the sunset showed the small town, its surrounding countryside, the buffaloes returning home, the peacocks scurrying by, the bird life preparing to roost and the people all waving and calling out.  Life in rural Rajasthan today, the dichotomy of the medieval but the camel owner chatting on his cell phone….that is what pleases me.

   

We had lunch at Samode Bagh. Bagh means garden in Hindi and the Bagh is modeled on the geometric style of a Mughal garden and was built 250 years ago and has been historically used by the Samode family for private retreats.  It is charming with the most beautiful comfortable tented accommodation (in fact the roof is tented whereas the walls are brick) with every comfort and full ensuite shower room and verandah.

Naturally the Bagh also has a swimming pool and Jacuzzi and beautiful open area for sitting and relaxing and dining.  I really liked this place and could see it as a venue for a family reunion with plenty to do and space to run around for children or indeed a wedding or a conference.

   

On our return to the Palace we walked through the town and looked at all the shops and bought some items….I needed some jutis (handmade local shoes) and loved some bangles, and then a shawl.  As for the gems….well the gemstone dealer was astounding with his variety of gorgeous precious and semi precious stones that almost fell out of his paper packets….Oh for a lottery win and then one could seriously buy and have something designed and made in Jaipur which is a centre for jewellery.

   

These Samode Hotels are located 240 kms from Delhi International airport, but Jaipur has its own modern airport and as I said efficient train connections.  Equally the car drive to other destinations in Rajasthan or to Delhi is very easily achieved on modern roads.

There is a fourth Samode Hote: the Samode Safari Lodge at Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh….what can I say…stylish, comfortable, welcoming, luxurious yet in keeping with its environs, with attentive Staff and Naturalist…and the stars of the show are the tigers and other wildlife of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.

   

For more photos, check out my gallery of Samodes in Rajasthan: https://plus.google.com/photos/105833357733916819450/albums/5859339444989131969  .

New Delhi’s The Imperial Hotel, Where Romantic & Luxurious Rooms & Suites Meet

April 12, 2013 by  

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The Imperial Hotel was opened in 1936; it was built at the same time as the construction of the now famous Lutyens’s Imperial New Delhi when India had not yet gained nationhood from the British. The then vicereine opened this elegant but modest hotel.  Fast forward to 2013, and The Imperial Hotel which I have known since a child of 12 years is a lovely luxurious timeless hotel in a superb location on Jan path – one of the major avenues of New Delhi the capital of India.  When I returned to India in 1997 The Imperial was still looking like the hotel I had known as a child but in 1998 it underwent major restoration and construction and ‘morphed’ into the elegant swan that it now is and the doyenne of all India’s luxury five star establishments.  I love this hotel for its heritage and elegance and the air of continuity that it provides.

It has beautiful bedrooms and suites and this year in February it was really great to return on Valentine’s Day; the spacious, rooms are fitted with high ceilings, a flat-screen cable TV, minibar and tea/coffee-making facilities. Bathrobes, toiletries from Fragonard and a hairdryer are provided.  There are six restaurants so one can choose from Daniell’s excellent Indian cuisine, or the Spice Route’s oriental cuisine which is now world famous in its intricately decorated dining area; the 1911 restaurant in the grand dining room, or indeed on the verandah and terrace, or the Italian San Gimignano and in the Atrium afternoon tea and light snacks are also served.  The 1911 Bar and the other cosy atmospheric Patiala Peg provide one with a variety of excellent spirits like good Scots malt whiskies.

The Spa was reopened in 2012 and is quite simply superb with a hairdressers and gym as well all carefully utilizing the ground under the hotel but yet giving a sense of light and space.  Since then the Business Centre has become a separate entity in the grounds providing excellent meeting and conference rooms and business suite facilities with competent staff.  The location of the hotel makes it so convenient for all with airport transfers and to the local train stations.     The pool, well in my view it is the best in Delhi as it is large attractive and heated and a total delight even on a cool day in the capital’s winter season.

I can see myself walking in to the soft greeting ‘Welcome Back Ma’am’ as the soft fragrance of jasmine pervades the foyer…..people love The Imperial and I most definitely know why.

For a virtual tour of the site, visit Aline’s site The Peacockscall here.

 

The Claridges, a Heritage Hotel on New Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road

April 8, 2013 by  

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The Claridges is a heritage hotel in Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi.  The whole of this area of New Delhi is listed and considered a heritage site and indeed the Lutyens’s style bungalows and wide avenues with flowering trees, large flower filled roundabouts and general air of grace and elegance are the most sought after area of New Delhi filled with prestige homes, luxury hotels, diplomatic residences, embassies and national institutions.

I love it and Delhi is my favourite Indian city.  The Claridges is not a huge hotel and is a low rise 1950s building done in the Art Deco style of the 1930s and there is a most welcome Garden in front where one can relax, or have a light meal and people conduct meetings under the individual canopies shading the sun.  This hotel has been on my radar since a teenager and I am always glad to be back there with its attention to detail and lovely rooms and suites.  There are several restaurants – Pickwicks the 24 hour coffee shop which serves a sumptuous breakfast and then buffet lunch with European, Indian and Oriental cuisines, there is the Dhaba which is a fun Indian cuisine restaurant, the Chinese restaurant which has wonderful dishes and then Sevilla which is only open in the evening serving Spanish cuisine.  Japanese sushi is planned very soon in a remake of what is currently the Vodka Bar.

The pool is in the courtyard of the hotel and is to be updated with heating for Delhi’s chillier days and there is a small gym.  During the winter Sunday Brunch is provided on the lawns. The rooms and suites are very comfortable with marble bathrooms, good toiletries, hair dryer, tea making facilites and mini bar.  The suites have a coffee making machine which is so useful with a small jug of milk in the fridge.  There is a small business centre as well and the location makes this a very popular hotel for conferences for the UN and other distinguished institutions.  A walk to Khan Market for shopping or to the Lodi Gardens to relax and enjoy Delhi’s winter and spring seasons is so easy plus some of the great museums such as Gandhi’s Smriti (where Gandhi lived and was murdered) and Teen Murti Bhavan (museum dedicated to Pandit Nehru).   I stayed here for my last two days in India and am always glad to be welcomed back at The Claridges.

For a virtual tour of the site, visit Aline’s site The Peacockscall here.

Meet Krakow, The Beautiful Heritage City of Poland

December 1, 2012 by  

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We flew into Krakow Poland from Edinburgh in Scotland on November 11, the poignant annual day of Remembrance for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth countries.  It is however the Polish Day of Independence and was marked appropriately.  Independent Poland came into being on November 11, 1918 at the very end of the Great War.

This ancient country has been invaded and subsumed over the centuries by neighboring states such as Sweden and Germany, Austria and Russia and little did they know on that day that a nightmare would start for them again only 21 years later.

Now, thankfully Poland is free and democratic and part of the European Union and currently in receipt of a great amount of money to help the country modernize and flourish after years of cruel warfare first wrought by Nazi Germany and then by Communist Russia.  How thrilled we in the West were when Poland freed herself just over 20 years ago.

Krakow is now a UNESCO World Heritage city and rightly so and deservedly so.  It has the largest medieval market square in the whole of Europe and thankfully all those lovely heritage buildings were not damaged in the last great conflict. The centrally positioned Cloth Hall, a construction from the turn of the 12th century was originally designed for the cloth trade but now is a beautiful heritage mall for the various beautiful Polish products such as amber jewelry, wood carving, woven garments and other goods.

Overlooking the square from the east is St Mary’s Church with its magnificent high altar carved by the sculptor Veit Stoss.  Every hour the hejnal (bugle call) is played from the higher tower to commemorate the Tatar raids on the city during the 13th century.  I found this incredibly poignant as yet again it demonstrates how this wonderful place has been the victim of aggression through the centuries.  The Town Hall tower dominates the western section of the square.  

The overwhelming experience for Graham and me was of welcome and friendliness from staff serving in restaurants and cafes and those one met in the course of four days.  We chose to stay in a hotel in Kazimierz which was a shortish walk away from the main square but easily reached by the No 8 tram.  Kazimierz is a historical municipality on the outskirts of Krakow and today one of the city’s most up and coming districts.  Kazimierz was home to the larger part of the Jewish population of Krakow till 1939.

Here can be found the Remuh Synagogue and the Alte Schule, Poland’s oldest synagogue which today is an important museum of the district.  There are of course some lovely churches too and I particularly loved Corpus Christi.  The restaurants and bars here are full of character and as we were staying in Josepha Street at the Astoria Hotel…a good three star we gravitated towards Starka.

We were tired, hungry and thirsty on the first afternoon when we arrived and having freshened up we went on to Josepha and looked around and spied Starka.  Well, the welcome was shy but enthusiastic and the menu of the day was so enticing … goulash soup followed by escallops of chicken with potatoes and vegetables and a whole choice of desserts washed down with either good Polish beer or mulled wine.  We were happy.

Add to this that when departing and paying the bill the owner Joanna pointed out we would need Polish currency for the trams and we only had Euros and firmly lent us the equivalent of £5 sterling…. now where else would someone do that?  We repaid that evening and became regular customers throughout our stay.  Naturally we went to other places and none of them proved wanting.

The royal castle is located on top of Wawel Hill which commands a view of the whole town.  It has been most carefully and beautifully restored; it had suffered at the hands of the Austrians during the 19th century and been completely disrespected by being used as an army barrack.

The origins of this magnificent set of buildings go back to 1000 AD.  The whole set of buildings are interesting and unique amongst well kept gardens and one looks down on the Vistula River below or to the town in the distance.

I loved it and was fortunate enough to revisit on a beautiful sunny day – don’t go on Mondays as we did originally because the interior is closed; however we took full advantage of the very few people and visited the Cathedral; it is beautiful and gave us a good idea of Poland’s monarchy through the medieval centuries.

That country has much of which to be proud in terms of culture and heritage.   The café is excellent and produced the most stunning chocolate drinks…..Polish chocolate drinks are twice as thick and luxurious as anywhere else!

We attended a chamber music concert in the church of St Peter & St Paul one evening; this church is adjacent to the very old church of St Andrew which is connected to the Poor Clare’s Convent.  All of this is really ancient and beautiful and worth lingering over.

The bookshops have lovely cafes and the jewelry designers have some stunning necklaces and pendants.  Truly I could have been very greedy but thankfully EasyJet’s miserly luggage stipulation put paid to that!

Just walking by the Vistula on a sunny morning is pleasant and then take a trip on a small launch which is moored alongside an elegant boat restaurant…in the summer of course all the cafes and bistros with a garden terrace must be in high demand.  I enjoyed the Polish cuisine and their emphasis on mushroom was appreciated….apparently Poles love to go foraging in their woods for wild mushrooms….hmm as long as they know what they are doing as I would not!

Jazz and popular music is very prevalent and this is a city of many academic institutions with its Jagiellonian University established in 1364 providing a centre for the young to which they gravitate…this resonated with me as Edinburgh is a similar city with four universities and several colleges and that makes for lots of young people and their energy and vitality.

We hired a car and driver and made a pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  I am not going to write much but simply say we felt it was our duty to go there and fully understand the horror of what was perpetrated in that place 70 km from Krakow.  The cruelty and barbarity seeped into my soul and after two and half hours we had had enough.  I stood under the oak tree full of its autumn leaves that seemed to whisper to me and I fancied I heard a squeak and looked at the gibbet on which they hanged the commandant of Auschwitz after his War Crimes trial….it was eerie and upsetting and one does not hear birdsong….a truly terrible place.   Birkenau of which we just drove around the perimeter is massive and Andrew our driver was very sensitive.  We then drove off to Wieliczka Salt Mine.

Wieliczka Salt Mine is also a UNESCO world heritage site and the only open mining facility in the world working continuously since the Middle Ages.  It is a complex of underground excavations consisting of 3,000 chambers of the total length of 300 km at levels from 64 to 327 metres deep.  Before we entered the mine however we had a very welcome lunch in Andrew’s favorite restaurant and good it was too…nicely served and so reasonably priced.

Fortified once again we went down the mine.  Quite simply it is amazing with these initial 380 steps one has to descend and then a further 200 or so gradually…our legs were aching the next day but be assured there is a lift in which to return!

The miners carved out the most amazing grottos depicting the local history and being very religious there is a great emphasis on the Christian church with some small chapels and then one like a cathedral.  Considering that these miners were not artists they had made the most outstanding statues and bas reliefs and even the chandeliers are made of rock salt.  Salt was highly prized in the medieval age because it was the only means by which to preserve food and thus as important as gold.  Miners though living dangerous hardworking lives became rich and were respected people.

Four days is a good amount of time to spend in Krakow and if one wanted in the summer time a trip to the Tatras that would be lovely too.  There are many Christian saints associated with this area of Poland but for those of us now the person of greatest fame would be Pope John Paul II. Whoever you might be of any faith or none this ancient city draws one in and displays its beauty and heritage carefully and that is nicely complimented by the warmth of welcome of its people. Please go and enjoy it.  www.infokrakow.pl