Where to Stay In Maldives, Sri Lanka, Gokarna, Rwanda, Lonavala And Nepal

Condé Nast Traveller India|August - September 2019

Where to Stay In Maldives, Sri Lanka, Gokarna, Rwanda, Lonavala And Nepal

The newest rooms in Maldives, Nepal, Sambhar, Sri Lanka, Gokarna, Singita, Lonavala

ABODE AHANGAMA

Divia Thani checks out a new Art Deco villa (with a Mumbai connection) in one of Sri Lanka’s most exciting spots

Ahangama is just 20km from Galle on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Until the tragic bombings on Easter Sunday this year, it seemed the country was moving at an unstoppable pace when it came to attracting the world to its tea gardens and gorgeous coast—and Ahangama was at the center of the action. A surfer’s paradise, you could see beach clubs and little cafés mushrooming, fresh signboards proliferating and the tell-tale arrival of young foreigners who choose to stay for months or perhaps a few years. The attacks cast a shadow over the island nation, but thankfully, there are signs of recovery already. My advice is to book now and support the process.

Abedin Sham, Abode Ahangama’s founder, also runs Abode Bombay, a boutique hotel in Mumbai’s buzzing Colaba. Both cater to travelers looking for a true taste of local culture. In Ahangama, this means you’ll stay in a restored four-bedroom Art Deco villa just a few minutes from the beach. Sham retained much of the original charm of the property—built by a Danish architect in the 1950s—while allowing more natural light, making space more fluid and adding a courtyard. There’s a strong connection to the local community, both Sri Lankan and the expats who now consider Ahangama their home. Much of the furniture in the villa is made by local craftsmen, and linens are organic cotton, including bedding by No-Mad. There is an 18-m pool flanked by palm trees and deck chairs made of recycled teak where you can easily spend a happy, lazy day. There are also dreamcatchers strung over your bed, outdoor bathrooms and showers, as well as organic, coconut-based toiletries from a local Sri Lankan brand and a garden full of frangipani.

Abode Ahangama feels and functions more like a private home than a hotel, though that might change with the addition of 10 more ‘pods’—futuristic rooms being built on the land with sustainable materials that aim to give you the feeling of living in a treehouse. There are also plans for a juice bar and an outdoor gym fitted with monkey bars, kettlebells, and battle ropes. (Sham’s fiancé, Alyssa Chesson, is a yoga lover and has contributed to the villa’s design and décor.) There’s a cool community vibe in the neighborhood—everyone seems to be up to something exciting, leaving you with a steady stream of people arriving at the villa to provide everything from massages to yoga to cooking lessons to surfing and a market visit.

“It feels a lot like Bali used to many years ago,” says Sham, before the global elite arrived or Eat, Pray, Love hit bookstores and the screen. “It’s a magnet for young, creative people from all over the world.” Plans are also underway for the Abode Beach Project right on the beach, which will include a café and a small space for sundowners and private events. The spot will offer a 180-degree view of the beautiful blue waters and of waves crashing against the shore, their sound mixed with the sea breeze so loud and clear you can almost not hear yourself think. Despite the setback earlier this year, Sri Lanka’s natural beauty is attractive enough to draw back the global traveler—and this place is proof.

KAHANI PARADISE, KARNATAKA

This majestic villa is an unlikely new resident in the peaceful temple town of Gokarna, discovers Andrea Pinto. Photographs by Rahulnath

Gokarna doesn’t quite conjure up images of plush villas, English breakfasts or swanky marble bathtubs. Frequented by pilgrims, backpackers, and seekers of the spiritual way of life, this coastal town in Karnataka is known for its meditation centers, temples, beaches, and hippies. But for luxury? Not so much.

So imagine my surprise when I waltzed through the massive wooden doors of Kahani Paradise, perched on a hilltop overlooking the sparkling sea. It was like nothing I’d ever expected to see in Gokarna—swanky marble bathtub included. The easiest way to get here is to fly to Goa and take a cab for the 3.5-hour drive to the villa. Or, fly by helicopter; the property has a helipad that on most days doubles up as a cricket pitch for friendlies between hotel guests and locals.

The architecture and interiors evoke the regal air of a Rajasthani palace as well as the serenity of an ashram in Kerala. The décor is subtle but striking, and all the rooms are decorated with exquisite treasures from across the country. Fans that were once airplane propellers, ceiling panels made from old rafters, rugs are woven using yarn from recycled plastic bottles, antique doors sourced from artisans in Maharashtra and Gujarat—everything here has been handpicked by the owners.

The six-bedroom villa lies in the midst of 20 acres of lush gardens and forest land that’s home to palm trees, paddy fields and over 4,500 types of plants. The infinity pool gives you a stunning view of all this vivid greenery, as well as a glimpse of a little stretch of beach extending into the deep blue of the Arabian Sea. Despite the note in my room warning me to be wary of monkeys, the only wildlife I encountered on the property was a gorgeous peacock. And even he scrammed before I could get one of him for the ‘gram.

Owned by a British family who came to India in 2005, the villa feels in every way like a private residence. Each of its six large rooms was designed for a member of the family. Pro tip: wildlife lovers can choose between the elephant room or the peacock room, decorated with carvings and tapestries inspired by the creatures. The outdoor dining area, with its enormous teakwood table, is ideal for big family meals flowing with wine and conversation, interrupted only by an adorable beagle begging for scraps.

On-call here is a certified healer who lives in Gokarna and is available for yoga by the pool or deep-tissue massages and Meridien bodywork in the spa room.

A steep, five-minute walk from the villa will take you to Paradise Beach, where the night is lit up by the magical, bioluminescent glow of the sea. You can also rent one of the villa’s Royal Enfield bikes or the restored vintage jeep for a zip around town. You would do well to make friends with a local fisherman and sail along with the coast spotting dolphins. Maybe even go ashore at Om Beach and Half Moon Beach—this is where the cool kids hang out. If you’d like to explore on foot, head inland and trek up to Yana Rocks for a glimpse of the magnificent black stone formations.

Gokarna is a town that cannot be rushed. Things happen as they will, and time passes slowly. I found myself thinking: Kahani Paradise really is the last place you’d expect to find in this simple, sleepy town. But once you’re here, it all makes sense. Its old-world charm fits right in.

KATHMANDU MARRIOTT HOTEL

The city’s biggest new hotel opening raises the hospitality bar. By Aatish Nath

As the city with Nepal’s only international airport, Kathmandu is often considered just a stopover for those looking to trek through the mountains to the north or looking to explore the nature reserves to its south, close to the border with India. But it has so much to offer. And now the Kathmandu Marriott Hotel, the city’s biggest new hotel opening in a while, offers a comfortable base from which to discover this ancient capital city.

Located in the Naxal neighborhood just 15 minutes from Tribhuvan International Airport, the 10-story property has 214 guest rooms with the kind of mod-cons you would expect of a business hotel anywhere in the world. All the rooms here come equipped with electronic blinds instead of traditional curtains; the suites feature Nespresso machines and the hotel’s fleet of cars are hybrids. If you’re looking for the 1,800sq ft presidential suite, you will find it on the 10th floor which is also where the M Club, the lounge for Marriott’s Bonvoy rewards program members, is located. Guests staying in the hotel’s two club floors also have access to this private lounge.

The décor is tasteful and replete with hints of local cues—a colorful thangka painting in the lobby, antique decorations in the lobby area and watercolor paintings on every floor. Inspired by traditional architecture, the hotel has an indoor courtyard with water features and is a great place to relax after a long day of sightseeing.

In terms of F&B, guests can expect everything from deliciously flaky croissants to plump momos at the all-day dining restaurant, Thamel Kitchen. But the dishes to try are the thali-style meals that showcase the cuisines of the various local communities. At Edamame, the pan-Asian restaurant, guests can watch chefs whipping up delicious yakitori, sushi, and Thai dishes at the live stations. You can also enjoy some live music, with a tasty Negroni in hand at Raksi Music Bar. In the warmer months do exactly this, but sitting in the bar’s outdoor area, under a starry Kathmandu sky. Very soon you will be able to work up a sweat in the fitness center, relax by doing laps in the pool or get a soothing treatment at the spa. All these facilities are expected to open imminently. Also, opening soon is the casino, so you can play a game of roulette or blackjack without leaving the comfort of the hotel. There is also a sprawling banquet hall, Bagmati, that is suited to both seminars as well as weddings.

If you’re looking for a place from which to explore Kathmandu’s many architectural, cultural and spiritual treasures, you couldn’t ask for a more central location to do it from. Landmarks such as Durbar Square, Narayanhiti Palace, and Pashupatinath Temple are all within a 20-minute driving radius. Whether you are here on business or for leisure, the Kathmandu Marriott Hotel is the perfect gateway to the city—and the beautiful country beyond it.

SINGITA KWITONDA LODGE AND KATAZA HOUSE, RWANDA

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August - September 2019