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.

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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

Mussoorie sunny side up, topped with a hint of Landour

Spellbinding views, untouched forests, luxurious and historic lodgings, Maggi, momos and ginger lemon tea. Discover the joys of Mussoorie and Landour.

William Henry Davies had it right when he famously wrote: “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.” Sometimes, travel is not just about making memories, but also about making time. To grab that moment of peace amidst the sea of routine. To take the time to just “be”. So, when the “queen of the hills” called, we answered.

Dial M for Mountains…

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The drive to Mussoorie

Mussoorie is rightfully known as the queen of hills in India. A beautiful 2-hr drive from Dehradun, the city gets its name from the British mis-pronunciation of the Mansoor shrub that grows in the region. A summer retreat for heat-escaping British during the Raj, remnants of the colonial era add a distinct charm and character to its appearance.

Travel tip: For travellers from Mumbai, Jet Airways offers a non-stop, direct flight to Dehradun. Mussoorie and Landour are great options for those summer months when most of the country battles oppressive heat.

It’s in the air…

Our foray into Mussoorie began with a shared bowl of Maggi slurped at a shack somewhere before the climb up to the city. Rickety tables overlooked a beautiful valley, while bright sunshine created a dazzling halo over everything it touched. One bowl became two. Maggi never tasted so good. It wasn’t just the seasoning – though liberal amounts of garlic, coriander and green chilies certainly had our taste buds buzzing – it was the air. It is amazing how a place can change the flavour of food so dramatically.

 

Property, property, property…

On we drove, up and around the hill taking in the beautiful views, the buzzing Mall Road, the beautiful Savoy, until finally, we left it all behind to reach our destination: the J W Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa. Constructed as a rather underwhelming building, the property is quite modern and luxurious inside. Though the hotel has a fabulous location away from the hustle bustle of the town center, views of the mountains are interrupted partially by the property itself. Nevertheless, its amazing recreational activities (massive indoor entertainment zone) and fabulous food more than make up for the less-than-charming layout and exterior. Not to mention, the supremely relaxing L’Occitane en Provence Spa.

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Live music on the lawns

A highlight, was the high-tea served on the pretty lawns each evening. The menu was short but flavourful: Pahadi chai (local tea brewed with spices for 1-2hrs), fresh corn roasted on traditional coal stoves, roasted groundnuts, cookies and light snacks. Families and staff played badminton and local musicians strummed popular tunes as guests lounged on blankets, hammocks, beanbags and benches spread across lawns that overlooked majestic mountains.

The hills are alive…

Treks are a great way to peek into untouched Mussoorie. We opted for the J W Marriott’s Pine forest trek as well as a visit to a Buddhist monastery. The manicured beauty of the hotel gave way to the natural beauty of the land.

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A happy goat

We walked at the relaxed pace, taking in the views interspersed with some local huts. We heard a tinkling sound and turned just in time to dodge an errant goat that decided to move ahead of its herd. Accompanied by some local villagers, the herd was out to graze in the forest.

The pine forest, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India
Peaceful pine forest

Our chatty guide regaled us with charming childhood tales: running through forests, sliding down hillsides, catching bugs in matchboxes, stealing apples, splashing in streams and bathing in waterfalls. As we continued our ascent, the openness gave way to the slightly dense Pine forest. We found the perfect spot to pause for refreshments, while listening to the music of chirping birds and buzzing forest creatures. With nary a soul for miles around, the feeling of peace was incredible.

Travel tip: Opt for a trek to the bird sanctuary. Though relatively long, it offers  more beautiful views and goes deeper into the forest.

Where wildflowers grow and eagles soar…

It was a day of feasting on views. Literally. Each more stunning than the one before and always just a plate of momos or bowl of Maggi away from each other.

…Leaving the pine forest behind, we marched onward on a less-than-exciting cement road to the Buddhist monastery. The monastery itself was simple, but the sight of colourful flags waving in the wind and altitude provided lovely views over the surrounding areas.

Next stop: Everest Estate. Home to Sir George Everest, namesake of Mount Everest, and severely in need of maintenance, the property offered stunning views of the hills. Blue skies greeted the hills with tufts of fluffy white clouds, while the hills reached up shrouded in shades of green.

The drive to the Everest house itself was scenic enough for us to pause for an impromptu picnic at a roadside shack.

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Advertising done right…

…While heading to our next “viewpoint”, we saw signs for “See Green Café”. Every quarter mile or so, sign posts pinpointed the location and spotlighted items from the menu. So of course, we paused for some Maggi and lemon ginger tea. Again delicious and again one bowl turned into two. Air. It had to be the air.

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The road less travelled

Final stop: Cloud’s End. A “resort” of sorts, that is best reserved for visiting rather than staying. We followed a trail to the back of the property and into the woods in hopes of finding the infamous Echo point. Instead of inspiring us to shout, what we found left us speechless.

The path led to a clearing surrounded by woods and wildflowers that overlooked the valley and hills. Green all around, with the road a distant slash of white snaking through the wilderness. One, two, three eagles swooped and soared over the mountains. Leaves and wildflowers swayed in the breeze as butterflies flitted around.

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Picture perfect: mountains, clouds and wildflowers

There are no words to describe what seeing such beauty does for the soul.

How many ways can I love thee…

A visit to Mussoorie would be incomplete without a visit to its busy, commercialized, heart – Mall Road. We discovered the lively center of Mussoorie via a halt for grub on Mall Road.

Disappointed to find an endless wait for fabulous smelling pizza at the famous Little Llama Cafe, we settled for smoothies with a view instead. Rumbling stomach under control, we headed to the authentic, crowded and fabulous Kalsang for some Thukpa (noodle soup) and momos. A meal that must not be missed.

While we opted for a brief halt, Mall Road offers plenty of additional options for munching (Clock Tower Cafe), browsing (Cambridge Book Depot – frequented by Ruskin Bond), strolling (Camel Back Road) or indulging (Chic Chocolate). Design the Mussoorie experience that delights you.

We saw and loved Mussoorie from virtually every angle: the drive up from Dehradun, trek into its interiors or stroll into its center. However, none was more charming than the hidden paradise above – Landour.

Landour, O Landour!

Linked to Mussoorie via busy Mall Road, Landour was named after the Welsh village Llanddowror. Mussoorie was lovely, but Landour was pure poetry. A place where untouched and untamed beauty knows no bounds. A walk to the famous Lal Tibba viewpoint is filled with lush greenery interspersed with wildflowers and endless views of the surrounding valley, mountains and Mussoorie.

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Connect with yourself

Sign-bearing trees remind visitors to maintain peace, calm and quiet. Each bend of the road offers a different perspective, each with its own level of beauty. We only came across a handful of people during our 1 km long walk and the occasional troop of monkeys. It was almost like walking in a wild, secret garden. One that, at night, overlooked a sea of twinkling lights that rivaled the stars above.

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Where storybooks come alive…

If Landour was poetry, our property Rokeby Manor, was a storybook. One that let us write our own story.

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Timeless beauty…

Our “suite” was a pretty pink room with flowers painted on the archway between the sitting and bedroom areas…a little wooden chest was dressed with a vase filled with fresh flowers, with a fireplace that just begged to be lit. The “Tea” Garden was exactly as you might picture a garden in a storybook – flowers spilling from pots, with little white garden furniture and flagstone paths.

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The most incredible experience, however, was watching the sunset over the town of Mussoorie. There, sitting on benches outside the Tea garden amidst the flowers, beside ancient tree, we simply sat and watched as the sky changed colours, until finally the stars appeared.

Sunset over the queen of the hills - Mussoorie and Landour, Uttarakhand, India
Sunset over the queen of the hills
Travel tip: The property offers an opportunity to meet and dine with famous author Ruskin Bond. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Life should be all Momos, Maggi and Ginger lemon tea…

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The heart of Landour: Char Dukan

Most of the eateries in Landour are owned by the restaurateur Sanjay Narang. Before a hearty meal at Rokeby Manor’s famous restaurant Emily’s, we walked over for drinks at the Stray Dog pub. The British style pub had dark wooden paneling and leather couches/bar stools. A little fireplace and large TV filled one wall, while a dartboard adorned another. If it weren’t for our glasses of Sula Satori Merlot, we could have been in any place in England.

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Life should be so simple, tasty and refreshing

Despite the winning ambience of both the places and the unparalled views from Cafe Ivy, our favourite meal had to be the one we had at Char Dukan (four shops). Located in the heart of the town, Char Dukan is literally a line of 4 shops. Touted as legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s favourite haunt in town, Tip Top is the most famous of the lot. As was customary, we paused for lemon tea, chocolate waffles (too sweet) and Maggi at Char Dukan. The next day, we were back for some Momos with more of the delicious lemon ginger tea. The meals were simple, fresh and tasty.

Exactly how life should be.

Standing still or still standing?

Mussoorie and Landour reminded us to appreciate the little things in life: good food, fresh air, natural beauty and the importance of being quiet and still.

Some places transport the mind to a place beyond any map. A place where you have time to stand and stare. Time, as is its nature, did not stand still; but, we did. 

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Be still; Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity – Lao Tzu