WE ARE FAMILY
Words: RADHIKA LALLA
Photographs: SUPRIYA KANTAK
GREAT FROM Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad
GREAT FOR Seeing a different side of Mahabaleshwar
Glistening ruby-red and plump with juice, they beckon from every direction. Your inner glut begs you to reconsider your decision not to give in to temptation, and, with a last, longing glance, you soldier on. Strawberry season has arrived in Mahabaleshwar, and this means most of Mumbai and Pune has, too.
Enter the Le Méridien Resort & Spa, the newest kid on the block, which offers a safe refuge. The sprawling resort weaves around the forest that it abuts. Most rooms are grouped four to a villa, and the villas, in turn, are strewn around, with enough breathing room between each. There are plenty of green spaces in which to soak in the delicious winter chill, while the common areas are dotted with intriguing sculptures. This is a destination within a destination; you won’t feel the need to escape the cocoon. Two pools await – one outdoors, the second a heated infinity pool with a bar to keep you in high spirits, while the Explore Spa has many rituals to pamper yourself with.
The young and young-at-heart alike will be drawn to the Le Méridien Family Kids Club, brightened up with a pop of colour and works of art created by little guests. There are no babysitters here; instead, it’s a space for the family to spend time in together.
The most happiness, though, will be found at the two restaurants. The all-day Latest Recipe serves buffet meals. Skip the breakfast spread and pick from the Signature Breakfast menu. The limited offerings combine traditional breakfast treats with local flavours – eggs Benedict are served on masala pao and sprinkled with Maharashtrian goda masala, while the omelette comes drowned in a tasty rassa. Dinner must be had at Chingari, the North Indian specialty restaurant. The lamb galauti kebabs are morsels of goodness, and the dahi ke sooley, pan-fried rolls filled with yoghurt and dried fruits, makes for a delicious, albeit rich, starter.
If the need to break that cocoon comes upon you, head to the Krishnabai Temple. Set overlooking the valley, this ancient temple is said to have been built over the source of the River Krishna. Ask the priest, Mangesh, to explain the history of the temple to you, and request him to chant for a bit, too – the resulting goosebumps will be worth it – even for the non-spiritual.
To immerse yourself in nature, ask the hotel to organise a forest walk with Mr Bathena. His passion for the patches of jungle that remain on these hills is infectious. You might not spot anything more exciting than leopard scat – the sounds of traffic have scared the creatures that roam this space into hiding – but you will feel your lungs expanding to welcome the oxygen-rich air and spot a giant squirrel, or two.
Then, cut across to Panchgani and the Devrai Arts Village for an immersive cultural experience. This non-profit organisation showcases the art of ‘Rock Dhokra’, made by fusing stones sourced from the riverbed with brass using traditional techniques. These quirky, beautiful pieces are created by artists from Adivasi villages often severely affected by the presence of Naxal influences, like Ghadchiroli.
For the perfect end to a weekend away, give in to temptation and stop at one of those stalls, lining the roads, and load up on boxes of succulent strawberries. It’s a long drive back to reality.