World Tourism Day special: Here are four unique staycations, vacations and road trips near Bengaluru
For World Tourism Day, we pick unique experiences in Karnataka — from homestays to luxury hotels, and everything in between
September 27 is celebrated as World Tourism Day every year. In this special story we take a look at four unique travel experiences in and around Bengaluru.
If you've been feeling the overwhelming urge to get out and travel again after the lockdowns, you’re not the only one. ‘Revenge tourism’ is the buzzword of the season as wanderlust lures everyone out of their homes. Bengaluru is blessed with a plethora of unique travel experiences close enough for quick weekend escapes, so even if you are apprehensive about setting out on an international trip, there are some great local experiences to choose from. We curate our pick of four very different experiences in and around the city geared towards nature lovers as well as the luxury traveller.
For many Bengalureans, a quick weekend break quite often means a road trip to Kodagu. So it goes without saying that the city’s most avid travellers have visited the ‘coffee capital’ of the state on multiple occasions. And with every visit, the oft-asked questions are ‘How different can we make it this time?’ and ‘Is there more to Coorg that we haven’t experienced yet?’ It was these very questions that we were pondering over our Instagram-worthy breakfast of figs and cream cheese on sourdough toast at Lavonne Cafe — the starting point of our three-day road trip to the district in the Malnad region of Karnataka. We were soon to learn that there is indeed more to the place than we could have imagined, thanks to the careful planning of Airbnb.
For starters, the trip was a tie-up with BMW India. So, we were driven around in a BMW X3, and even got a chance to get behind the wheel and navigate the winding roads of the Western ghats. Our three-night stay was at Souland Estates Homestay, one of Airbnb’s super hosts. It’s a family-run business located on a coffee estate and has four cottages you can choose from. We stayed at The Granary (Rs 5,600++), a 100-year-old wooden structure, which was quite literally a granary that has been converted into a small and cosy cottage on stilts. An attached bath and balcony overlooking a pond add to its appeal. If you’re not particular about space, this room is a great choice, because it can be a little pokey and took some getting used to. However, it is cute and charming. It was late at night by the time we reached the property in Valnur, so we headed straight to bed.
The next day saw us taking a tour of a nearby coffee plantation, Vivekananda Estate, run by Ganapathy. He walked us through the process of coffee harvesting and even allowed us to help pick some bright red cherries off the branches. This walk was followed by a traditional Coorg breakfast of pandi curry, paputtu, kuru curry and onakerachi put together by his daughter, Anjali Ganapathy, the lady behind Bengaluru-based food venture, Pigout Coorg Kitchen. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and enjoying the surround sound of crickets, birds and insects in our tiny cottage.
The following morning, we took a guided electric bicycle tour, organised by B:Live, which has tied up with Airbnb to offer these rides at select locations. Led by a local, we were taken to gorgeous spots that are off the tourist trail and even made a stop at a house of a planter, who gave us a tasting session of a traditional Kodava brew. Then, it was time to head back to the room and prepare for our bonfire dinner with another Airbnb superhost, Preeth, but not before we made a stop at the Old Kent Estate and Spa, Suntikoppa (Rs 11,800++ upwards), which proved to be an escape into history, with its British-era relics and Victorian furniture. The story goes that it was built by a Britisher in the 1800s and was bought by the Thaikappa family in the 1960s. It is now run by its fourth-generation owner Sadat Sathak.
Our time in Coorg came to a close with an elaborate meal at Preeth’s house. As we gathered around the fire, munching on cutlets and tucking into plates of Kodava-style mutton biryani, we came to the realisation that there’s always something more to a place than meets the eye. One only needs to look for it.
The design inspiration for Grand Mercure’s second property in Bengaluru was drawn from the architecture of the Hoysalas, the 11th-14th century rulers of Karnataka whose headquarters were located in Belur and Halebidu. As soon as we entered the expansive lobby for our two-night staycation, we were met with a shower of rose petals — a truly royal welcome befitting the theme of the hotel. As we proceeded to check in, we breathed in the calming and soothing notes of Mysore sandalwood mixed with vetiver — the signature aroma of the hotel. The lobby has a colour scheme that is a mix of warm and jewel tones with vintage Indian lamps, antique trunks and a single-stone sculpture of Radhakrishna. After quickly checking in, we headed to our room briefly before returning to the ground floor for dinner.
Located next to Gopalan Signature Mall, the hotel boasts 212 rooms and suites. Dining options include an all-day diner, La Utsav, and a bar, 1026 AD. Other features one can expect are a terrace gym, a spa, a recreation room and even an art gallery. The Superior Suite, which was our home for the duration of our stay, was equipped with everything one can expect from a modern hotel, such as an espresso machine, wireless charging dock, minibar and a small kitchenette with induction hobs if you’re in the mood to cook. We certainly weren’t! So we made our way to the outdoor area just off the lobby where they served us a carefully curated five-course meal in a special setting just for the occasion. From the soup, to the starters to the grilled mutton chops, the dinner was a completely decadent affair. Once back in the suite, we took advantage of the pleasantly cool evening by spending some time on the large private terrace. The view of the road downstairs was, admittedly, not great, but it was nevertheless enjoyable to spend some time sipping on a hot cup of tea while relaxing on the lounger and staring into the sky.
On our second day, we woke up to an elaborate breakfast buffet at La Utsav, which celebrates local cuisine. We tucked into staples like dosa, vadas, idli and also sampled some pancakes and croissants. As hotel breakfasts go, this one ticked all the boxes. Before lunch we treated ourselves to a spa session at Tattva Spa, which was quite relaxing. The treatment was followed by a coffee-tasting session at 1026 AD, where we were shown different ways of brewing coffee, from equipment as modern as the chemex to more traditional methods such as Turkish and Vietnamese. Hopped up on caffeine, we then made our way back to the suite for some downtime before dinner. We took a quick nap and then got ourselves all dressed up for our special dinner on the terrace of the presidential suite. As we feasted on barbecued prawns, smoked chicken and grilled fish, conversation veered from politics to travel, music and cinema. Before the blink of an eye, it was time to head back to our rooms. After a long soak in the tub, we were ready for bed and drifted off to sleep in an instant. The next morning, we woke up to a lavish in-room breakfast of everything from waffles to fruit and cereal. We had a leisurely meal which ended with a strong cup of coffee. Having enjoyed two days of unadulterated pampering, we reluctantly made our way back home with plans to return soon.
Rs 4,000++ upwards. At Old Madras Road
Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru
As we took in the sweeping view of the Bengaluru skyline from our room on the 18th floor of the Four Seasons, it felt like a very welcome pause from the madness of the past year. When its doors reopened a few months ago, the hotel launched indulgent and pet-friendly staycation packages. We were invited for an exclusive experience. It may have been a short stay, but we packed in a little bit of everything — from a lavish buffet and a gourmet Asian dinner, to a relaxing spa session and a fun sundowner.
Four Seasons Hotels are synonymous with luxury the world over, and our stay offered no less. The ultra luxe room came well equipped with state-of-the-art technology such as smart TVs and iPads by our bed. Our one-night break began with lunch at their all-day dining restaurant, CUR8. Since it also happened to be Onam, we were treated to a sadhya that just hit the spot. After a tour of the hotel, we headed to Infuse Spa.
If you’re looking to unwind, the spa is a must visit. We tried one of their signature massages called Flower at Four Seasons. Inspired by the garden city, the treatment incorporates oils of four flowers — marigold, rose, geranium and jasmine — each embodying one season. The fragrances of the oil and the expert masseuse relaxed and rejuvenated us.
A cup of tea in hand and curled up on the sofa back in our room, we watched the sun set. After dusk, it was time to head to Copitas to try their signature cocktails. Located on the 21st floor, the ambience of Copitas was spectacular. A light breeze, the glittering city beneath us, and a spicy gin concoction in hand, we found ourselves lost in the moment. But the night didn’t end there! An Asian feast awaited us at the restaurant Far & East. Chef Yonaha whipped up some delicate and flavourful Wild Mushroom Dumplings and crispy Kinoko Maki for our first course. Cantonese-style noodles with seasonal vegetables rounded off the meal. After a good night’s sleep, we headed down for the breakfast buffet. Of course they offer a menu spanning cuisines from all over the world, but since the hotel is pet-friendly, we were more excited about playing with the many dogs that were staying at the hotel! Our trip concluded with a lovely walk in their Ribbon lawns, a verdant garden that wraps around the pool.
If you’re thinking about that much-needed break, but you’re short on time, this pampering staycation at the Four Seasons Hotel is just what the doctor ordered.
Rs 5,499 ++ upwards. At Bellary Road
Baarbara Estate Camp
A light drizzle during the warm month of March may come as a welcome relief. But if you are already in a hill station, where the weather is pleasant, it may dampen your holiday, quite literally. However, when we were off-roading up a hilly track to reach the highest point of the Baarbara Estate Camp, a coffee plantation with a homestay, the light shower made the drive all the more pleasant. We were driving at a speed of 20km/hour to reach the top of the estate, where we were told that the only sounds we will hear would be of woodpeckers and our own breathing. When we finally reached the top, we discovered that this was true. We were so close to the verdurous Baba Budangiri Range, we could almost touch the peaks through the grey clouds. This was the highlight of our first trip, after the first wave of the pandemic.
Located at an altitude of 4,500 feet, this property is owned and managed by the Indavara family who have been coffee producers for over 120 years. However, it’s Sreeraksha Poornesh, the fourth generation coffee producer, and his wife Poojya Prasad, who have become the faces of the estate since they launched The Caffeine Baar, their brand of specialty coffee and cafe. The estate’s homestay is an integral part of their label’s journey. The co-founders’ aim behind starting a homestay was to introduce guests — coffee connoisseurs and new coffee drinkers — to the bean-to-cup process. After returning from the highest point, we took a walk around the patio where they sort the coffee beans. Women, who had been at work since morning, were huddled in small groups to empty the freshly-picked coffee berries from their sacks. The beans were then sorted and washed before being spread out to dry under the sun.
Once this process was completed, the beans were dried on raised beds. Watching this drill was an eye-opener for us. The beans were then sent to the curing mill that’s located in Chikmagalur town. Here’s where the dried beans are finally segregated according to different grades, and are then packaged for buyers. Sreeraksha and Poojya are also experimenting with different kinds of fermentation. One of the stainless steel tanks at the estate had pulped coffee beans mixed with fresh oranges.
Every year, the estate produces about 300 tonnes of coffee. This story of the single-origin Arabica coffee from Baarbara Estate Camp is to be witnessed in person to understand how complex the process is until the coffee reaches your cup. You can visit them all year round. If you are keen to witness the flowering season, then March to April is the best time to visit. For those more interested in harvesting, December to March is a good bet.
Rs 3,500 per person (inclusive of all meals). At Chikmagalur