Archives for February 9, 2010

Cochin was the base for the 2009 AITO conference, and what better location for a gathering of specialist tour operators and travel agents than this historic area of Kerala, a fascinating vibrant city that offers a really different view of India; slower and more peaceful than the frenetic life of the larger modern cities, perhaps less spectacular than Rajasthan with its grand palaces and historic sites, but so much more relaxed, with the backwaters around Alleppey and Vembanad, the rolling hills of Thekkady, the wilderness of Periyar, and the atmospheric and bustling back streets of Fort Cochin, with its street markets, Chinese Fishing nets, Jewish Synagogue, Santa Cruz Basilica and St Francis Church, the earliest European church in India.

Marari Beach resort was our first stop after the conference, and we were warmly welcomed back for our second visit by the staff and management. Still a lovely resort hotel with good food and friendly service, a beautiful beach that goes on forever, that now has a sharp drop from the palm covered gardens, created by recent storm damage. This coast is lovely for walking and relaxing, but the strong currents mean that no watersports are available and great care has to be taken even swimming in the shallows; much nicer just to watch the local fishing boats and the stunning sunsets.

After transferring to Cochin airport for the Kingfisher flight to the Lakshadweep Islands, we landed at Agatti Island followed by a 2 hour boat journey to the Bangaram Beach Resort, one of very few islands that is inhabited in this tiny 36 island archipelago, lying approximately 250 miles off the coast of Kerala. At last after 3 years of planning, the new Kingfisher service allowed us to visit one of the most scenic and hidden gems of this area of the Indian Ocean.

The Bangaram Beach resort is part of the CGH chain of hotels that includes Marari Beach and Bruntons Boatyard in Fort Cochin; their properties hold a gentle charm that emanates from the laid back and courteous charm of it’s staff, and the background culture that lies at the centre of the group’s success since it was started by George Dominic back in 1957.

The resort itself is extremely laid back with just 20 very simple but adequate rooms (not ideal for those who want five star luxury and complete privacy). Activities on the island beside reading and swimming in the clear blue waters include bird watching, snorkelling and canoeing. This is, however, a very special place for the deep sea diving and fishing aficionados, with several wrecks on the nearby reefs, and regular sightings of Manta and Eagle Rays, whale sharks, tuna, barracuda and turtles – the latter you can even see when snorkelling from the beach. The beach bar is a popular hang out in the early evening with stories of the day’s biggest catch or great sightings of manta ray being discussed before you make your way to a candle lit dinner on the beach – this will be a generous and varied display of vegetable and meat curries, fresh fish, rice + at least one spaghetti based dish.

Kerala is a very unusual region of India, and offers a fascinating mixture of relaxation, history and scenery, where the pace of life is leisurely, the inhabitants very friendly and the food quite superb.

For more information on India call Andrew, Di, Susie or Tina on 01428 658777

This year’s family vacation had to not only please two parents in desperate need of some rest and relaxation, an over enthusiastic toddler who needs exercising regularly (similar to a race horse), but also a set of grandparents who are used to the ‘finer things in life’.

Having decided that January would be the best time to escape the winter blues, the Caribbean seemed the most suitable option. It transpires that we did in fact miss all the snow that hit Haslemere, so couldn’t have chosen our time to travel any better.

I’d heard a rumour of a fairly new all-inclusive resort on the West coast of Antigua that sounded perfect. A spacious property that wasn’t vast, superb children’s facilities, a number of dining options, couple of beaches, pools, spa and great accommodation – all junior suites, in a bungalow style setting – oh and great value too. What often sounds too good to be true, usually is, but this holiday didn’t disappoint. Whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice to send couples, our ‘multi-generation’ family found all our needs were met.

I usually find that on a family vacation, if the children are happy, the parents tend to be happy too. The Kids Club was open from 9am to 10pm at night and took children, free of charge, from as young as 2 (if potty trained). Not only was the club extremely well equipped with toys and creative activities, it also had its own ‘mushroom’ swimming pool and enormous jungle gym that replicated a pirate ship – all completely enclosed and only accessible from the front entrance of the club, so super safe. There was even a nap room if youngsters wished to take a break. Although there were daily organised activities, it was also relaxed enough if you just wanted to pop in for an hour.

Two lovely beaches with bar service and water sports were an addition to the gorgeous family pool located in the centre of the property. For couples staying at the resort or parents whose children were pre-occupied, there is an Adults Only area (over 18’s) with a pool, plenty of sun loungers and reading gazebos, waterfall, shuffle board, table tennis and a bar.

The food offering catered for all tastes, with the main buffet style restaurant being open every day for breakfast lunch and dinner – plenty to choose from and we never ate the same thing twice in two weeks. Additionally there is a fabulous beach bar and grill that is open until 10pm and served the best swordfish and chips we’d had in a long time – not just limp burgers and hot dogs. Every other night the a la carte restaurant was open and this was included in the all-inclusive package (book able 24 hours in advance) and for those special occasions, a fine dining restaurant that served a beautiful 5 course menu including lobster for just a $25 supplement per person.


One of my favourite aspects of the resort was the rooms. Being all junior suites, there was no worry of having a shoe box sized room with a roll away bed stuffed in, for our daughter. Each suite has a large bedroom and living room, with a sofa, that converts into a bed, all the technical mod cons but also a kitchenette with fridge, microwave, sink, toaster, coffee maker and crockery – all very useful when travelling with children. All rooms are in sets of two and interconnect on the balcony, so perfect for larger families or travelling parties together.

Being fortunate enough to sample so many wonderful hotels all over the world, it is rare to find yourself enthusing about one in particular, but I would have no hesitation in recommending this property to families of all ages looking for a friendly property that provides something for everyone and is great value for money too.

If you would like to know more please call Gemma on 01428 658 777

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