Category Archives: Tourism

‘Water of life’- Whisky trails in Scotland

Golden Water of Life- WHISK(E)Y
Mark Twain once famously said-
“Too much of anything is bad,
but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.”
This quote has inspired me to write about exploring the famed distilleries of Scotland

whiskey

“Oh, the summer time is coming, And the trees are blooming, And the wild mountain thyme, grows around the blooming heather.Will you go, lassie, will you go?” I can’t think of a more beautiful place to visit and explore in summer than Scotland

During our restaurant years in Singapore( 2007-2011) we were lucky to get introduced to a gem of a Scotsman- Andrew (Skene) who  introduced us to Single Malts and helped put together the ‘Scotch Corner’ in our restaurant( called ‘the Clay Oven & Scotch Corner’)
Thus began our love for the dram- from pairing whiskies with kebabs and curries to hosting whisky tasting festivals & musical concerts ( notably with the Scottish band- ‘Red Hot Chilli Piper’)
Our love affair with Whisky is sealed for life!

Hopefully on reading this piece, you’ll be inspired to book your air tickets to visit the famed distilleries of Scotland. For the not so lucky, I’m hoping  you can stop drinking the highly marketed Black Label or Glenfiddich and be adventurous enough to try single malts from  smaller and highly reputed distilleries

What is whisky?
Whisky refers to any distillate made from grain, yeast & water, that matures in wooden casks for a certain period of time resulting in a strong alcoholic spirit that is called Whisky

Whiskey or whisky? What’s in the spelling?
In Ireland and United states, Whiskey is spelled with an ‘e’.
Scotland, Canada & Japan omit the ‘e’- so it’s ‘Whisky’
but really neither spellings should matter!

Oak barrels containing  distilled whisky
Oak barrels containing
distilled whisky

Scotch Whisky definition
For a whisky to be classified a Scotch, it has to be produced in a Scottish distillery and made from malted barley or another type of grain that has been mashed with water.
Scotch whisky should be matured in a wooden( oak)  cask in Scotland and must contain 40% alcohol at the time of bottling but not to exceed 94.8% alchohol by volume( ABV)

What is a Single Malt?
A single malt must exclusively consist of malt whiskey and has to be distilled at a single distillery. Single malts can also be blended- that is bottled from different casks- each which vary according to alcoholic strength and maturation periods. This popular practice is called vatting. If whiskies of different ages are blended, then the maturation of the youngest whisky must be stated on the label.
Single Malt is not exclusively associated with Scotland. India and Japan in fact produce excellent Single Malts whiskies.

Inside a distillery
Inside a distillery

3 holy elements of whisky are…
Grain, Water and Yeast

Copper stills used in distillation
Copper stills used in distillation

BIRTHPLACE OF  WHISKY: SCOTLAND

 

Whisky map of Scotland
Whisky map of Scotland

Scotland is the world’s foremost producer of whisky, in fact there are more distilleries in Scotland than in the rest of the world combined! The history and Scots passion and love for whisky has triumphed.  The distilleries are classified into 4 major regions namely:
1) Lowlands & Campbeltown
2) Islay
3) Speyside
4) Highlands

SCOTLAND’S WHISKY REGIONS

LOWLANDS & CAMPBELTOWN: are at the extreme south of Scotland bordering England. Very few distilleries remain and whiskies of the Lowland region are characterized by a light, dry and ‘oily’ finish, usually devoid of any ‘peaty’ notes

Noteworthy distilleries are:
Springbank ( 85 Longrow PA28 6EX Campbeltown, Argyll
Phone: +44 (0) 1586 552085) 
It is the only distillery left in Scotland in which all whisky production processes are manually carried out- including bottling, The whisky is considered to be the most traditional malt in Scotland. Tours are priced from £6.50  per person

Springbank
Inside the Springbank distillery


Also visit/ try-
Glen Kinchie– ” Light and spicy with more complex flavours than are typical of Lowland whiskies”
Auchentoshan “light and dry taste typical of a Lowland whisky “

ISLAY( pronounced “Eye-la” )
Holds a special place in the world of whisky. Whiskies from the Islay region are characterized by a typical smoky, “Peaty” finish.

Every summer, Islay hosts a weeklong whisky festival, which includes ceilidhs(traditional Scottish storytelling evenings), Celtic music concerts, distillery tours, golf competition, cooking-with-whisky evenings and a sponsored charity “barrel push” across Islay. The festivities culminate in a carnival on Port Ellen Green.
More details: Islay Whisky Festival E-mail: islayfestival@lineone.net

The noteworthy Islay distilleries  to visit are:
Talisker( Isle of Skye, Carbost, Skye, Phone: +44 1478614308)
Has a stunning setting beside a west Skye sea loch. Visitors can taste their whiskies in a vaulted barrel room, surrounded by handsome oak containers holding whisky which will sit for decades before it’s enjoyed

Tasting notes ” Highly complex & unconventional whisky. Peppery flavour adds to its warming spiciness,  it explodes on the palate”

Talisker Distillery
Talisker Distillery

Bruichladdich( Isle of Islay, Argyll, Phone: + 44 1496850190 )
Considered to be one of the most innovative of Islay distilleries constantly playing with casks, producing some of Islays’s most complex and peaty whiskies

Bruichladdich distellery
Bruichladdich distellery

Lagavulin( Port Ellen, Islay, Phone- +44 1496 302749)
Situated on the picturesque Lagavulin bay, its unique pear shaped stills make it worth a visit
Tasting notes- ” smoky, peaty & highly sophisticated”

Lagavulin Distillery
Lagavulin Distillery

Also visit/ try:
Caol Ila-
“strong note of peat smoke on nose, complemented on the palate by sweet notes of sherry”
Highland Park( Isle of Orkney)– “An all rounder with hints of smoke, sherry, full flavour on the palate where honey & peat develop”
Ardberg- “One of the smokiest, peatiest of all whiskies”,
Bowmore- “complex on the palate, notes of sherry, seaweed, heather & spices”

SPEYSIDE 
Spreading out from the River Spey it is one of the principal whisky producing regions of Scotland and one of the most prettiest places.  With the maximum number of distilleries located in this part of Scotland- it’s best to hire a car for the day and make your way through the distilleries, do ensure that you entrust at teetotaler as the designated driver though!

Glenfarclas
( Ballindalloch, Speyside, Banffshire, Tel: +44 1807500257)
Glenfarclas was one of the first distilleries in Scotland to open a dedicated visitor center in 1973. Glenfarclas, the `Glen of the Green Grassland’, is situated at the foot of the majestic Ben Rinnes, produces . Glenfarclas Single Malts are highly regarded, full bodied, smooth, full of flavour, and superb as an after-dinner malt

Inside the Glenfarclas distillery
Inside the Glenfarclas distillery

Glenlivet
( Ballindalloch, Banffshire AB37 9DB, Phone: +44 1340 821 720)
This highly reputed and well regarded distillery is a must visit in Speyside. Try their  ‘Spirit Of The Malt Tour’ priced at £30 per person( 2-3 hours duration), which includes a visit to Josie’s Well, a distillery tour, a tutored nosing of 7 different expressions of The Glenlivet and a dram drawn straight from one of their aged casks in their traditional dunnage warehouse

Our friends- Jayant and Ragani outside the  Glenlivet distillery
Our friends- Jayant and Ragani outside the Glenlivet distillery
Cellar at the Glenlivet
Cellar at the Glenlivet- picture courtesy Jayant Rohatgi

Macallan
( Easter Elchies, Craigellachie, Aberlour, Moray,  Phone:44 (1340) 872280)  
One of the most recognized distilleries. Its whiskies are sought after by whisky collectors & aficionados around the world. In the last 4 decades, it has acquired the best reputation for quality malt whisky.
Macallan distillery recently launched the ‘Six pillars tour’  limited to groups of no more than 10 people to ensure a luxurious, personal experience. A friendly guide will explain the creation of Macallan’s rich spirit in a working still house. Visitors can learn of how their unparalleled investment in the finest casks contributes to the natural colours, aromas and flavours that set The Macallan apart. Visitors then experience a nosing and tasting of four ‘The Macallan whiskies’ The tour last 2 hours and is priced at  £15/ person.

Macallan cask
Macallan cask

Aberlour
(High Street Aberlour AB38 9PJ, Phone: +44 (0)1340 881249)
Located in the heart of Speyside, this distillery offers relaxed and informal tours of the distillery, it is followed up with a tasting of 6 whiskies from Aberlour. Priced at  £15/ person, the tour lasts 2 hours.

Tasting session at Aberlour- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi
Tasting session at Aberlour- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi

Speyside CooperageDufftown Road, Craigellachie, Banffshire, Aberlour, Moray AB38 9RS, Phone: +44 1340 871108)
In the heart of Scotland’s rolling hills lies Speyside Cooperage, the only working cooperage in the UK where you can experience the ancient art of coopering. Since 1947, the family owned Speyside Cooperage has produced the finest casks from the best American Oak. Today the cooperage continues to work and produce the age-old product, still using traditional methods and tools. Although shipped across the world, many of the casks remain in Scotland, providing a vital ingredient in Scotland’s whisky making process

Putting together casks made of american oak at Speyside Cooperage- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi
Putting together casks made of American oak at Speyside Cooperage- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi

 

NORTHERN HIGHLANDS:
The whiskies in this region are delicate, light bodied whiskies with complex aromas. The finish can range from dry to spicy with a hint of salt.
Noteworthy distilleries to visit are:
Glenmorangie
Cadboll, Fearn Ross-Shir, Tain. Phone:+ 44 1862 871671) 
Crafting the taste of Glenmorangie is entrusted to the care of 16 people known as the “Sixteen Men of Tain”–some have names that are fitting to the jobs in the alcohol business, such as warehouseman Jocky Stout. Visitors can learn about the entire distillation process, as well as the selection of the barrels, which come from oak trees in the Ozarks. The barrels are then loaned to the Heaven Hill Bourbon distillery until reclaimed by Glenmorangie. The on-site inn, Glenmorangie House, is also worth a stop. From the outside, it looks like a typical Highlands mansion, but inside the atmosphere is warm and relaxed.  Entry-£ 5 per person
Tasting notes: ” Smooth malt with a gentle salty note, complemented by fruits and spices”

Glenmorangie Distillery
Glenmorangie Distillery, image courtesy: Glenmorangie website

Dalwhinnie
( Dalwhinnie Distillery, Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire,
Telephone: +44 1540 672219) 

Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland; and clear, crisp spring water and peat are abundant. On the 45-minute tour, you can see the people at work making sure everything in the distillery goes to plan – whisky production is a precise process where small changes of problems can affect the taste of a whole batch. The tour with  3 tastings of their 15 year old, Distiller’s edition and single cask is priced at £12.99 per person

Dalwhinnie Distillery visitor center
Dalwhinnie Distillery visitor center

Also visit/ try:
Oban
” slightly peaty, it has a smooth texture with notes of spices, fruit and a mild finish”
Old Pulteney- ” salty and fresh, with a whiff of ocean air and seaweed”

PLACES TO STAY

HIGHLANDER INN
( Victoria St, Craigellachie, Banffshire AB38 9SR, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 1340 881446) 
Highlander Inn is a traditional Whisky Tavern with rooms. Its location in the heart of Speyside- Craigellachhie, makes it a good place for a base. Rooms are simple and comfortable . Recognized as Scotland’s best village inn’s, its whisky bar stocks an amazing range of Single Malts

THE LODGE ISLAY
(83 Frederick Crescent, Port Ellen, Islay PA42 7BG, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 7776 193140)
Located in Port Ellen, the Lodge forms the perfect base to explore distilleries in the Islay region.

WHEN IN SCOTLAND DO TRY……

SHEEP DIP:

 

Sheep Dip
Sheep Dip

Was once one of the best selling whiskies in Harrods in the 1980’s. Don’t be fooled by its whimsical name. This award winning whisky by Spencerfield Spirit Company  is created by  blending over 16 different single malts aged between 8-20 years creating a complex blend.
Jim Murray of the Whisky Bible describes Sheep Dip as “Young and sprightly like a new-born lamb a fresh, mouthwatering grassy style with a touch of spice. Maligned by some, but to me a clever accomplished vatting of alluring complexity”

BRUADAR (WHISKY LIQUEUR)

Bruadar
Bruadar

An absolutely irresistible combination of whisky, honey & sloe berries create a much cherished liqueur. I can’t think of a more delicious way of ending  whisky tasting sessions on this sweet note!  “Bruadar” is the Scottish Gaelic word for “a dream”

HAGGIS NEEPS AND TATTIES

Haggis neeps and tatties
Haggis neeps and tatties

An absolute must have for Burn’s supper, this iconic Scottish dish is a must try if you’re visitng Scotland!
Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onionoatmealsuet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. 
“Neeps and tatties”refer to turnips and potatoes in Scottish and form a perfect accompaniment to the Haggis!

 

 

 

Beach Diaries: Susegad Goa

Laid back people, feni, coconut palms, shacks, siesta and endless stretches of beach. This just about describes Goa! Its no wonder that this tiny union territory has been receiving so many visitors for more than 4 decades.

Goa has been infamously known for its topless beaches & hippie havens. All that is in the past, however full moon parties  and casino cruise ships continue to attract the young, reckless and rich

Small enough to explore with relative ease, Goa is rich in culture and tradition as is reflected in the Portuguese inspired food & architecture, this can best be enjoyed by exploring the Latin quarters of Panjim  known as” Fontainhas”. Driving past sleepy villages where residents still observe the siesta( NOTE: most shops and offices remain closed between 1.30-3.30pm everyday) and whitewashed 16th-18th century churches, one almost gets a feeling of stepping back in time. For beach bums- there is no dearth for powdery sand and blue waters. Foodies are spoiled for choice with a almost every cuisine served up in a plethora of beach shacks, restaurants and upscale bistros. Yoga is now synonymous with Goa, the village of Assagao in North Goa is fast becoming a major hub for yoga shalas and retreats.

So here’s my guide to Goa. I’m excluding the usual tourist traps which have been covered by many travel magazines- the overrated beaches of Baga and Calangute, the crowded casinos on Mandovi River & the grungy hippie havens of Anjuna/Vagator.

BEACH BUM PARADISE- SOUTH GOA
South Goa is known for long stretches of white sands and gentle blue waters. The beaches here are relatively devoid of annoying vendors & beach shacks, so its perfect for people looking at getting away from it all. South Goa in the recent years has become a haven for luxury 5 star hotels such as the Park Hyatt or Leela and apart from the Taxi-mafia, this part is of Goa is perfect for beach bums looking to soak in all the sun and sand

Agonda Beach- I’m starting with this beach, because you should visit it now before it gets commercially exploited. Devoid of beach shacks & annoying vendors, this beach remains uncrowded for most part of the day. Surrounded by palms this 3km long crescent shaped beach makes for a perfect day trip getaway

HOW TO GET HERE- Agonda is at the southernmost part of Goa, about 75 kms away from Panjim BUT only 10-15 minutes away from Palolem beach

STAY- there aren’t too many comfortable options here, given that its relatively unexploited( READ:basic) Fern Gardenia resort is equidistant to both Agonda and Palolem beaches and offers eco logwood cabins set in a beautiful location on a quiet road with a hill as the backdrop

Agonda Beach
Agonda Beach

 Palolem Beach– undoubtedly the best and most popular of all South Goa beaches, this crescent shape beach is surrounded by pretty palms; so gentle are the waters that you’ll feel like you’re swimming in a pool! There has been a huge inflow of visitors to the beach and there are signs of exploitation everywhere (crammed beach shacks and vendors) but the gentle waters make it worth the visit. I recommend following it up with having a meal or tipple at CIARAN’S just off the beach

HOW TO GET HERE: Palolem is approximately 80 kms away from Panjim and around 2 hours away from the Dabolim airport.

STAY- There are many options for accommodation in Palolem, prices range from basic to mid-range. Ciaran’s offers the best in terms of value- stylized wood log cabins with most creature comforts. Another option a few kilometers away from the beach is the Fern Gardenia Resort which has eco log cabins and landscaped gardens with the stunning backdrop of a hill

Palolem beach
Palolem beach

Varca Beach- is best known for its pristine white sands, this relatively large beach spans 7 kms making it amongst the longest of South Goa beaches. Varca is very long and considered a private beach (there are many 5 star hotels that have private entrances from their immaculately pruned gardens)so it remains devoid of large crowds, I found the swimming in the waters fun, with occasional playful waves tipping you over!! Sunset walks on the beach were sublime as the beach seemed to stretch forever. There aren’t too many beach shacks on Varca and food served here is mediocre- so I would recommend sticking to a beer. For dining I recommend Joecons Garden Restaurant in the nearby Benaulim- their fresh seafood selection is vast and live band churning out 80’s hits makes for a great dinner spot.
HOW TO GET HERE: Varca is approximately a 1 hour drive away  from Dabolim Airport
STAY there are plenty of five star luxury resorts along the beach such as Zuri White Sands, we stayed at the Club Mahindra which was right on the beach

Morning walks on the endless Varca beach
Morning walks on the endless Varca beach

Majorda beach- we stumbled into this beach in January and fell in love almost immediately!! Lined with just the right number of beach shacks, Majorda beach’s clear waters and clean golden sands are a hit with travelers visiting from all corners of the world. As you enter the beach from the main parking lot, there’s a shallow stream through which you walk across to get to the beach.
HOW TO GET HERE: Majorda is approximately 18kms away from Dabolim airport or half an hour’s drive away
STAY- Vivenda Dos Palhacos in Utorda( 10 minutes drive away) is a lovingly restored Portuguese mansion centered around the beautiful pool. Owners Charlotte and Simon Hayward(brother-sister) have done a great job in adding a touch of warmth to the service and interiors

Hidden find- not too far from the Palolem and Agonda beaches is the derelict fort of Cabo De Rama. Not much remains inside the fort but the stunning vistas of the surrounding beaches is worth the drive

View atop Cabo de Rama Fort
View atop Cabo de Rama Fort

SLICE OF PORTUGUESE HISTORY- PANJIM and OLD GOA

Old buildings in Panjim
Old buildings in Panjim


Nestled between the Mandovi and Zuari river is the tiny lovable capital of Goa- Panaji or Panjim! The impressive river promenade is lined with elegantly restored Portuguese historical buildings on the left. The Mandovi river on right has a festive air- lined with casino cruise ships and river facing food pavilions. Step into the heart of Panjim- the Latin quarters or “Fontainhas” to find it lined with Portuguese mansions housing galleries and art spaces. My favourite part of Panjim was driving up to the posh Altinho quarters( the Chief Minister’s official residence and former Archbishops home are on this hill) to Sunaparanta( meaning “Golden Goa” in Konkani) Housed in a beautifully restored palacial Portuguese home,this place has become a center for promoting upcoming artists in Goa. I recommend visiting their café Bodega overlooking a pretty courtyard

Another example of Portuguese buildings
Another example of Portuguese  architecture as seen in public buildings in Panjim

A half an hour’s drive away from Panjim city will take you to the religious capital of Goa. It is said that there were more churches in Goa than in any other city in the world and hence was dubbed the ‘Vatican of the East’. There are churches dating as far back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the most notable being the churches of Saint Francis Assisi, Basilica of Bom Jesus and ruins of the monastery of Augustine(which evokes the lines of  Shelley’s famous poem  “Ozymandias of Egypt”)

Bom Jesus church
Bom Jesus church in Old Goa

STAY- Panjim Inn & Panjim Pousada are the best for soaking in the rich culture and heritage of this part of Goa. Panjim Inn retains the air of an Old Portuguese home and Panjim Pousada was formerly a Saraswat Brahmin home. Rooms are moderately priced, the owner Ajit Sukhija and his son Jack are passionate about sharing the history of Panjim and Goa with residents. They also operate the Gallery Gitanjali located just across the Inn.

SHOP- Velha Goa( beside Panjim Inn) is the place to visit for old “Azulejos” Goa tiles and traditional Portuguese ceramic pottery. The Gallery also has a small collection of Mario Miranda prints and wall hangings. Gallery Attic( Alfran Plaza, Panjim) has a good selection of restored antiques and furniture

The attractive entrance to Velha Goa in Fontainhas
The attractive entrance to Velha Goa in Fontainhas

EAT- one can never go hungry in Panjim! There are many restaurants serving up traditional Goan food( think: Vindaloo, Xacuti, Xec Xec, Balchao) Mum’s Kitchen is an award winning restaurant just next to Miramar beach serving up the best Goan food.
A relatively new restaurant creating ripples in Panjim’s food scene is- Black Sheep Bistro(BSB)( Swami Vivekanada Road, Panjim) a hip new place housed in an old building, BSB offers a modern twist to old Goan classics- I particularly liked the Goan sausage( chorizo) on pau with shavings of dark chocolate, young owner Prahlad Sukhtankar is passionate about wine, hence an interesting and affordable wine list!
Ritz Classic is an institution- frequented by locals, Ritz serves up the freshest of seafood drawing influence from the Konkan coast, their fish curry thali is very popular and be prepared to queue up  for a table at this popular eatery

Goan delights at Ritz Panjim
Seafood delights at Ritz Classic Panjim

VIBRANT NIGHTLIFE- CANDOLIM
As you head north of Panjim you reach the tourist hub of Candolim. Candolim was relatively sleepy up until early 2000 which saw an explosion in construction along the beach. Beach shacks, restaurants, guest houses, hostels and a few 4 star hotels jostle for space along the beach- Candolim has come a long way. The Beach isn’t much to write about and over the past few years, I find the presence of vendors and beach sports( jet skis & banana boats) rather annoying.  However, the endless restaurants and bars add to the vibrant and lively air and thus it is best for a night or two.

Candolim Bomras
Bomras in Candolim

Bomras ( Taj Fort Aguada Road) is the toast of the town. The garden setting offers a relaxed dining option with Burmese chef Bomra Jap rustling up modern twists to Burmese food. I particularly liked the Char grilled catch of the day, wash it down with the interesting Lemongrass & Ginger mojito.
Soumyens( Opposite the Candolim Jambaleshwar temple) you wouldn’t think much of the place when you enter the rather unimaginative outdoor seating area, but the food will blow you away- Chef Soumyen’s steaks are a must try as are his desserts- the Chocolate soufflé and Cointreau infused dark chocolate mousse are a must try! Bob’s Inn( beside Novotel Hotel Candolim) – is the place to visit for an affordable tipple, be sure to try the local Feni and be warned that it can mae you very tipsy!

YOGASHALAS AND WELLNESS HAVEN- ASSAGAO
20 minutes away from the bustling and noisy tourist traps of Baga and Calangute, takes you to the village of Assagao. Known for its wealthy residents living in beautifully restored Portuguese bungalows, Assagao is fast emerging as a wellness destination. The notable yoga schools such as Purple Valley and Swan Retreat offer 14 day teacher training programs drawing in people from all over the world. Sushumna Yoga Studio( one of the oldest studios in Goa) recently relocated here and  offers interesting classes in Vinyasa Flow. Assagao has slowly developed into a posh village with upscale galleries and restaurants.

The Villa Goa
The Villa Goa

EAT- Villa Blanche( Badem Church Road, Socolwaddo) run by Yogini is the toast of town, her Sunday brunch is a must. Set admist a shaded pretty garden, the buffet table is laid out in a homely style- on a dining table. There are many treats on offer- Quiches, Seafood Paella, Savoury Pumpkin mousse,  Sweet potato fritters with horse radish, cous cous, hummus, and German potato salad and the desserts are a must try!

Pretty outdoor seating area in Villa blanche
Pretty outdoor seating area in Villa blanche


Gunpowder( 6 Saunto Vaddo, next to People’s tree) is another must go to, serving up South Indian fare, this place has become a hit with tourists and locals alike. Its outdoor setting in atop a small hill gives it an outdoorsy feel
Ciao Bella( Assagao Badem Road) serves up Italian food, much has been said of their fresh pasta and ravioli and their picturesque restaurant is well visited

STAY- accommodation is mainly limited to  newly renovated/ restored Portuguese mansions with luxurious trappings. The Villa Goa is a great choice-note villas are booked on a weekly basis and suitable for a family of 4-6 persons. Another great choice is Villa Sunbeam– owned  by the flamboyant  Delhi socialite Jivi Sethi, the landscaping and pool gives a super plush feeling to this place

SHOP- Cheshire Cat Gallery- run by Karen Peace and Van Andlen, this jewellery store has a unique collection of jewellery set on sterling silver and 22k gold with semi precious stones. Drawing influences from India, England( Victorian era) & South East Asia, each piece is different and beautiful.  They also have a clothing section which stocks Aurobelle and other independent designers.
People Tree– this well known Delhi studio for cool clothing has set up shop in Assagao. Housed in an old bungalow, this is a must visit

THE VILLAGE LIFE- SIOLIM
Its difficult to miss the beautiful Siolim church as one drives in from Assagao. Siolim is recommended for people looking to experience the quiet village life. Not too far from Siolim is the Chapora River and Fort( around 4-5 kms) which makes for a delightful stop for sunset.

The beautifully restored Siolim House
The beautifully restored Siolim House

STAY- Nothing more majestic and historic than the Siolim House, started by Varun Sood and his French wife, this beautifully restored Portuguese mansion is for those looking into to soak a bit of history! A litte further into the lane is Neemrana’s Ishavilas, part of the Neemrana Noble homes- this whimsical and over the top villa is crammed with baroque Thai and Rajasthani pieces- you may love it or hate it.  One things for sure- the two Villa Caretakers from Himachal and manager Anthony are fantastic. On an advance notice of 4-5 hours a special Goan fast can be arranged for Rs 750/ person- their chef will rustle up a delicious home style Goan feast, finger licking good!!

The Neemrana's whimsical property- Ishavilas
The Neemrana’s whimsical property- Ishavilas

DRINK– Teso Waterfront is undoubtably the place to head to for a sundowner. This uber chic outdoor venue offers sweeping views of the Chapora River. Do be warned that food is average.  

The view from Teso Waterfront
Bistro with a view- Teso Waterfront

BEST BEACH NORTH GOA- ASHVEM/MANDREM
Undoubtedly my favourite beach! We only discovered this beach in January this year and came back in March. What great about Ashvem and Mandrem beaches are that they are relatively flat and therefore its relatively easy for long strolls, the grayish sands are dotted with rocks and the gentle waters are a delight to swim in, there are plenty of upscale restaurants and bars which make this beach delightful. Its not odd to spot small groups of people practicing yoga on the beach.

Ashvem beach
The Serene Ashvem Beach

STAY- Aquatica Goa offers relatively reasonable cottages in lush landscaped gardens, its located just across the road from La Plage restaurant, so the beach is no more than 5 minutes away.

Cottages overlooking the lotus pond- Aquatica Ashvem
Cottages overlooking the lotus pond- Aquatica Ashvem

La Cabana Resort is also another moderately priced situated on the beach- the accommodation is in comfortable wooden log cabins and their bar Palasha offers great views of the beach. Another interesting choice is Ashiyana Yoga Retreat and Spa is a great choice for people looking at getting a mix of yoga and the beach. The entire resort is designed in an eco friendly way embracing the elements of the earth,  their yogashala has a fantastic line up of respected visiting teachers from all across the globe

EAT/ DRINK- La Plage is undoubtedly the place to head to for food. Just off the beach, this upscale beach bistro is creating ripples in the Goa food scene. The Grilled sardines and Tuna tartar with wasabi are a must try. Service is notoriously laidback and sometimes downright rude- service staff couldn’t be bothered with you, but the food more than makes up for it, so sit tight! Bardo is the newest uber trendy beach venue to head to for sundowners- they have a good line up of international deejays, so put on those branded sunglasses and head their way to shake a leg.
If you can’t afford to stay at Sur La Mer– I recommend you head there for a romantic dinner. The beautiful hotel and restaurant is centered around the long swimming pool- their Blue Cheese stuffed naan and grilled catch of the day is a must!

Grilled Sardines at La Plage
Grilled Sardines at La Plage
Sundowners at Bardo
Sundowners at the hip Bardo

HOW TO GET HERE- Ashvem and Madrem beaches are around 2 hours drive away from Dabolim airport, the nearest village is Siolim which is around 15-20 minutes away

I’m leaving you with a few images of food and places to visit

Blue cheese naan at Sur La Mer
Blue cheese naan at Sur La Mer
Grilled catch of the day at Sur la Mer, Ashvem
Grilled catch of the day at Sur la Mer, Ashvem
Fresh catch at Fisherman's wharf near Mobor beach in South Goa
Fresh catch at Fisherman’s wharf near Mobor beach in South Goa
The famous restaurant where Charles Sobhraj was caught is also the inventer of the Cafreal- must visit O Coquiero in Porvorim
The famous restaurant where Charles Sobhraj was caught is also the inventer of the Cafreal- must visit O Coquiero  restaurant in Porvorim
Jade Jagger Shop in Ashvem
Jade Jagger Shop in Ashvem
Gallery Gitanjali in Panjim
Gallery Gitanjali in Panjim

BEACH DIARIES: Bali uncovered

Endless vista of terraced paddy fields on our way to Amed
Endless vista of terraced paddy fields on our way to Amed

Bali has for centuries conjured up many exotic images- lush green vegetation spurned by many volcanoes (some of which are still active), endless terraced paddy fields, stretches of white sand beaches offering fabulous surfs, proud & traditional islanders that are deeply religious and ceremonious. It was these  very images that attracted the first wave of artists, musicians & anthropologists in the 1930’s, that came in search of finding their island paradise. Bali has had a fairly turbulent & violent past- exploited by the Dutch rulers & invaded by the Japanese during the Second World War, the Balinese finally claimed independence through the valiant efforts of Gusti Ngurah Rai. Today Bali’s International airport is named after him and that grisly past is long forgotten. Its not surprising then that the island’s main source of income is tourism. The 2002 & 2005 bombings had shaken the tourism industry from its very roots & it has taken several years for the economy to recover. But thanks to Elizabeth Gilberth’s ‘Eat Pray Love’ which subsequently became a (cheesy) movie, tourism has seen a resurgence and some places south of the island have already become overly touristy.

Over the past five years, I have been truly lucky to visit this island many times and soak in what I’d like to call the Hawaii of the East.  As an Indian, it is impossible not to fall in love with the Balinese & relate to their cultural heritage. For starters, over 80 per cent of the Balinese adhere to Balinese Hinduism. Religion is interwoven in the everyday life of the Balinese- with each day involving participating in many ceremonies. The island is dotted with numerous little temples whose walls depict many scenes from the Ramayana & deities of Lord Rama. The great part about Bali is that the island is relatively large with each part offering travellers something different. If you want to enjoy the surf & nightlife stay in the southern part of Bali at Kuta or Seminyak; if you are looking to relax and unwind in a 5 star luxurious setting to enjoy the powdery white sand beach head to Nusa Dua where most of the 5 star hotels are located; Experienced surfers & beach bums can stay at theDreamland Beach/ Uluwatu area; For those seeking to explore the lush green terrain, paddy fields & gain an insight to the arts & culture of Balinese head to the cultural centre of Ubud. If you do however have a lot of time in hand and wish to tread of the beaten path, then head to the relatively unexplored areas of the North East and North west of Bali. Amed & Candidasa are tiny villages/towns on the Eastern coast where you can enjoy the best snorkelling & diving in Bali. The town of Lovina on the north west coast has long stretches of soft black sand beaches (volcanic beaches) with azure blue waters, it is here where you can spot dolphins. Pemuteran ,an even tinier hamlet,  an hour away from Lovina is our new find- with a bio rock marine reserve, and a short boat ride to Menjangan island- you can enjoy some of the best snorkelling/dive experiences in Bali without being bothered by the usual touts and tourist traps. Tourism is relatively new here and I would advise you to visit before it gets over exploited…

Map of Bali
Map of Bali

Irrespective of where you choose to stay, here are some of my top 5 picks of things to do in Bali for a first time visitor (excluding just relaxing on the beach-which would be obvious)

  1. MUST watch the sunset at ULUWATU– wherein lies the ruins of an old temple perched up on the rocky cliffs offering sweeping, panoramic, breath taking views of the sea & the massive surf below

    sunset on uluwatu copy
    Sunset in Uluwatu with sweeping views of the sea below
  2. MUST spend the day at the cultural capital UBUD-a sprawling picturesque town surrounded by the lush green paddy fields & hills. The streets here are lined with endless cafes & galleries & handicraft shops. The Ubud Palace and Legong/ Kecak ( traditional dance recitals are worth watching) Walking trails to the famed terraced paddy fields can be organised from here(do keep in mind this will require at least 3-4 hours)

    Kecap performers
    Performers greet guests after a traditional dance recital
  3. MUST have a sun downer at the hippest beach clubs namely Ku de Ta at Jalan Laxmana Oberoi, Ayana Resort’s Rock bar & the newest entrant Potato Head ( do try their Millionaire Martini) Do not get intimidated rather revel in spotting the many celebrities and beautiful people, all lounging about with their over sized sunglasses, Roberto Cavalli maxi dresses and white linen clothing, blowing air kisses!
  4. MUST experience the aquatic and marine life off the coast of Bali. The shipwreck at Tulamben( next to Amed) or Padangbai( next to Candidasa) are definitely worth checking out. There are many PADI certified dive centers in both Amed & Candidasa. The Bio rock reserve of Pemuteran & 70 metre coral wall off Menjangan island

    Finding our little Nemo- diverse marine life in Bali
  5. MUST  get in touch with your inner self with a morning session of Yoga at the Yoga Barn in Ubud or Desa Seni resort in Canggu. Both are considered institutions by yoga and wellness buffs offering fabulous classes with world class instructors

    An old Javanese Pirate house at Desa Seni Resort, Canggu
  6. MUST watch the sunrise  Gunung Batur- never mind the 3am wake up and 2 hour hike up a steep, jagged active volcano. For those that make it to the top in time are rewarded with undoubtedly the most spectacular sunrise with an uninterrupted view of  the caldera  and lake below, the rim of the active volcano, Gunung Agung and the Rinjani volcano in the Lombok islands far off.

    First rays of the sun as seen from Gunung Batur
    First rays of the sun as seen from Gunung Batur

For those of you who are planning to visit & have already done some research, you will note that I have avoided mentioning Kuta, and that’s for a good reason. Please head to Kuta is you’re looking for crammed up hotels, cheap pubs and bars filled with loud and many a pot bellied, middle aged men or itsy bitsy noisy teens on their spring break- in that case do yourself a favour and please skip reading this blog

SEMINYAK/ PETITENGET 

Seminyak beach as seen from the Oberoi

The posh area answer to the crowded Kuta area. Seminyak is famous for its trendy restaurants,cafes, boutiques & bars.  Enjoys a great stretch of beach but mostly for surfing,  the strong currents don’t really allow you to go too deep into the water. There are many surf schools off the beach, so you should sign up for a class. Seminyak has changed over the years and has actually become very crowded, there are touts around every corner and if you are looking at heading to the beach, be prepared to be accosted by many a salesperson offering to sell all sorts of things. There’s plenty of accommodation available here but  its mainly ranging from mid to high end. The great thing about Seminyak is that you can enjoy the luxury of a villa with your own private swimming pool for as little as $ 150-200 /night. Petitenget area is a quieter extension of Seminyak and now has many interesting hotels, restaurants and bars. The streets along Jalan Seminyak to Jalan Laksmana/ Oberoi are lined with interesting design shops,  upscale clothing boutiques & art galleries making it an interesting walk with many stops!

The perfect sunset in Seminyak as seen from La Lucciola
The perfect sunset in Seminyak as seen from La Lucciola

NOTE- BEWARE of money changers, all of them claim to be authorized  but will without your knowledge deduct a commission, sometimes as much as $20 ( which is quite a lot for Indonesians) Do be sure to check that the exchange rate on the board tallies with what you will receive.

Places to Drink-
  for a more relaxed sunset drink try La Lucciola– Frangipani Bar, around 10-15 mins away from Ku de ta. Potato Head is  the newest entrant in the upscale swish trendy beach club scene, Cocktails here incorporate the use of mixology. Must try- the Millionaire Martini. Drinks can be an expensive affair though, expect to pay anywhere between $ 15-20 USD a drink. Rumours in Jln Laksmana is another great place to catch up for a drink, do note it tends to pack up post 7pm

Places to Eat:  most of the restaurants are on Jalan Laksmana Oberoi nicknamed EAT STREET. Most meals are in the range of $20- $30 USD per meal ( mains and dessert)
Cafe Bali–  run by French nationals, it has an amazing ambiance & decor, must try their desserts, warm choco lava cake & raspberry creme brulee! Great for breakfast or Lunch
Mykonos- great Greek food, down the road from Cafe Bali
Chandi- ex head chef of Nobu in New York has started his own restaurant, very experimental cuisine, we had tried fab desserts here but heard the food is really good( and expensive)
Ultimo– a great place for Italian cuisine and Tratorria- another great alternative to Ultimo

Places to Stay:
High end: Oberoi Hotel- bang on the beach and really gorgeous. Others include-The Legian OR Rasa Seminyak OR The Sofitel OR The Samaya OR  The Elysian. Room rates are expensive ranging from anywhere upwards of $ 250 USD per night

Mid end Villas: many villas around this area, the closer the proximity to the beach, the higher the price, most of them are usually no more than a 10-15 min walk from the beach and have a private pool. Usually entrance to these villas are down a narrow alleyway,do not get scared its quite common in Bali and extremely safe! Try the following places ( where we have stayed in the past) VILLA BUGIS www.villabugis.com (  a 15 min walk from the beach) OR VILLA LA ZUMBA www.balijetaime.com ( a good collection of villas available on weekly rents) OR  LA VILLAIS   DES EXCLUSIVE VILLA AND SPA http://www.lavillais.com/home.html Room rates on all of the above Villas start from $ 150- 450 USD per night depending on Villa size and number of rooms

JIMBARAN

the serene Jimbaran beach
The serene Jimbaran Beach

Its hard to tell that Jimbaran was formerly a fishing village. Dotted with luxurious 5 star hotels,  Jimbaran  beach is probably the best beach for swimming with its white sands and turquoise blue waters ( after Nusa Dua). Jimbaran is also  known for its beach shacks serving up some of the freshest seafood in Bali, prices range between $10-$30 USD per person, excluding drinks( seafood aint cheap!)  Its best to add Jimbaran to the tail end of your Bali itinerary as it is a mere 15-20 minutes away from the airport and most hotels offer a complimentary drop off facility. Uluwatu is only a 20 minute drive away and I would recommend watching the sunset from here.
Places to Stay:
Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay- an absolutely fantastic location in the best/ most gentle part of the beach. A very expensive option though
Intercontinental Jimbaran– right next to Four Seasons, great location on the beach front. Check out booking.com for deals, you could get a room for under $ 200 per night if lucky!
Jimbaran Puri Bali– the stretch of beach here is great. Offers much more affordable rooms in the price range of $100- 200 USD per night
Puri Bambu– this place is pure nostalgia, a good 20 min walk away from the beach, we first stayed here in 2007. Rooms are super reasonable & basic. Service is great and breakfast the best! http://www.puribambu.com/

UBUD:

The famed rice terraces just outside Ubud
Sample of Balinese architecture as seen in UBUD
A typical Balinese designed traditional temple as seen in Ubud

Undoubtedly the cultural capital of Bali. Surrounded by green paddy fields, Ubud’s bustling streets are lined with  interesting cafes, shops & art galleries. Soak in the cultural experience by watching a traditional Legong or Kecak dance performance. Walk away from the town centre and stumble onto admire the architecture of traditional Balinese homes. The artistic villages around Ubud are worth dropping into each village mastering a particular craft such as Batubulan for stone carving, Mas for wood carving , Batuan for paintings and Celuk for silver jewellery. The Neka Gallery in Jalan Raya Sanggingan is a must see- stocking some of the biggest names in the Bali art scene. Ubud also a melting pot for all yoga and wellness buffs. The Yoga barn is the best place to head to for world class yoga classes. Time permitting a day visit to the famed UNESCO world Heritage classified terraced paddy fields in JatiLuwih is a must
Places to Eat
Bebik Bengil ( Dirty Duck)-an Ubud institution, specializing in the crispy deep fried Balinese duck. They also served other delicious Balinese delicaces. The setting is perfect looking out to the paddy fields
Kafe- run by the Yoga barn people, this lively café is packed every afternoon. Their organic and vegan food is a must try as are their vegan desserts
Batan Waru- another popular place serving up delicious Indonesian and Balinese food. Must try their Key Lime Pie which is to die for!
Café Wayan- another great place to try local delicacies and South East Asian cuisine, the décor and garden setting is spot on
Where to stay
High End: Komaneka at Tanggayuda- highly recommended by friends, this place is a little away( 15 min drive) The hotel offers complimentary shuttle services to the town center though. Offering you sweeping views of the valley below. Others include-Four Seasons Hotel at Sayan, Komaneka at Bisma, Uma by Como
Mid end: There are many mid range options available in Jalan Hanuman which is parallel to Jalan Monkey Forest.
Tegal Sari –we stayed here in 2008 and are happy to report that it is still popular. For under $ 40 USD per night you can expect to get comfortable simple accommodation overlooking the paddy fields. Location is perfect and not to far from the center of town surrounded by paddy fields. http://www.tegalsari-ubud.com/enhanced/index.php
Kebun Indah– owned by the Café Wayan people, it’s a little further down the road from Tegal Sari but once again offers great accommodation which is worth the price. Scenic views of the terraced paddy fields http://www.alamindahbali.com/kebun_indah.htm
Bambu Indah– great setting, slightly out of town, however offering sweeping views of the valley, accommodation in the form of individual wooden Javanese houses .  www.bambuindah.com/
Off the Beaten track: Balam Bali Villa in Mengwi which is 30 minutes away from Ubud, surrounded by nothing by paddy fields on all sides,  you must stay in the Pirate house http://www.balambalivilla.com/site/Balam-Bali-Villa-76.html

NUSA DUA:
“Five star vacation”- that just about sums up Nusa Dua. Famed for its powdery white sands and calm waters ideal  for swimming, it comes as no surprises that Nusa Dua is packed with 5 star luxury properties each having their own private beach stretch. With their standard hotel designs, looks and the usual luxury trappings, one hardly gets the feeling of being in Bali. Staying here I could experience the same in a Miami or Bahamas
Recommended hotels: The Conrad and The St Regis
A word of caution, do not book any of the hotels that are on Tanjong Benoa beach or not on the beach front- it may well be that those hotels  are outside of the gated Nusa Dua area and nowhere as nice.  My dear friend from Croatia was fooled into thinking it was part of Nusa Dua and landed up having a horror vacation.

CANDIDASA AND AMED:

Early morning view of Gunung Batur and the mainland as seen from our boat journey to Padangbai
Tenganan- bali aga village
Inside the walled Bali aga village in Tenganan


Head eastwards away from the usual tourist route and experience the fantastic marine life. A three hour scenic drive brings you to the hamlets of Candidasa and Amed ( 40 minutes away from Candidasa) Candidasa was ruthlessly exploited by the hotel and construction boom in the 1980’s and as a result its reef and coast was heavily eroded. Hence the one thing that strikes visitors when coming into this town is the absence of beach/sands. Amed has retained its small town charm however hotels are springing up quickly, so do head here before its gets touristy. Both towns are laid back and there are many small bars and restaurants lined up on the road offering affordable and heartwarming food. Choosing either Amed or Candidasa as your base, a day trip dive/snorkel to Tulamben is a must, it is here that the wreck of a warship Liberty lies, snorkelers can enjoy looking at the live coral and colourful fish while experienced divers can actually head into the wreck to explore what remains. The coral reef off Padangbai is also worth seeing. It is advisable to set sail by 7am, as the waters are gentle and there are no strong currents, moreover this will ensure you head back by noon before it gets too hot. The boat ride to the dive/snorkel site by itself is stunning with the sea on one side and the Gunung Agung volcano on the other( side of the land) Pasir Putih or white sand beach is also great for snorkeling or just swimming, this is around 20 minutes away by boat from Candidasa
Around 5 km away from Candidasa takes you to the town of Tenganen where you can see the original Balinese village( Bali Aga) The village is closed to visitors after 7pm everyday and the inhabitants still practice ancient rituals governed primarily by animistic beliefs. From here you can hike out to the rice terraces of Gunung Agung which offers sweeping views of the sea and rice field terraces below

Places to Stay
Rama Candidasa-  offers luxurious rooms overlooking the large waterfront. The in house restaurant serves up delicious food. We stayed here for 5 nights in 2009 and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Room rates range between $ 75- 200 USD per night
Puri Wirata Amed– basic, comfortable accommodation on the beach/water front. Their dive center is good and offers PADI certification. Good value for money, room rates start from as low as $ 40 USD per night

Dusk sets in Amed

PEMUTERAN

pemuteran beach
Reef workers at Pemuteran Beach


A five hour drive from Denpasar airport brought us to the North west corner of Bali namely Pemuteran . Virtually unheard of until some years ago. Pemuteran beach is now again popularity. Pemuteran has the first and perhaps largest artificial Bio rock reef project in the world. The soft black sand( volcanic beach),  gentle blue waters and surrounding green mountains make it one of the most beautiful unconventional beaches in Bali. The hotels and locals are committed to protecting the reef and there are designated points through which snorkelers can enter and exit the beach( do note :wearing the snorkel fins are essential before entering the reef to prevent damage to the coral) So gentle are the waters that we almost felt like swimming in a massive pool! There are many different types of coral to see such as the sponge coral, electric coral, soft and hard coral, so many different kinds of coral fish. It’s best to start snorkeling by 8.30 am as the sea is calm and visibility good.
A 30 minute boat ride away brought us to the island of Menjangan which is renowned for its coral reef and marine life. There is no accommodation on the island and visits are mainly through boat. Menjangan is a great for divers too who can admire the jaw dropping 70 metre coral wall, snorkelers like me enjoyed the view from above and swam with a large group of coral fish.

menjangan island copy
Perfect snorkeling in Menjangan Island

NOTE- reviews of Menjangan Island diving/snorkeling are varied, the biggest complaint being that due to the tide and strong currents often garbage from Java is washed ashore. We also experienced the same in our snorkel trip (it had poured down the night before) however as we were snorkeling away a good 10-15 metres away from the shore it wasn’t nearly as bad. As with all dive/snorkel trip it is advisable to begin early when there are little or no currents, visibility good & waters cool

Places to Stay
Amertha Bali Villas– spacious beach front villas, tastefully done up with Balinese décor. Each villa comes with a private swimming pool. The dive center attached to the hotel offers snorkel gear. The beach in front of the hotel has a safe entry/ exit zone. Room rates start from $ 150 USD onwards per night. Taman Sari Beach resort- their sister property offers more affordable accommodation with $ 100 USD per night. The in house restaurant is very good
Pondok Sari beach resort- Rooms are done up in traditional Balinese décor. Very attractive looking restaurant not sure about the food though
Matahari Resort- high end luxurious setting. Expect to pay anywhere upwards of $ 300USD per night ( FULL BOARD)
Places to Eat
There are very few places to eat besides the hotels ( where food is ordinary not great!)
Bali Balance– for the best coffee in the morning… Their bakery is not so good though. Free wi-fi is a plus.
Frangipani– scenic setting overlooking the mountains of East Bali. Food expensive but very good.
Warung Tirta Sari– affordable and delicious balinese food. Located just beside Amertha Bali Villas, this is a must try!
LOVINA, in North Bali is another alternative if you do not wish to travel as far as Pemuteran. We were in fact looking at booking a stay here mainly to see the dolphins in the morning. However, from the reviews online, we settled for the more sleepy and remote village of Pemuteran. Lovina, also has soft black sands and gentle azure blue waters, however almost all snorkel/ dive trips will eventually bring you to Pemuteran and Menjangan island. Lovina, in that sense has many more restaurants, hotels and bars and is a little more lively than Pemuteran. I have been told that an early morning trip to see the dolphins here is an absolute must.
How to get to Pemuteran: from the airport Pemuteran is a good 5 hours drive away. The journey costs $40 USD. I would advise travelers to spend a couple of nights at Ubud( around 1.5 hrs away from airport) and then head to Pemuteran which is 3.5 hrs away, otherwise the journey can be a little tiring especially if you are coming in from a long haul flight.

GUNUNG BATUR/ MOUNT BATUR

The cloud lift out to reveal a magical sunrise
The clouds lift out to reveal a magical sunrise

If you are planning to stay in Bali for over a week, please note that no visit to Bali is complete without watching the sunrise from the ridge of an active volcano in this case- Gunung Batur. We set off in the early hours of dawn (3.30am) with a torch and guide, we make way to climb up a steep and jagged edge of an(active)volcano. A grueling 2-2.5 hour hike uphill brings you to the summit where you wait with a dozen other hikers for the sunrise. As the first rays of the sun beam out, you are greeted with a spectacular sight of the caldera and lake below, Gunung Agung( another active volcano)- which seems like a few kilometers away, Mount Batur and finally Mount Rinjani across the Lombok Straits in the Lombok islands. As you take the treacherous route downhill, your guide will show you lava flows and lava vents. Some gimmicky guides were actually showing tourist how to make hard boiled eggs using the steam- highly dangerous! At every step downhill you are reminded that this is an active volcano. The loose sand and jagged volcanic rocks do not help. I would advise everybody to wear comfortable hiking shoes; there was evidence of many shoes in tatters on our route down. Also carry a light sweater with you because at 3.30 am it is almost around 13-15 degrees cold.. You can expect to reach your hotel by around 10 am in the morning after which I would recommend a hot tub soak and Balinese massage.  There is a local hot spring in the Kintamani area.
Places to stay: unfortunately there is very limited accommodation around this area. You could stay in Ubud, set off at 2.30 am in the morning & drive up( takes around 1 hour) However if that’s too much for you, you best options would be to stay in hotels around Kintamani/ Penelokan areas
Surya hotel: very basic inexpensive accommodation, please do not go here with high expectations. Comfortable bed, clean sheets, hot water and a basic restaurant- this just about sums it up.Location beside the lake Batur. Room rates range between $10 -20 USD per night. Recommend staying here only for 1 night. http://www.suryahotel.com/index.html
Hotel Segara: once again simple and inexpensive accommodation beside Lake Batur. Room rates range between $ 10-30 USD per night http://www.batur-segarahotel.com/

Finally moving on to matters of the heart and stomach, here’s a list of must try local delicacies

INDONESIAN DELICACIES
Gado Gado – tossed mixed vegetables with grated coconut, served with prawn crackers, boiled egg and peanut sauce
Satay- skewered meat, traditionally beef, served with sweet peanut sauce

Rendang- traditional dish where pieces of meat( mainly beef) are slow cooked with spices, lemongrass and coconut milk rendering a rich taste
Nasi Goreng– an iconic Indonesian dish, referring to fried rice and assorted vegetables and kecap manis sauce

BALINESE DELICACIES

Babi Guling or spit roast suckling pig turned over a fire of coconut husks for at least 2-3 hours, till the meat is soft and tender and skin crackling!

Admiring the Babi Guling or spit fire roast suckling pig
Admiring the Babi Guling or spit fire roast suckling pig

Bebik Betutu duck stuffed with various spices, steamed in a banana leaf served with white rice

Bebik Betutut at Dirty Duck Diner in Ubud
Bebik Betutut at Dirty Duck Diner in Ubud

Ikan Pepes: white fish marinated with various herbs and lemongrass, steamed in a banana leaf, served with white rice

Pepes ikan served with gado-gado and yellow rice
Pepes ikan served with gado-gado and yellow rice

Lawar served traditionally with the suckling pig, Lawar refers to thin slices of raw mango or turtle meat or  young jackfruit or chicken, tossed with galangal, shallots, turmeric &  grated coconut and sometimes tossed the uncooked blood of a pig- there are many vegetarian options available though
More information on Balinese food and spices please visit http://www.2indonesia.com/food.htm

Grilled catch of the day at a Jimbaran Beach Shack
Grilled catch of the day at a Jimbaran Beach Shack
Millionaire martini@ Potato Head
Millionaire martini@ Potato Head

Local Drinks: 
Beer- Bintang or Bali Hai are great lager beers to cool off with in the hot afternoons and balmy evenings
Wine- Hatten Rose, perfect for a hot and sunny afternoon, passable for wine drinkers
Arack (Attack)- similar to fenny distilled in Goa, India. This is made from coconut palm. Do note there have been many warning against trying cocktails sing Arack in cheap bars, so my advice is to stick with a good or high end bar while drinking this drink

Art Galleries and shops worth visiting
For those of you looking to invest in reasonable art for your homes or looking to make your walls pretty, Bali has a zillion art galleries. Quality of art rates from average to exceptional. Do note, unless you are an art expert it is extremely difficult to guess an original art piece. Here are some galleries worth visiting
Reservo Art in Seminyak-  run by a French man, they have 3 branches in Seminyak featuring works by contemporary Indonesian and Balinese artists. Visit their webpage for further details http://www.reservo-art.com/about-us_5.html
Neka Museum and Art gallery in Ubud- an exhaustive source of original art from Bali. Naturally you can expect to pay top dollar as all works are original.Further details please visit: http://www.museumneka.com/link.asp
Uluwatu in Jalan Laksmana/ Oberoi Seminyak for the Balinese lace, slightly expensive but good nonetheless
A Bit of Bali in Jalan Kerobokan( close to Seminyak) for Balinese statues and all outdoor features
There are many design shops along the Jalan Raya Sunset strip selling Indonesian teak furniture, driftwood, petrified wood, outdoor features, original bathroom fittings and even Javanese houses  for the export market. Most of them are already shipping to India, so you shouldn’t have a problem trying to ship anything back home!

BEACH DIARIES: Far from the madding crowd in North Kerala

For those of you who are acquainted with India’s top tourist destinations,  the names that will instantly pop into your head are: Rajasthan( magnificent desert fortresses and colorful people), Agra (iconic 7th Wonder of the world- Taj Mahal), Goa (beaches and laid back Portuguese vibes) and last but not the least- Kerala( advertised as ‘God’ own country)

Ever since we moved back to India in 2010, we made it a point to visit Kerala at least once every year and I have been lucky to explore pretty much most of what I’d like to call affectionately- Coconut Country! From the spice trading Dutch styled town of Kochi to the tea laden hills of Munnar, from the backwaters in Ashtamudi to the half moon shaped beach of Varkala, from the  super crowded beaches of Kovalam to the wildlife sanctuary in Thekkady. In all of our visits we encountered hoards of tourists both from India & different corners of the globe to experience what our tourism board call’s – God’ own country. Most left happy but many like me couldn’t help feel that everything had an “overly” touristy feel- from the endless blocks of hotels & restaurants, shopkeepers selling their wares on the beaches, touts offering a relaxing massage( wink wink!), taxi drivers charging exorbitant rates for sightseeing!

The tiny fishing village and unspoilt beach nestled beneath Bekal fort, North Kerala
The tiny fishing village and unspoilt beach nestled beneath Bekal fort, North Kerala

A surprise win at a Silent Auction charity dinner in November saw us win a 2 night stay at Vivanta by Taj in Bekal, North Kerala. The first thing that popped to our mind was- where is Bekal and how do we get there? A quick search on the internet gave us somewhat of a clear idea on what to expect and quite honestly we weren’t expecting much. How glad I was to discover that we were totally wrong.  We flew into Mangalore ( the nearest airport to Bekal) mid morning and a 1.5hr hair raising, back bone breaking car journey (80 kms) passing through picturesque sleepy towns and villages & many burqa clad women and children. The North of Kerala is dominated by a substantial Muslim population but let that not put you off- the people are warm, friendly and blissfully unaware of how beautifully unspoiled their coastline is. The first thing that struck us along our drive was the absence of tourism boards and advertisement display boards one usually finds along the main highway. In fact, there was hardly any indication for a good 60 kms that we were heading to Bekal. Discreet signs by the Taj guided our taxi driver finally to the gates of paradise (Vivanta by Taj- our hotel and home for 3 days)

Designed by renowned Australian architect- Nick Juniper, this sprawling 26 acre property draws inspiration from the Kettuvallam house boats of Kerala. A closer look would reveal that they have clearly drawn inspiration from Bali. Nonetheless, the result is visually attractive. Each spacious room, retains a sense of privacy with a private courtyard replete with Spanish styled tiled deck chairs & Balinese swing  looking out to the calm lagoon & for the lucky few staying in the villas- a  private swimming pool.

Snapshots of the Vivanta by Taj
The stunning water landscaping renders a Baliesque feel to the entire property

    

Vivanta-Entrance to private villa   

  

Inside the expansive Jiva Grande Spa
Inside the expansive Jiva Grande Spa

   

       A short 5 minute walk through serene landscaping took us to the deserted Kappil beach, where we were delighted to enjoy the sunset all by ourselves.

 

 In pursuit of pleasure, we found ourselves relaxing by the pool or kayaking in the calm waters of the lagoon. The resort has many bicycles available on hire( free of charge for hotel guests), so we found ourselves riding out of the hotel premises to explore the quiet surroundings. We passed  many a traditional house and soaked in the rustic rural setting. Locals going about their daily chores, seemed oblivious to the coastal beauty that surrounded them. Kappil beach is truly unspoiled in the sense that there were hardly any visitors at any point of time of the day ( Note: due to the uneven sea floor it is not advised to swim on the beach, it however makes for a great setting for sunrise/sunset where you can soak up unending views of the Arabian Sea) This also meant that the beach was clean and free of any touts or annoying people niggling you to buy their wares or services…

Bekal fort as seen from the beach below

A fun 20 minute auto ride takes you to the Bekal fort ( where scenes from the iconic Bollywood movie ‘Bombay’ were shot) Bekal fort is considered to be one of the largest forts in Kerala. The fort by itself has been robbed of all its treasures but offers panoramic views of the coastline below.

The view atop Bekal fort
Seagulls take flight in the deserted Bekal fort beach
Seagulls take flight in the deserted Bekal fort beach

Here are 3 reasons why you should head to Bekal before its too late:

1) To get a feel of the ‘real’ Kerala minus all the tourist trapping

2) Great beaches which you can enjoy all to yourself

3) Warm and friendly locals who are only too happy to help you discover their local treasures

WHERE TO STAY

The Vivanta by Taj, Bekal is your best choice for place of stay in Bekal. Another alternative is the Lalit, Bekal. Room rates start from INR 8,000 onwards for a double.
Food at both resorts are alright- not great ( many items weren’t available on the menu) but they cook up delicious local Keralan food- be sure to try the Syrian Roast Chicken or Appams with Chicken stew

HOW TO GET HERE

By flight- Mangalore airport which is 80 kms or 1.5 hours away by drive( expect a bumpy stomach churning ride!)
By train- Kasaragod station which is connected to the Konkan railways

I’ll leave you with a picture taken from the lagoon at sunset

lagoon stretching out to the sea-Bekal
Lagoon stretching out to the sea-Bekal

Echoes of a Moorish past: GRANADA

I have been nursing a Spanish hangover for the past 2 months, I’ve been day dreaming, taking far too many siestas during the week, eating at a sloth’s pace & drinking far too much wine. It’s hard to believe that around 3 months ago, I was exploring sunny little towns in Andalusia, blissfully unaware of time: Andalusia is exactly what guide books tell you about, only you need to keep pinching yourself to remind yourself that you’re not dreaming!

Spain had a far reaching impact on us than we initially expected. A week into our arrival back to India we couldn’t stop peppering our speech with tiny bits of Spanish, with the enthusiasm of school children “Hola! Senor/ Senora!”  Our attempt at scouring the liquor stores ( on our first weekend back in India) in search of Sherry was futile- there wasn’t any to be found, a rude reminder that in a country so accustomed to (read: hard) spirits, there is very little room for wine let alone sherry!

Visualize the following: Majestic snow capped (Sierra Nevada) mountains, the irresistible scent of jasmine drooping over the boundary walls of homes, trees bursting with blood red pomegranates, the distant sounds of a gypsy entertainer strumming his guitar, steeply curved  streets lined with whitewashed homes- rendering you breathless at every corner, cats sunning themselves on terraces, a spectacular Moorish castle towering over the town- this is Granada.

Granada is the fabled town nestled on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where memories of the great Moorish civilization and gypsies (now long gone) haunt the streets. Easily explorable by foot, Granada is unfortunately often overshadowed by Seville. I’d like to share with you some of Granada’s top 5 attractions. We based ourselves at the modest Hotel Navas on the Calle Navas street ( famous  for the lively Tapas bars lining the streets, giving you the chance to try a zillion Andalusian or Alpujarran delicacies) Our convenient location meant that we were a mere 5 minute walk away from the town center- Plaza Nuevo & the Cathedral

The Al Hambra lit up in the evening

Above: the Magical Al Hambra leaves us spellbound in sunset. Picture taken from Mirador de San Nicolas

1) AL HAMBRA: a masterpiece that is a true testament to the greatness of the Moorish civilization  Built in the 8th century by the rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty, they created a magnificent castle  with modest materials and maximized its greatness through use of  water, light, space & greenery. Given the sheer size of the castle and its exquisite gardens, I would recommend spending a whole day soaking in all the artistry and history at a leisurely pace.( Note: please buy tickets well in advance at the Al Hambra webpage, so you don’t get disappointed. There is a quota system restricting the number of visitors into the main fort at any given time)

Inside the Al Hambra

Patio de los Leones- the famous lion fountain Inside the Al Hambra

 Exquisite gardens  Al Hambra at day

2) ALBAICIN has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and its easy to see why. The labyrinth of  streets, offer an insight into the unique Andalusian homes called Carmens- opening up to a square of exquisite garden bursting with scented jasmine creepers, pomegranates & oranges. The houses have a very Moorish touch ( given the fact that this town was the seat of the Nasrid empire)

A typical entrance to a Andalusian home called "Carmen"

One of the many streets of  One of the many narrow streets in the Albaicin   Sunny terraces and streets

3) CARRERA DEL DARRO: This is a picturesque road or ancient street running along the Darro river leading past crumbling bridges and ancient buildings at the foot of the Al Hambra fort hill. Most of the buildings have thankfully been restored or in the process of restoration. At the start of this street, do stop to admire the stately Renaissance facade of the Real Chancelleria and the Church of Santa Ana built in the 16th century

One of the many restored building in Carrera del Darro

4) SACRAMONTE: the old gypsy quarters lined with steep streets, pathways and viewpoints. Many many decades ago, travellers would come here to witness the Flamenco performances by gypsies. The gypsies are now mostly gone but there are still some authentic bars that give you the true Flamenco feel

Whitewashed houses in Gypsy quarters- Sacramonte

5) MIRADOR SAN NICOLAS: the unrelenting walk uphill to Mirador San Nicolas will not leave you disappointed,for it is from here that you can get a panoramic view of the Al Hambra, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and town( one of the best viewing points) I would recommend going there closer to sunset, simply because it is less hot & the views will leave you spellbound for years to come. The walk by itself takes you past the Albaicin and Sacramonte quarters and you can take many “fueling” stops on the way at bars serving a glass of cold sherry!

Cats sunning themselves on a terrace in Mirador San Nicolas  A street gypsy performer

Paris uncovered on foot

Paris is one of the few cities in the world, which can capture history, culture, art, food, fashion and modernism effortlessly with a style and flair that will leave you yearning for more

On my memorable first visit to this dynamic city last month, I was faced with the near impossible task of digesting all of the above in an unbelievable 3 nights( bearing in mind that we arrived from India in the afternoon on what was classified as Day 1!) It seemed rather unjust to devote such little time to one of the world’s greatest cities, but given that we had precisely 24 days to divide between two great countries France and Spain- our nights were precisely allotted in such a way that we got to explore towns and cities without feeling too rushed. That having being said- we need a holiday to get over this holiday!

A word of advice to those looking to do the same when flying in from India- get plenty of sleep/rest in your flight, you will need all the energy in exploring and absorbing the sights and sounds of Paris!

I am a firm believer of the fact that the best way to explore a city is through foot, giving you enough time to pace yourself and take in the little nuances of a new place.  Somehow the idea of getting on to a Hop On/Hop off bus seemed to put me off as I hate the idea of being looked at by locals as- “Here goes the tourists in their flashy red buses, tour guides and digital cameras!” I was soon to discover, however, that due to my limited French conversational skills and obviously large digital SLR, I would be labeled a tourist anyway- so much for trying to mingle with the locals!
Having said that I feel better knowing that I explored the city in my own time & way ( which may have possibly been harder) and in the process exploring cafes and patisseries’ frequented by locals( there’s nothing better than steering away from the tourist traps highly recommended by tour guides!) I would like to point out that when I say that we explored the city on foot- we did so the smart way, by taking a metro or bus to the nearest landmark and picking our way from there…. Central Paris is pretty easy to explore and most of the attractions centered along either side of the Seine- the Right bank & Left bank.

DAY 1:
We arrived a little over noon at Charles de Gaulle, we lost a good one hour with immigration and baggage retrieval and by the time we reached our hotel in Place D’Italie it was early evening( 4pm!) It didn’t help that the weather wasn’t any good-a typical Parisian afternoon in September- cloudy and drizzly! But wanting to make the most of our limited time, we freshened up and head out to explore our first sight- the legendary museum of Louvre, containing some of the most important art collections in the world. It makes for an excellent choice on a rainy day as you can spend countless hours marveling at the endless art and sculptures dating back several centuries.
Our hotel room was the size of a matchbox (typical of a hotel in central Paris) however for 70 Euros a night we couldn’t have asked for a better location- a short bus ride lasting up to 10 minutes, passing through up market neighborhoods  on the Left bank of the Seine-Pantheon, Luxemburg gardens and St Michelle(filled lively cafes and shops) The bus makes its final stop on the Pont or bridge where the majestic glass pyramid of the Louvre commands you to enter. People spend days and weeks together at a stretch exploring the massive labyrinth that is Louvre and still not have enough. Unfortunately we did not have the luxury of time and resorted to looking at some of the main attractions in the museum: Venus De Milo, The Seated Scribe(dating back to 2350 BC Egypt),Nike of Samothrace(200BC) Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Medieval Moats (original base of the Louvre which was a built as a fortress in 1190to protect Paris from the Vikings) Do be sure to collect a map at the entrance as you could get lost easily, moreover the map lists all the main attractions in each wing. A good 3 hours whizzed by and before we knew it was time for dinner.

        

             

Walking over to the St Michelle neighborhood across the Seine, passing well dressed couples canoodling along the bridge, the lit up Louvre & historical buildings flanking both sides of the Seine, gave the city an unmistakable romantic touch; From across the bridge the Eiffel Tower twinkled- it finally sunk in that we were in Paris!  At a local café we tucked into our first meal of L’escargot (Snails with butter and bread) and a hearty French onion soup, this is best accompanied with carafe of Cote de Bruilly Beaujolais . We called it an early night- the jet lag finally got to us and we made our way back to the hotel knowing that we had to have an early start with many more sights to see…..

DAY 2:

The delicious smell of freshly baked pastries and coffee wafted upwards to our room from the tiny Pâtisserie   beneath our hotel. Feeling completely rested after an eight hours of sound sleep we tucked into a  Pain au chocolat (Chocolate croissant) and espresso we made our way to the metro station to Eiffel Tower( Metro stop: Bir Hakeim) On alighting at Bir Hakkeim, a 10 minute stroll leads you  through a row of tall trees and before you know it- one of Paris’ greatest monuments tower over you. At a height of 324m, the gigantic size and structure of the Eiffel truly takes your breath away!

Built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel for the famous Paris Exhibition, this was meant to be a temporary addition to the skyline of Paris. As a departure from traditional architectural norms, it was highly criticized by 19th century aesthetes. Today it is an internationally loved monument and symbol of France.  Put off by the long lines of tourists waiting to take the elevators to the third level( for those of you willing to wait for around 2 hours in a Que you will be rewarded with stunning views of Paris, on a clear day it is said that you can see upto 72 kms!), we decided to walk on and settle for another view(better in our opinion from Pont Alexander) Crossing over Pont d’Ilena we made our way to Place du Varsovie, at the center of which are the grand Trocadero Fountains flanked by Jardins du Trocadero(25 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens with a large rectangular ornamental pool) We continued along the right bank towards Pont de Alexander III( Paris’s prettiest bridge offering fabulous views of the Seine and Eiffel tower, see picture below)

Taking a left at Pont Alexander (Avenue Winston Churchill) and going past the Grand Palais( Built in 1897,this elaborate exhibition hall with a glass dome is used for major commercial exhibitions) & Petit Palais( art collections pertaining to Paris are housed here) we finally reached the iconic Avenue Des Champs Elysées lined with legendary design houses, upscale boutiques, trendy brasseries and high street clothing stores. This exciting build up led to the world’s most recognizable arch- the Arc De Triomphe. Built for Napoléon after his victory at Battle of Austerlitz, Napoléon promised his men that they would go home beneath triumphal arches. The Arch is encrusted with reliefs & shields.  I was truly amazed at the orderly flow of traffic around Arc de Triomphe, which kind of becomes the central roundabout where 12 avenues converge (impossibly implemented by the vision of Baron Haussmann, who was responsible for the modernization of Paris)

      

We made our way back through Avenue Champs Elysées and towards Place De La Concorde, one of Europe’s most historical squares. This square became the centre of the bloody French revolution; it was here in Place de la Concorde that Louis VI, Marie Antoinette were beheaded, the guillotine nicknamed the Black Widow.  A few decades after the Revolution ended, a 3200 year old obelisk from Luxor was presented to King Louis-Phillipe by the Viceroy of Egypt. Across the Place de la Concorde at Pont De la Concorde you can see the stately national parliamentary buildings of Assemble Nationale( left bank of Seine) Place de La Concorde is at the end( or starting point, depending on how you look at it) of  the magnificent Jardins Tuileries. We decided to take a lunch break and headed for posh Rue de Rivoli street which runs along the Jardin Tuileries, our hidden find was the tiny quaint café Ruby, tucked away in a quiet street off Rivoli, it was here that we found boisterous locals playing the accordion and drinking wine! Our satisfying and budget pleasing meal comprised of Andouilette sausages with lentils and pomme puree( mashed potatoes)  It was the sort of café  where after a couple of glasses of wine, fellow diners become mates and even share their precious wine ( yes this happened to us, our 70 something diner left us with half a bottle of spicy Cotes du Provence wine)

    

Giddy with excitement and wine, we made our way into the beautiful neo classical designed gardens of Tuileries and onto Musée de L’Orangerie which houses Claude Monet’s stunning panoramic water lilies.But hold on there’s more in the lower level: an impressive selection of works that form part of notable 21st century art collector Paul Guillaume’s collection. This selection includes works by Renoir, Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Manet and Rousseau.Having our art fill for the day spent the rest of the afternoon admiring the perfectly manicured gardens of Jardin Touileries. Refreshed and recharged we proceeded to walk beneath Arc de Triumphe du Carousel( once again created to celebrate Napoleon’s victory) and glass pyramid of Louvre, another 15 minutes at a leisurely pace took us towards Les Halles where another iconic Parisian instituition Centre Pompidou is located.  The massive building looks like its inside out, with aircon/heating shafts and water ducts all outside! Built in 1977 this building was crucial towards the culmination of the modernization of Paris. Inside the museum is an impressive collection of works from different artistic eras- from Cubism, Fauvism, Surrealism. There are notable works by Matisse, Picasso, Miro & Pollock amongst others. We were happy to admire the building from the outside as we were done with absorbing all the art from Louvre and Orangerie( seriously, you need to take it slow so you can take in beauty of the masterpieces, too much and you can get a headache) 10 minutes away from Pompidou is another Parisian landmark- the Notre Dame Cathedral, a symbol and testament to the history of Paris. Commissioned in 1160 by Bishop of Sully, the cathedral took nearly two hundred years to build. It has witnessed great events in French history such as the coronation of Henry VI and Napoleon Bonaparte.  The cathedral’s menacing gargoyles stare down at you from the outer ledge, rendering a very medieval sinister look to the surrounding area! It was 7pm and we were ready to hop on board one of the many famous Seine river cruises ( a 10 minute walk away from the Cathedral at Pont De Neuf) This seemed like a perfect way to end an exhausting day on foot. Our 1 hour cruise took us through most of the attractions we saw in the course of the day, but it gave us a fresh perspective and time to relax

      

Day 3:

On the morning of our last day, we set about having our usual morning fix- an enormous pain au chocolate with two double espressos. A short metro ride took us to Place D’Opera( Metro: Opera or Galeries Lafayette) at the steps of yet another landmark of Paris-Opera National de Paris Garnier, a grand opera house built in 1875, step inside and be overawed by the grand staircase made of white carrera marble and massive chandelier. The elaborate ceiling  is painted by renowned artist Chagall. A few minutes walking distance away is La Madeleine– a church created in the 1800’s to replicate a greek temple with large Corinthian columns( La Madeleine is visible from Place de la Concorde)

No visit to Paris is complete without visiting the famed shopping institutions, so tracing our steps back to the Opera, we made our way to the Galeries Lafayette, located just behind the Opera. It is Paris’s upscale answer to Harrods (as if Harrods wasn’t for the rich!) Located in Baron Haussman avenue and sprawled in over 5 buildings each catering to the latest designer collections, jewelry, accessories, cosmetics, home decor,  food, high street fashion and much more. Other Parisian institutes on the same street are Le Printemps (featuring the latest trends to hit the runway)and Le Bon Marche, a department store like the former two BUT uniquely distinguished for its epic  food section- Le grand Epicerie de Paris, having over a 1000 handcrafted food items from across the world. We disappointingly discovered (yet again)that all of Europe stays closed on a Sunday and there was no exception to this rule with the likes of Galeries Lafayette/ Le Printemps/ Le Bon Marche, so we had to settle with window shopping, much to my husband’s delight( see image below)

Walking slightly north of Baron Haussman avenue, passing Gare St Lazare we reach the famed artistic districtMonmarte( a 25 minute brisk uphill walk) The steep hill of Monmarte has been associated with artists for many centuries, today however street artists flourish thanks to the tourists and Monmarte has become a thriving neighborhood with quaint little cafes and bars and upscale residential houses( similar to Notting Hill, London) We began our tour from Blvd de Clichy, with the famous Moulin Rouge– a dance hall in the 1900’s considered to be the home of the can-can dance immortalized in artist Henry Toulouse Lautrec’s colorful paintings. Walking further uphill takes you past the Cimetierie Monmarte, the historical cemetery containing graves of many luminaries of the creative and artistic world. We slowly made our way to the Sacre Coeur, passing quaint cobble stoned squares with cafés and street artists rendering a villagey feel to the neighborhood. The Sacre Coeur is a neo-Romanesque church completed in 1914 and contains many treasures of religious significance. We were interested in seeing the much talked about panoramic view of Paris’s skyline just outside the stately church. The sounds of the church bells ringing and crowds gathering inside the church reminded us that it was a late Sunday morning- time for mass!

  

  

After a light lunch of Quiche Lorraine, accompanied with a glass of rose, we made our way down the pretty hill with its historical houses and quiet parks, passing couples whispering sweet nothings. With wobbly knees( it was a steep walk down) we made our way to the metro( Blanche) to reach another of Paris’s famous museums-Musée d’orsay ( Metro: Solferino) The museum was actually a Railway Station called Orléans  this was pointed out to us during our Seine river cruise) The iconic turn of the century building had been designed in a grand majestic style and we were happy to note that, on becoming a museum much of the old character of the building has been retained. Today it presents an inexhaustible collection of visual arts, sculptures, objects d’art from 1848 to 1914.  The star collections are on the top floors of the building detailing the most comprehensive account of works from the Impressionist  & Post Impressionist period- Monet, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Cezzane, Manet , Seurat, Matisse and so many more. The central aisle of the building is filled with sculptures from the likes of Rodin and Daumier amongst others. The lower/ entry level of the buildings have works dating back before 1870.

It took us a good 3 hours to go through the collection and by the time we exited it was time for beer, what better a place than the trendy( and expensive) St-Germain district ( behind Musée d’orsay) This famous street lined with upscale brasseries frequented by politicians, intellectuals, actors, musicians and writers. It also a place where people gather to enjoy a favorite Parisian pastime- people watching! This,we noted can last for anything up to a couple of hours, many a time with just a single glass of wine or beer!  It was nearly time for sunset and we made our way to the iconic river Seine, walking along the historical embankments, enjoying the cool slightly chilly autumn breeze. A couple of our Parisian friends suggested we catch up got drinks at a hidden place frequented by the locals- Place des Vosges( next to Place de Bastille) This historical square is centered around a pretty park surrounded on all 4 sides with old residential buildings and grand arcades. It was said that Dominic Strauss Kahn( The shamed IMF chief) had an apartment here. After a round of drinks at the popular Café Hugo, we moved on to another charming square not too far- Place St Katherine, also filled with lively bars and brasseries. A memorable dinner with friends was the perfect end to our short stay in Paris.  We made the most of our time here and enjoyed exploring the sights by foot. At times it did seem to be exhausting but fret not! Just take a break at one of the numerous cafes and bars that will leave you recharged and ready to head to your next sight. It was pouring by the time we finished dinner, almost as if the city was begging us not to leave. I do have a feeling that I will be back here sooner than later ( Paris tops the list as my favorite European city, sorry London!)

I’m going to leave you with a memorable picture taken of a macaroon tart- reminding us of that Paris is a city of where everything is presented with a touch of elegance and refinement and that the French love the good things in life

Photojournal: Provence


The 2000 year old remains of Roman aqueduct-Pont Du Gard,the greatest testimony to the Roman empire. The aqueduct was said to carry water from the springs of Uzes to Nimes( a distance of around 50km) It is believed that the aqueduct was in use for over 400 years

Gordes: this pretty town perched atop the hills, undoubtedly wins the award for the most picturesque Provencal town! Stonewalled medieval streets offer attractive views of the countryside below

   

Above Right: The town of Rousillon, aptly named for the ochre colour it derives from the surrounding hills(unfortunately we reached on a very rainy afternoon and this picture doesn’t do much to highlight the beauty of this famed town!)

    

Above Left: Triumphal Arc in Orange  built in 20AD, elaborately decorated with battle scenes and roman inscription
Above Right: Built in the reign of Emperor Augustus of the Roman era, this amphitheater is still in use today!

Above: The view of the Roman amphitheater in Arles

The famed town of Arles on the banks of the Rhone river is filled with charming finds dating back to Roman empire and medieval times: the Roman amphitheater, Roman baths, ruins of the Roman Theater, Notre Dame Cathedral and Espace Van Gogh(hospital where Van Gogh was treated in ) are a must see

Below: The riverfront, Arles

Above: Pont St Benezet leading to the Palais du Papes in Avignon
Avignon, is the medieval town locked by massive stone walls. The 12th century Pont St Benezet which was partially destroyed by floods in the 1600’s
The highly foritified, Palace of Popes was built in the reign of Pope Clementine V when he moved the papal court to Avignon in 1308. The palace, alas, is bereft of all its furnishings as it was ransacked over the course of the many following centuries.

    
   

BELOW: Wine tasting @ Skalli, a  Southern France wine making family that produces excellent wines of a GSM blend- Grenache, Shiraz & Mourverde

                                                   

   

Above Left and Right: The wines of Provence- a light and refreshing Rose and the famed red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape

Below: the scenic wine growing villages beneath the Chateauneuf du Pape

    

ABOVE LEFT: Pastis and Rose- summertime’s thirst quenchers
ABOVE RIGHT:  Quiche and Provencial Puff pastry- perfect for a light lunch

HOW TO GET HERE:
It would be best to make Avignon your base for at least 3 nights/4 days. From here you can take day trips to the towns of . We signed up with Provence Reservation(http://www.provencereservation.com/) for two tours of 4-5 hours duration each the first of which took us to Orange and Chateauneuf du Pape( followed with an informative wine tasting session) and the second which took us to the mountain villages of Gordes, Rousillon, Les Beaux de Provence & Pont du Gard

Arles is a 10 minute train ride from Provence and the small town is can be easily explored in around 4-5 hours

Of Chocolates and wines

Chocolate and Wine- who can think of a more sinful combination? The town of T’ain L’Hermitage, as we discovered, offers precisely this with oodles of French charm!

The spectacular sight of the steep green vineyards of Paul Jaboulet and M.Chapoutier greeted us on our arrival in the train station of T’ain. Much has been written about the wines of Northern Rhone, the spiritual home of Syrah or Shiraz(as its known to the new world) Northern Rhone is a region whose wines are often overshadowed by its famous sisters- Bordeaux & Burgundy. Make no mistake; the Hermitage wines are exceptional- intense fruit, plump, coffee, chocolates,peppery & full bodied( will need to age for at least 3-4 years before being approachable)

The region of Condrieu, on the Northern most tip of Rhone, produces the most divine white wines made entirely from the Viognier grape (think of perfumed apricots, peaches, sprinkles of nutmeg) Our initial choice was the Cotie-Rotie (meaning “roasted slopes” due to the ample sunshine) to pay our homage to legendary winemaker Ernesto Guigal, whose wines are the stuff dreams are made off, and who was responsible for putting Northern Rhone wines on the wine lovers map. Bad train connections meant we had to give it a miss (Note to self: please carry an international driver’s license in the next trip)

Our next and obvious choice was T’ain L’Hermitage. It’s hard not to fall in love with T’ain- unmistakably picturesque because of the surrounding vineyards lining the steep slopes, the Rhone River, easily accessible by foot, friendly people, great food & finally home to Valrhona- the legendary French chocolate maker. I remember a time in Singapore when every restaurant & patisserie was going through a Valrhona phase- warm fondant, chocolate tart, dulce de leche ice cream….it seemed very surreal that we were finally here

  

After a super fast check in at our B&B, we decided to hit the streets, starting with a delicious lunch at a breezy café by the river side- Andouilette sausages served with salad & Homemade ravioli stuffed with spinach, broccoli and cheese, all washed down with a carafe of local spicy Hermitage( Syrah) wine.

     

As if that wasn’t enough, we made our way to the Valrhona shop boutique to have a look at over a 100 different types of chocolate (okay 100 maybe exaggerated, more like 50!) all available for sampling. The staff members were ever so friendly in offering us endless chocolate squares: my personal favorite being Guanaja( 70%Cocoa, extra bitter) If you’re not too keen on dark bitter chocolate, try Caraibe( 66% cocoa) or Manjari( 64% cocoa) Their never ending range of chocolate related products ranged from chocolate pearls & cooking chocolate to hot chocolate, ice cream & pralines. Happily digging our way through(what seemed like)a zillion samples we rightfully agreed that it was enough and we had to burn it off the extra calories. Our punishment was declared: climbing up the sunny L’Hermitage hill to the vineyards.

   

Cave Du T’ain, an excellent wine cooperative at the bottom of the hill, offers an informative self guided Discovery route map, allowing you to explore the vine laden hill at your own pace. Cave Du Tain also organizes wine tastings, giving visitors a chance to sample many wines from the Northern Rhone region

Armed with the map and decent walking shoes, we made our way uphill, huffing and puffing along the way, promising never to overindulge! The scenic walk starts at the bottom of the hill and slowly ascends upwards taking you through the famous “La Chapelle” vineyard of Paul Jaboulet, picturesque country estates (owned by the winemakers) and the granite terraces which took almost 20 years to build to retain the granite sand (crucial for rendering power and structure to the Syrah grapes) Those that make it uphill are rightfully rewarded with panoramic views of the Rhone river, the vineyards of Saint Joseph( across the Rhone river) and the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. The walk takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and is a must for absolutely everybody interested in knowing more about this venerated region.

  

    

It was early evening as we slowly made our way down the Hermitage hill, admiring the sheer beauty of the vines and terroir, we had to end our evening with a wine tasting stop at the house of Paul Jaboulet, famous winemakers of the Hermitage region, now known the world over. Wines from their La Chapelle vineyard in the L’Hermitage Hill are considered by many to be among the greatest. Our complimentary tasting session of 3 wines comprised of: Le Cassines Condrieu( Viognier), La Petit Chapelle Hermitage( Syrah) and Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage( Syrah) giving us a good insight into the structure & taste

 Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and this time we decided to go easy and tuck into a salad and yoghurt! I would     recommend T’ain as a night stay, make sure you arrive in the morning to ensure you can leisurely see the Valrhona boutique, Cave du Tain walk & picturesque town center on the banks of the Rhone. For wine tastings I will recommend Cave du Tain and Paul Jaboulet who offer complimentary tastings( especially if you are two people) Do note that while it isn’t obligatory to buy a bottle of wine, it is recommended you do buy (it would be polite) as they are also priced at a bargain!  M Chapoutier also organizes wine tastings,  prior appointment will need to be made( they are located in the main street off the station and beside our B&B- Le Castel)

UNDERSTANDING THE WINES OF HERMITAGE

SYRAH- is the principal grape grown here. In fact it is here in Northern Rhone that Syrah was born. Majority of the red wines contain 100% Syrah, however producers can add a small percentage of Marsanne and Roussane. The wines of Hermitage display intense notes of berries, plum, chocolate, pepper and have a full bodied finish. They often need to be approached after 5 years and stay perfect upto 20 years!

     

MARSANNE-  is the main white varietal of the Northern Rhone, It displays exceptional longetivity in the warm, pebbly soil of Northern Rhone. The picture taken above is from Cave du Tain’s vineyard containing 100 year old Marsanne grapes! Chante-Alouette, a vineyard owned by M Chapoutier, produces exceptional full bodied white wine, green gold in colour, honey and almonds in the palate with a rounded finish- a must try…

ROUSSANNE- is the other white varietal of Northern Rhone

Main Producers- Paul Jaboulet, M.Chopoutier, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Cave du Tain & Delas

FURTHER AFIELD:

Crozes Hermitage– refers to the appellation situated beneath and behind the L’Hermitage Hill. It is a fairly large appellation with many producers. Offers good value for money. The red wines are best drunk young.

Saint Joseph- refers to the appellation situated across the Rhone river in the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. Again, the wines here offer great value for money and age well
( upto 4 years)

Steeped in Wine

Most people tend to associate French wine with the region of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux region is undoubtedly one of the top destinations for wine tourism attracting many aficionados from across the world. However, if you are willing to look further afield, there awaits you a charming & rustic wine region, which has for sometime been known to produce magical, knee weakening wines of the Pinot Noir grape that is bound to leave you spellbound for years to come- this is region is known to the world as Burgundy, but to the people of France as Bourgogne( pronounced-Boor-goon-yaay)
As influential wine writer Harry Waugh said “The First Duty of wine is to be Red…the second is to be a Burgundy
Burgundy is the uncrowned champion, yielding some of the world’s most venerated wines

         

Part of the reason why this region receives far less visitors than its famous sister-Bordeaux, is simply because the winemaking here is still at its rustic & rural & complicated best; Burgundy makes less than a quarter of Bordeaux wines; the vineyards are fragmentally owned- meaning to say one winemaker can own several small parcels of land, some as small as 100 yards, in fact it is highly unlikely that any winemaker can own more than 2 ha of land in any one particular village. This alas, tends to make Burgundy vineyards the most expensive real estate in the world & incredibly confusing for many wine lovers across the globe, who tend to get daunted by its sheer (dis)organization. Many of the families living here are third generation winemakers, learning the techniques which have been handed down from their forefathers, their life revolves around making wines in a rather unpredictable climate (thanks to global warming) Finally, there is far too little information available online, making it difficult for a first time visitor or wine novice to plan a holiday here.

So when I had to accompany my husband to a conference in Spain, we decided to have a spend a little more time in France- explore this region & share with you some information that you could hopefully find helpful when planning a trip there

We rolled into Dijon on a cloudy afternoon from Paris. Dijon is the capital of Bourgogne and a city known for its rich cultural heritage, the resplendent Notre Dame cathedral & home to the world famous Dijon mustard & gingerbread. We used Dijon as the start point of exploring the wine region of Burgundy giving us easy access to the world famous vineyards in Cotes de Nuits region. We spent our entire evening walking through the cobblestoned streets of the town center marveling at the ancient buildings. It is sad that the stone Owl in the church of Notre Dame is said to bring good luck when touched upon & so we did the same. It was interesting to note, that the Dijon tourism board actually created an “Owl walk” where visitors, could follow the Owl stones on the street (similar to the Hollywood Walk of fame) taking you through interesting turns and narrow alleyways-each with a story to tell. Some noteworthy places to see include Les Halles-the historic fresh food market located minutes away from the Notre Dame Cathedral, stocking everything imaginable to French food-charcuteries, seafood, mustard, gingerbread, macaroons, fresh vegetables & fruits! Unfortunately, we reached the market too late(Note: open from 7am-1pm); We were recommended by the tourist office in Dijon to visit the Amora Mustard museum, but since we were pressed from time couldn’t get around to seeing it! However we did get to sample and buy Amora/ Maille mustard from one of the many little shops in the town center. Do be sure to try the Pain d’Epices or Spiced Gingerbread, which is delicious..

            

All that walking made us thirsty and we marched to the nearest bar to quench our thirst. Dijon is famous for its Kir– a delicious drink made with white wine grapes(Aligote) and Cassis( black currant) liquor served as an apertif. After a satisfying dinner in town where we tried Escargot Bourgogne(snails in a garlic butter parsley white wine sauce) washed down with a Kir royale and Red wine, we decided to call it an early night ahead of our mega wine tour the next morning

We signed up with Wine and Voyages to take us to visit the famous vineyards of Cotes de Nuit region. Unfortunately it was a rainy day..This was more than made up by our friendly & informative guide Christopher & the fact that we were the only two people on the group tour ensuring we hogged all his attention! While driving through the quaint villages of Cotes De Nuits, he carefully explained to us the basic of Burgundy wines-the appellations, the  terroir( a word used very often here)  Cotes De Nuits is better known for its aromatic( cherries & strawberries) medium to heavy bodied red wine made entirely out of a single varietal- Pinot noir grape. We were shown the legendary villages & vineyards of the Cote D’or region- Fixin, Gevrey Chambertain, Chambolle Musigny (where we stopped for our first wine tasting at Andre Ziltener), Vosnee-Romanee & Echezeaux . Our highlight was seeing the vineyards of Romanee Conti- whose wines are said to be amongst the most expensive in the world, drunk by the likes of billionaires & movie stars.  Our final stop for tasting was at negociant- Moillard Grivot’s cellar room in the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, this gave us the chance to learn about the wines coming from all the different villages of this region. With our head buzzing from all the great wine we made our way back to Dijon train station to take a train to the next stop in Beaune.

         

Our main reason for choosing to stay in Beaune was because it gave us a chance to explore the wine region of Cotes de Beaune. There are many things to do in Beaune (do note: by this I mean wine related pleasurable activities!) Famous negociants & producers such as Bouchard Pere Et Fils & Joseph Drouhin allow visitors to see their historic wine cellars some dating back to the 13th century, a cellar visit is usually followed up with a tasting of around 4-6 wines, giving one the chance to explore wines from the various regions of Burgundy. Beaune also houses Hotel Dieu, formerly a hospital, famous for its unique Burgundian-Flandish glazed tile roofing. The Musee du Vin, contains interesting information pertaining to the winemaking in Burgundy, the building in itself is beautiful. Beaune, as we discovered, is best explored by foot, its narrow streets aplomb with historical buildings, echoing with tales of wines & grapes. The smell of fermenting grapes permeated the air that afternoon constantly reminding us that we were in Burgundy’s wine capital! If that wasn’t enough there is even a wine book shop-Atheneaum dedicated to everything related to wine- from accessories, gadgets, maps, postcards, books, novels, glassware and wine selection

         

We signed up for a 3 hour wine tour with Vineatours. Our guide Brigitte promptly picked us from our hotel. We were driven through the villages & vineyards of Cote de Baune- Pommard, Volnay, Corton, Puligny Montrachet & Chassagne Montrachet( the latter two having the highest concentration of white Grand Cru vineyards) Our visit was followed up with a wine tasting at a winemaker’s cellar in Chassagne Montrachet. I was rather disappointed with the selection of wines used for the tasting-most were no more than 3 years old, hence extremely young, harsh & tannic

Not satisfied, we decided to visit Marche Aux Vins- a wine cellar which was formerly a church behind the Hospice de Beaune. The candle light, vaulted ceilings & endless array of Burgundian wines makes for an atmospheric tasting experience. For 10 Euro/head, you can get to sample over 15 different types of regional wines- most were average but we did come across a few noteworthy wines.The benefits of wine tours & tastings at cellars is that it gave us gave us a chance to sample wines from Grand & Premier Cru vineyards, which are usually unaffordable to the ordinary folk! It also reminded us how wine produced from the same region but two different vineyards 5km apart, tasted so different-bringing to light the importance of terroir or slight variations in the soil. We felt that Burgundy wines are terroir-fic: if you’re lucky to chance upon a bottle from a good winemaker, vineyard & drink it at the right age, it will leave you craving for more. The memory of the heady aroma of crushed strawberries, plum & horses will stay with you for years to come. In the hands of an average winemaker from the inferior vineyards, you have a somewhat lack luster & boring wine

     

Overall we found Burgundy a fascinating region which, given the chance, will willingly open its doors to you. Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky with the weather which at most times was rainy & borderline cloudy- we had to remind ourselves that September is usually the month between summer & autumn, hence such weather. On the plus side, we got to see the harvesting of grapes in the vineyards, which was fascinating. It was interesting to note that in some places we actually saw the grapes being sent to a garage-like/makeshift production unit/ home of the winemaker- going to say that wine making is still so rustic and plays such an important part in people’s lives here. We were lucky to stay in a B&B that served up the most heartwarming & delicious French food ( Restaurant T’ast au Vin)- Poached eggs in a Bourgogne/Red wine sauce, Homemade Foie Gras terrine with apricot jelly,  Homemade profiteroles with Chantilly cream & Black currant parfait, all washed down with a fairly decent Bourgogne Village appellation Pinot Noir….

I shall leave you with a memorable quote: “Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them.”- Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

       

   

    

DECONSTRUCTING THE WINES OF BURGUNDY
Cote D’Or or golden slopes signify the narrow ribbon of Grand cru vineyards approximately 55km in length encompassing the Cotes De Nuits & Cotes de Beaune region of Burgundy.
There are only four grape varietals in Burgundy the most famous being Pinot noir  found in the Grand & Premier Cru vineyards of Cotes de Nuits & Cotes De Beaune
Chardonnay  is the white wine varietal. The vineyards in the villages of Chablis( North), Mersault & Macon( South) produce excellent steely Chardonnays
Aligote is a white varietal that is mainly used in the making of Kir & as we head further south into the Gamay is grown. Gamay goes into the making of the Beaujolais wine- a light red, with flavours of berries & cherries best drunk young. Producers are forbidden to mix different grape varieties, hence it is 100% single grape varietal
There are four appellations or gradings:
Appellation Bourgogne/ Regional– the lowest of the grades signifying that the wines are from the Burgundy region but no specific area in the region. The quality can vary drastically. More often than not, the grapes used in this wine were of below par quality. Having said that a good producer will ensure good quality
Appellation Village– the next level which implies that the wines are made from grapes harvested in one particular village in the Burgundy region
Appellation Premier /1er Cru & Appellation Grand Cru– the wines are made from grapes harvested from a specific vineyard, the name of the vineyard is clearly stated in the bottle
Quite often you will come across the word “Clos” in the label- the concept of the walled enclosures called ‘Clos’ come from the 13th century from the monks who spent most of their ‘spare’ time making wine

It is important to note French laws require that each vineyard be mapped out & awarded its quality status accordingly

HOW TO GET THERE
Burgundy is easily accessible by train from Paris’ Bercy station, the train ride usually lasts up to 1.5-2 hours. Frequency of trains is very good, almost every hour. The capital of Bourgogne is Dijon. Dijon is a great starting point for accessing the vineyards of Cotes-de-Nuits and Nuits-Saint-George
From Dijon I recommend that you head to Beaune to explore Cotes De Baune region and the many wine cellars of negociant’s and winemakers.

The Magical Mosel

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Breathtaking. Just out of a postcard. This would summarize the quaint little town of Bernkastel in Germany. Situated on the gentle Mosel River, Bernkastel is best known for some of Europe’s finest vineyards (best in the world in my opinion) most notably Bernkasteler Doctor, Dr Thanisch , J.J Prum, Willi Schaefer, Selback-Oster, Scloss Leiser….

         

Riesling, the noble grape, lines the steep hilly slopes along the Mosel. The view from the  ruins of the castle above Bernkastel  is that of a yellow green wall of vines. There’s no doubt that the Riesling is at its best in the Mosel….

There’s something about the slate in the soil along the slopes that impart a unique “Minerally” “Stony” character to the wines. 

 Pale with just a hint of green, a Riesling is known to have aromas of lime & petrol. Take a sip & feel the initial sharpness countered almost immediately with sweetness & hold on…finished off with a crispiness. This is exactly what the finest winemakers in the region strive to achieve- finding the right balance of sugar & acid.

 “The greatest of them, long lived, pale gold, piquant, frivolous yet profound,are wines that beg to be compared with music & poetry”- Jancis Robinson

A good Riesling is your summertime best friend & goes with almost any cuisine. NOTE: is excellent when paired with our Indian curries!!

Visitors to the main town of Bernkastel are greeted by the spectacular sight of the steep golden hued vineyards surrounding the town square(The picture above was taken from the street in which our B&B was located) Take a short stroll down to the Rieslinghaus to sample the famous wines of Bernkastel. Head down to the banks of the Mosel River and visit the Vinotheque or Bernkastel Wine Museum- an exhaustive source of information on the wines of this region. If you are feeling slightly wined out then relax in one of the many restaurants lined up on the river. 

 

 

A must try includes the FLAMMKUCHEN, the German version of a thin crust pizza only far more crispier. A typical Flammkuchen  consists of sour cream or Gruyere cheese with ham & onions. Delicious when eaten anytime of the day & washed down with a chilled Riesling or Beer

The town of Bernkastel though popular among the domestic German tourists, is relatively free of all the tourist trappings prevalent in Italy and France. We got the rather surprised & amused Mr & Mrs Dillinger to show us their modest, rustic winery(Here’s a picture of the lovely couple) We were extremely lucky to visit at a time when harvesting or picking of grapes had just begun

All in all I would recommend visiting the lovely town of Bernkastel if you wish to move away from the touristy travel route in Germany- the steely Riesling, heartwarming food & warmth and hospitality of the towns folk will charm you over. There are many walks all around town taking you through the scenic and legendary vineyards & castle, do bear in mind that the walk uphill can be slightly challenging but you will be rewarded with excellent views 🙂
HOW TO GET THERE:
High speed trains from Frankfurt to the Rhine valley on an hourly basis. We took the Frankfurt-Rudesheim-Cochem route, spending two nights in each town. From Cochem we took the train to Wittlich( every hour), outside Wittlich train station is a bus stop where buses to Kues( just across the river from Bernkastel) operate on an hourly basis, the bus ride not lasting more than 20-25 minutes. Worth the extra effort!
RIESLING IN INDIA:
Unfortunately given the archaic laws that govern import of anything related to liquor, we don’t find too many interesting wines let alone Rieslings from the Mosel region. We can take consolation from the fact that Sula makes a fairly decent Riesling which is now available in most liquor stores in the country.