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

Alsace: When all you want to do is flâner…

…Because sometimes, you simply want to unwind with an undefined agenda and an unfettered mind.

Sometimes you just want to escape to a place reminiscent of a childhood fantasy. One that is filled with romantic castles, fairy tale villages, breathtaking scenery and heartwarming moments. A place to feast your eyes, free your mind and flâner (wander/stroll). Maybe, with a bottle of wine.

Picture “France” beyond Paris and visions of châteaux amidst lush vineyards fill the mind. Then, the stomach might rumble and images of Michelin Star eateries that serve difficult-to-pronounce dishes swirl along with visions of freshly-baked crusty baguettes, sinful creamy desserts and fabulous stinky cheese. Picture: Alsace.

Why Alsace?

Bordering Germany and Switzerland, the neighbours’ influence is evident in the region’s architecture and cuisine. With routes to suit most travel interests, Alsace is a great option for an open-ended trip.

  • For adventure enthusiasts and active travellers, the route des Crêtes with its national parks and Alps provides ample options.
  • For gastronomes or oenophiles, the route des vins with its outstanding restaurants is unmissable.

For the indiscriminate traveller, Alsace is the France of our dreams and the cherry on its green cake is colourful Colmar. Despite being one of the most romantic places in France, it also happens to be the perfect place to explore with family. So, we did. All nine of us…aged from 9 months to 60+ yrs.

When fiction becomes fact…

Frequently spotted on the list of France’s “Les plus beaux villages” or most beautiful places to visit, old town Colmar is a living fantasy. Little wonder then, that Colmar supposedly inspired the village setting for Disney’s “Beauty and the beast”.

Flowers spill out of potted plants, colourful houses, shops and restaurants line canals of an area aptly named “Little Venice”. Ducks happily quack away as the tourist train (yes, we sat in one of those!) ambles along. The tourist train, though unsurprisingly touristy, is a great way to get a lay of the land. Utterly enchanted by the scene before us, we sat,  commentary forgotten…until I accidentally dropped the baby’s milk bottle, spewing milk everywhere. Baby wipes to the rescue, I am happy to report that the train was spotlessly clean when we disembarked.

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Colours of Colmar

With no agenda, no cause for hurry and no pressure to sightsee, we simply set off and wandered as we pleased: beside the canal, over a bridge and onto hidden lanes. We stopped to pick juicy berries from the covered market, follow a Raclette cheese-like aroma to find a terrific restaurant called La Pergola, gorge on treats from numerous biscuiteries and pâtisseries, taste freshly baked bread in Bisch de Bruche, pop into scores of shops or boutiques and light candles in the glorious Saint Martin’s Church.

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Our meandering ended with a visit to a park, Champ de Mars. The kids ran free, rode funky trikes and hopped on a carousel, while we contemplated the blessed life with some delicious wine. It was pretty much a perfect day.

Dining tips:
While there are a host of options, check the restaurant operating schedule before you go.
  • For the regional specialty, tartes flammées, at Flamme & Co in Kaysersberg (Vegetarians: request a veggie version of their Flammée Tacos and top it off by the Petite flammée pomme). Caution: those with hearty appetites may need a more substantial meal afterward.

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    La Pergola: Good luck and great grub
  • For arguably the best roësti west of the Swiss border, dine at eclectic La Pergola. Run by the same folks as Wolfberger, the French onion soup, pasta, pizza and tiramisu are fabulous as well. Watch out for the witches on broomsticks lining the ceiling for good luck.

A few of our favourite things…

We chose to embrace the “simple” life. No fancy restaurants, no complicated itineraries and no frenzied shopping = great family trip.

Though we were utterly besotted by Colmar, beauty and charm abound everywhere in Alsace. Here are some of our favourite experiences:

Village-hopping: Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Ribeauvillé…Alsace is filled with gorgeous and exotic-sounding towns/villages/cities of all sizes. Pick a name from the map and head over to explore.

…We picked Éguisheim, a flower-bedecked town on the route des vins that has a flea market on Sundays. Not for the shopping, but for the experience of stepping into a storybook and because the “plus beaux villages de France” really are incredible.

Travel tip: If choosing a destination is a challenge, Google images can certainly be very helpful!
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Fruit candyland – Le Comptoir du Fruit

Picnicking: Armed with fresh cherry tomatoes, gruyère cheese, bread, potato salad from the Éguisheim market and candied fruit from Le Comptoir du Fruit, we picked our spot and settled for a picnic lunch with a view.

Wine-tasting: Alsace is known for its fabulous wines. If in Eguisheim, try the elixir(s) of your choice at a wonderful cellar and tasting room by the 100+ year old winemaker Wolfberger. The modern cavernous room offers a stylish experience. The wine – especially the Belle Saison Muscat – is a revelation. For a toddler-controlled group like ours, it was the perfect way to sip a bit of Alsace.

Driving: The roads of Alsace are blessed with spell-binding views around every bend, but for a fabulous drive that ends with the best bird’s eye view of Alsace, head to Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg in Orschwiller.

Reportedly, the château inspired a bit of the set for Lord of the Rings. While parking can be a pain, the drive is fantastic and chateau itself is an impressive structure with stunning views overlooking the region.

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50 shades of green and blue – all in one frame

Luxurious living: When in France, stay in a luxurious château at least once. No better base to discover the dreamer’s France than from Château d’Isenbourg in Rouffach, a lovely town on the route des vins. A Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) property, the boutique château hotel is designed as a countryside retreat.

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Château d’Isenbourg

Quaint rooms, flavourful food and friendly service are accompanied by uninterrupted views of verdant vineyards on one side and the  medieval city of Rouffach on the other. Think: long, lazy breakfasts and gorgeous sunsets. Did I mention the indoor Jacuzzi that overlooks seemingly endless vineyards?

Travel tip: If requested a day in advance, the hotel is happy to provide Rösti (a delectable Swiss dish consisting of potatoes smothered in cheese) for breakfast. Also, those travelling with infants or toddlers receive special gift bags with a soft toy and yummy treats.

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The End…

Sometimes, it’s not about what to do or where to go next, but about staying where you are. Alsace is a place which inspires you to write your own travel story. There is no right or wrong story, just your unique travel story. One that might have an uncanny resemblance to all the beauty sans the beast.

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Sometimes you don’t need a happily every after…just a happy present.