Aalaya by Happy Retreats – A Getaway Destination Amidst the Concrete Jungle

Ever been someplace that makes you think of doing something uncharacteristic? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me a couple months ago, during a staycation at Aalaya by Happy Retreats, a charming property with lush greenery and enthusiastic, well-trained, attentive staff, located off Tumkur Road. Pegged as a venue for weddings and special events, we were invited to experience the property over a weekend, and were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. After a leisurely walk through the property, with its bountiful fruit (mango, jackfruit, chickoo, papaya), sandalwood and rudraksha trees and multitude of bushes and shrubs, not to mention a darling little gazebo and a stately set of stairs connecting the 1st floor to a wraparound balcony that ran the length of the house, I found myself thinking I could (almost) get married just to be able to celebrate the occasion here!

The very entrance to the property, the car parking area, and the grounds are testament to the love and attention shown to the space to keep it looking verdant, pretty, and event ready, not to mention providing the perfect escape from the concrete jungle, without needing to travel far at all! I am quietly plotting a reason to head back – and no you don’t have to have an event like wedding/birthday/anniversary/bachelorette/team outing/etc to book – they do accept bookings for a little vacation away from home too. Whether you are a group of colleagues, friends, a family with kids, or a couple looking for a romantic spot, Aalaya will be able to cater to your needs.There are, at present, four well appointed bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, two on the ground floor and two on the first, and with additional bedding and spaces across the two floors and a loft space as well, they can actually house 15 plus people comfortably. There is a full dining table and bar, ample living room seating on both floors, and one can’t help but feel like they are visiting a posh but still cozy and welcoming home. With so many knickknacks and objects d’art all over, it was also tempting to keep clicking away at every nook!

During the course of our 24 hours there, we were treated to home style cooking and simple but delicious food, with the spread featuring both veg and non-veg items, served by the ever-smiling and helpful staff. Oh and a shout-out to the excellent masala chai! In the afternoon, we did a little pottery making and for the evening, they really went all out, setting up a space under a canopy of lights, and even speakers so we could enjoy music as we ate and drank and enjoyed the gurgling of the little waterfall (another brilliant touch). I don’t think I have felt more at peace and been in a more chill atmosphere just minutes from the hulaboo of Bangalore city life! And if you are there to party, well, the space is made for that, after all! We all took turns sitting out on the swing on the grounds, a grand old wooden affair, and I also went and sat in the gazebo (which works beautifully as a mandap or central highlight spot) once it had been lit, spending a half hour musing about life and enjoying the absolute serenity and beauty of the place, and counting my blessings!

Details: Pricing and booking details available on their website

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A South Bangalore Haven: Staycation at The Woodrose

In the midst of the madness of work, life, traffic, and more, a staycation provides the perfect antidote – without having to book a ticket or plan a lot, you check into a local hotel and have a mini vacation. So, an invite a couple weeks ago to spend the weekend at The Woodrose, the Brigade Group’s Club property located right next to the Brigade Millennium apartment complex in JP Nagar, was one I couldn’t pass up. After all, its not every day that there is a place just a couple miles from home, and I was also curious to check out the club facilities. And impressive they were! Badminton with a coach on hand, tennis court, a giant swimming pool with a lifeguard/coach, and a gorgeous property with plenty of greenery and cozy nooks, a lovely little library, and good F&B, too. Although we didn’t avail of these services, there is also a salon and spa, Ayurvedic clinic, and a store on premise.

 

What really stood out for me was the service – this is a team that takes the term ‘service with a smile’ seriously, and goes out of its way to ensure the comfort of guests, be it in-house room guests or club members and their families. Whether it was the librarian, the coaches, the service staff at the restaurant – everyone was smiling, welcoming, and interactive with all the guests. The rooms were well appointed, quite large, had every amenity in terms of toiletries as well as a mini fridge and something that I really depend on, being a tea drinker from the moment I wake up to the time I sleep – an electric kettle with mugs and tea/coffee setup. And since we were on the second floor, there was a cozy sit out area where I sat and pondered life, tea mug and Kindle on hand.

 

The food too, was a cut above what one usually expects from a club – homely fare, concentrating on Indian and Indian-Chinese with a smattering of Italian. Nothing greasy or over spiced, and in fact, attention paid to healthy options. The breakfast buffet spread was sumptuous, with Indian as well as Continental offerings. We enjoyed an al fresco dinner on the upper level/terrace space – highly recommended! With a cocktail, glass of wine or beer in hand and some dimsum, satay, or fried snacks to munch on, you can unwind and enjoy the serene space. The Sunday brunch – well it was really a lunch time and lunch menu focused meal, was packed with multi-generational families – clearly a popular activity with club members. There is a different live station each week – it was a chaat counter the Sunday we were there. On the campus there is a small outlet of The Baking Company, Brigade Group’s bakery, with cookies, tea cakes, muffins, and more, which are made in-house at the Woodrose kitchen, under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Prakash Kumar. Both sinful and healthy options are available, with millet being a focus. The Coffee and Lemon sponge cake is to die for – definitely will be stopping by to pick that up soon! The Bajra with peanuts and Raagi cookies were great too…again this felt like old school bakery or home bake products.

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The property is so serene and pretty, you won’t even believe you’re still in Bangalore, much less a bustling main road in JP Nagar! The trees and shrubs and plants, the feeling of being away from city and in a secluded space makes for such a welcome respite. And it is also popular for private events and parties, with the outdoor space rented out for such gatherings – there was something on every night of the weekend. The club membership is available in 1/3/5/10 year buckets, and is surprisingly affordable, if my eulogizing has gotten you interested. For people with kids, or who would avail of the sporting facilities, it’s really worth it – especially that pool! There was someone doing laps, breadth wise, to give you an idea of its size. If you just want to check it out for a weekend, or book rooms for someone visiting, then you can do so on the club website or by calling 9972305352 or 080 41995999.

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Staycationing at Howard Johnson

I love hotel rooms! The bouncy bed, the fluffy pillows, the feeling of being on holiday (even when I go away on work), and the change of scene, and some much needed pampering  – these are all the reasons I love settling into a hotel room, even if it’s just for one night. Well, living as we do, with Bangalore’s ever-burgeoning traffic, sometimes a staycation means going to a part of the city you generally don’t get to, and enjoying the hospitality and new surroundings of a nice hotel. This is exactly how I spent my last weekend, staycationing at the Howard Johnson, a four star establishment in Hebbal. Located on a busy street, right next door to a mall, from the outside the glass facade does not give you an inkling even, into the lovely interiors and decor that the hotel boasts of. A lot of thought and attention to detail has gone into the creation of the interiors, and I found something to admire and click a pic of, at nearly every spot.

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We checked in on Saturday noon, and were shown to our rooms, which were of the Executive Club category (INR 7500 plus taxes per night), one level below the seven suites the hotel has. A large, well appointed, pool-facing room was mine, with the usual accoutrements of desk and chair, armchair (with footstool, a nice touch!), a big bed that was the perfect amount of soft, and had pillows too, that were just right (nothing worse than the rock hard or sinkingly soft variety!). The bathroom made me super happy – from the rainshower to the magnifying mirror that made makeup application oh-so-easy, to the good amount of space on the sink counter to spread my stuff out, and of course the toiletries provided, from shampoo and conditioner (something that many a hotel omits), and shaving/vanity/dental kits. Pristine, fluffy white towels and a robe completed the picture.

 

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A highlight of our 27-hour stay was a visit to the onsite spa, one of the Sohum Spa chain. Small, but perfectly maintained, and with massage and facial services, this is one pampering you really should go for! I am not a massage person, so I opted for an Express Facial, though two of my fellow guests got massages and the combination of bliss and lethargy on their faces and in their demeanor, said it all! My facial too was just fantastic – the young woman had serious magic in her fingertips. The soothing music and peace and quiet in the small space all added to my feelings of contentment. Equipped with a shower stall right there as well, even non-hotel guests can avail of the spa facilities in comfort. Located on the same floor as the pool, there is also a well equipped gym next door.

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At present, the hotel has one multi-cuisine restaurant, called Nest. It serves Indian, Asian (mainly Chinese with a Thai curry or some sushi at times), Italian and Western fare. Chef Dev Bose, who has been a part of the team since the hotel opened nearly three years ago, says that Italian and Mediterranean cuisine is his forte (I chose to cook what I love to eat, he told us), but of course justice is done to all the cuisines served. Nest offers not only a daily lunch and dinner buffet, but also an a la carte menu, and Chef Bose and his team are always willing to customize and create something to a guest’s particular fancy, given a little advance notice. Considering this is a business hotel with lots of long-stay clientele, this is a lovely gesture indeed, for those who might not want to be faced with a buffet at every meal, are fussy eaters, or who develop a hankering for a simple meal from home. There is also a bar space, which too had  an eye-catching decor and seemed to be well stocked. LIITs are apparently a specialty, but we stuck to the safer and much less potent Mojitos for our Sunday brunch.

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Saturday night was the launch of Nest’s new menu – an annual affair, where Chef Bose and his team add some new items to their menu based on guest feedback as well as Chef’s inspiration. This year, he chose to use figs as his muse, and many of the new dishes had that element present, from a fig salad, to a fig cheesecake. That night, what stood out for us was the main course: chicken roulade, salmon infused with chilli/paprika, and a delicious mushroom risotto. After a mini dinner of the new items on the newly launched menu, there was also a buffet spread, where we loved the live counter of appams, which were a great accompaniment to the freshly made kheema, boti and bheja fry. I am not a big spare parts fan, but the treatment here was super.

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In fact, having partaken of both the Saturday lunch buffet, as well as the Sunday brunch buffet, I came away with the feeling that the Indian food was what shone. Whether it was a paneer gravy, or the Kuthu Paratha or Kheema Pav (these last two were the live counters at Sunday brunch, along with an appam station and pasta station), it was all done well and tasted good. The Chinese and pasta/roast chicken/au gratin dishes were decent, but not outstanding. The buffet, whether for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, is set up with a counter for desserts, one for breads, salads/cold cuts/appetizers, and hot dishes comprising Indian, Asian and Continental fare. Sunday brunch has hot appetizers brought to the table, along with some live stations, but otherwise it is a similar spread to the weekdays.

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When you visit, definitely make it a point to stop by the third floor, where there is a Knowledge Center/library area which has a treasure trove of knickknacks and items like a beautiful, unique, hand-carved chess set and an old-style station clock. Oh, and don’t miss the gramophone! Nest too, has some really cool design elements (note the mounted plates at the restaurant’s entrance, which feature numerous trees – places where birds “nest”), faux marble finish columns that also become lights in the evening, and a private dining space with a beautiful chandelier. In the lobby area there are light fixtures that draw the eye, and the honeycomb patterned partitions are worthy of a second look too. As a business hotel, HoJo finds itself quite full on weekdays, with Saturdays seeing a bit of a lull. The pool is of a decent size, the rooms as I have already waxed eloquent on, are very comfortable, and the staff are attentive and smiling. Complimentary WiFi and free pickup/drop to and from the airport are part of the tariff.

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Details: Howard Johnson Bengaluru Hebbal; INR 1500 plus taxes for a meal for two; INR 999 plus taxes/INR 1500 plus taxes (with alcohol), per person for Sunday Brunch.