About Aline Dobbie
Latest Posts by Aline Dobbie
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 .
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 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.
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