Finding Serenity…with Kids

Discover luxurious villas, stunning sunsets, fabulous food and a beautiful beach in the land of dhoklas, theplas and fafdas. Find all the ingredients for a perfect holiday with kids.

Sometimes, you just want a getaway with a little…or a lot…of heart. Some place where enjoying sunsets and sunrises is not a luxury, but the norm. Where the beach is simply a lovely beach. Where there are beautiful seashells still waiting to be found. Where the sound of the sea is the sound of music. Where you can sit or lounge blissfully unperturbed. Where you feel afloat yet rooted. Some place like…Serena.

Surprisingly, despite its vast coastline, India does not have many luxurious beach resorts. With few exceptions, the ones that exist are clustered around Goa and Kerala or rather busy, inaccessible or unapproachable beaches. While destinations such as Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram and Vishakhapatnam are gaining popularity, options for weekend getaways with kids continue to be rather limited.

Enter: Serena Beach Resort, a fabulous find in an unexpected place. Located about an hour from the town of Bhuj in Gujarat, the property is situated on a lovely stretch of Mandvi beach. A convenient halt for those visiting the Rann Utsav, the property is best experienced as a destination in itself with or without kids.

Ingredient #1: A fun journey

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The road to serenity

When we set off for this unseen haven with a group of friends and a menagerie of kids, we were quite unsure of what to expect. Though there are direct flights from Mumbai to Bhuj, we opted to take an overnight train there and the flight back. The kids were practically falling over themselves in excitement and the merriment, songs, dance and laughter lasted throughout the very comfortable journey.

A journey that was punctuated by massive quantities of food. Think: homemade sandwiches, cold coffee, Gujarati staples thepla and aloo subzi, Maharashtrian vada pav, piping hot Punjabi samosas, delicious packed North Indian/fast food thalis from Surat station, a mountain of fresh sweets and a couple of sinful birthday cakes.

For any breaks in between meals, there were enough dry snacks to supply an army.

Gluttony complete. So much food should have wiped us out for the entire weekend, but it just whetted our appetite for more.

Whether it was the excitement or food-induced coma, the kids were blissfully knocked out for most of the journey. Score!

Ingredient #2: Serene Serena

A labour of love by the family that conceived it, Serena Beach Resort blends rustic charm and funky contemporary luxury: a traditional colourful three-wheeler proudly sits outside a lobby flanked by carved and hand-painted wooden pillars. Across the property, tyres are cleverly repurposed as planters and art installations, or as we used them, selfie/groupie props and spots.

Spacious rooms outfitted with modern amenities, contemporary interiors complete with regional fabrics, local handicrafts and thatched roofs overlook pretty landscaping. With themes ranging from Grecian to Indian, the pool villas are the highlight of the property. Open, airy and inviting, each villa is very unique and very private.

The garden villas, where we stayed, were also very large and beautiful with outdoor sit-outs. These sport an important feature that is missing in most properties: a bedroom and a sofabed-equipped separate living room with a bathroom for each room. For those of us with two kids that experience the daily morning bathroom rush, it was truly a blessing!

Ingredient #3: FOOD

For any peaceful trip, good food is a central requirement. The resort’s prime restaurant, Dunes, delivers an amalgamation of flavours that satisfy the most finnicky of eaters (kids and adults). From finger-lickingly good North Indian to palate-pleasing Italian and Asian, the talented Chef served up meals that turned into binge-fests. We managed to nibble or gobble pretty much everything from moussaka and macaroni to achari mushroom sabzi. To assuage our guilt, we loaded up on the fruits and salads, fresh from the family’s organic farm at their nature cure centre nearby.

Ingredients #4, 5, 6 and 7: Open space, beach, pool & games

The core ingredient to achieving parental nirvana is achieving kid-vana.

Mornings walks and sandcastle sessions on the beach were followed by leisurely lunches served in the cool restaurant overlooking the beach. Hot afternoons were spent in the indoor play areas with toys, board and video games or movies, followed by coffee or milkshakes and snacks by the gorgeous infinity pool that overlooks the beach, some splash time and more walks, sand castles on the beach and delicious feasts. To mix it up, the kids took a dip in the lovely pool at a friend’s pool villa or monkeyed around at the outdoor playground.

While we blissfully chose to graze and laze like happy cows, the property also offers a cycling track, mini-golf and local excursions for the more activity-inclined. For us, it was a fun and uncomplicated holiday that actually felt like a holiday.

Exactly the kind of break needed with kids. Kid-vana achieved.

A Lasting Vacation

There are properties where you stay and there are properties that stay with you. Serena Beach Resort is the latter. Long after the visit ends, visions of postcard-perfect sunsets on a quiet beach continue. In the sea of chaos, which is life, it is the memory of Serena that creates an island of calm.

…A mental getaway that can be taken whenever the mind pleases is the perfect way to find serenity.

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Serene Reflections

50 Shades in Jodhpur: A Royal Holi-day

Celebrate the festival of colours, Holi, with a king in the land of kings (Rajasthan, India).

Red, pink, yellow, green, purple…colours rain down and scatter in the wind. Water balloons sail in the air, bodies flail in tubs of coloured water and water gun fights are accompanied by war cries and wild laughter. Only one Indian festival  turns adults into havoc-wreaking children – Holi…the festival of colour.

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Trays of colour await

For most people, colours are a part of life, but for India, they are an annual cause for celebration. Every March, the country celebrates the most vibrant of all Indian festivals – Holi. For one day the earth becomes a veritable rainbow and the pot of gold is hallucination spurred by copious amounts of bhang (a traditional marijuana-laden drink).

The celebration ranges from spiritual and cultural to wild and insane. From funky beach parties and bonfires to elaborate house and foam parties, the country cheerfully goes crazy and what might normally be considered vandalism, is considered joyful celebration.

A Holi-day to remember: Mingling with a king in the land of kings

While there are many ways to experience the festival around the country, head to the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur (Rajasthan) for a truly extraordinary experience. Guests of the palace hotel have an opportunity to experience Holi with Maharaja Gaj Singh II  (current owner of the property) and his family – a truly grand affair.

Operated by the über luxury arm of the Indian Hotels Company Limited (Taj), this impressive property is one of the world’s largest living residences and can only be described as ‘magnificent’. Rising dramatically above the desert capital, the Umaid Bhawan Palace offers panoramic views of the Blue city with the Mehrangarh Fort in the distance. The stunning sandstone exterior, luxurious Indo-Deco interiors, gorgeous landscaping, rich history, indulgent cuisine and superlative service make this authentic palatial beauty a living fantasy.

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Besides the grandeur, the Umaid’s heritage, heart and hospitality set it apart. Originally commissioned to provide a source of income to famine-struck villagers, the Umaid Bhawan Palace embodies the caring spirit of its commissioners. The palace hotel’s welcome folk dance sets the tone for this one-of-a-kind hospitality experience that is a combination of its royal heritage and the legendary Taj ethos.

Over the years, the Palace has not only played host to numerous dignitaries, glitterati and other A-listers, but also formed the set for many incredible weddings and events. The Umaid, and more importantly, the Maharaja (or Baapji as he is well known) know how to throw a party. Not just ‘a’ party…a royal party.

In keeping with tradition and its inherent grandeur, Holi at the Umaid is a once-in-a-lifetime experience – complete with celebrity guests that may include the likes of Sting and Chelsea Clinton.

Royal, classy and colourful - Holi at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
A royal, classy and colourful celebration

Come Holi, the vast lawn transforms into a backdrop for a glamorous and colourful fete. Pretty white tents adorn the lovely lawns, while a bright sprawling tent features a fabulous feast and dining tables with festive centerpieces. Colourfully dressed elephants add a royal touch to the event. Plates of colour and tubs of water are spread across the lawns for guests to soak, splash, spray and paint each other.

Dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire, folk dancers and musicians entertain guests and villagers alike as they line up to put gulal (coloured powder) on the Maharaja, maharani, prince and their friends.

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The colourful gathering paints a pretty picture

Guests are given the royal treatment. From breakfast to lunch, the party continues and all senses are completely overwhelmed: the brilliant colour against the sandstone palace is a visual treat while folk music and musical laughter set the rhythm; delicious food and drink indulge the taste buds and the perfume of sunshine and fresh grass fills the air as joy overflows all around.

An alternate reality exists for those that choose to indulge in some customary bhang-laden food and drink. If the world suddenly appears too bright, or you question your existence or cannot stop doing whatever activity you are doing, or doze off into deep slumber, know that you are probably experiencing the effects of bhang.

Colours of life…

Holi at Umaid Bhawan Palace is as much about celebrating an age-old tradition in a timeless setting, as it is about the royal treatment. For some, this celebration may seem a bit contrived, but for the fortunate, it is a great way to experience the festival in a glamorous, safe and extraordinary manner.

For one day, royalty and normalcy merge till it is impossible to differentiate where one begins and the other ends. Reluctance gives way to total loss of inhibition as grown adults embrace their inner child and celebrate the colours of life.

Bhang or no bhang, memories of Holi at Umaid Bhawan Palace continue to shimmer in mind-altering hues…

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Timeless grandeur

Beyond Holi

If you are upright the next day, be sure to visit the Mehrangarh Fort for beautiful views of the blue city. An architectural gem and famous for its cameo in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, the fort now features the ‘flying fox’ zip line for the more adventurous. 
Alternatively, plan to arrive a day before Holi to take in the city, and stay a day after to enjoy the luxurious Jiva Grande Spa treatments. After the sensory overload, relaxation is a must.