Prix de Diane – When the charming Chantilly gets ‘Hatted in Elegance’

Chateau de Chantilly

A short drive or a 30 minutes train ride away from Gare du Nord, Paris is this charming little commune called Chantilly in Northern France. As we drove in, I was told that this 18th century town is known for some of its exquisite lacework, beautiful porcelain and whipped cream. The one thing that you can’t miss out in this charming get-away is the Chateau de Chantilly. As the history unfolds an interesting story, this beauty is a creation by this prince, son of the last king of France. This man, considered to be the great collector of his time, made sure the Chateau stood as a testament to the rich culture & history showcasing some of his vast collections that included masterpieces in art and manuscripts. 

The Musée Condé art gallery inside the Chateau is a must-visit when in Chantilly. The Petit and Grand Châteaux strike an awesome pose with the surrounding still water reflecting this beautiful structure as an extension and a compliment. It offered a picture perfect view as we stood there in the green lawns a distant away.  In my mind I couldn’t help but think about the princely life once lived, his collections and the wonderful stories that this Chateau holds as it stands through centuries and for more to come. 

This is not a tale about this prince Henri d’Orléans, though it holds more than a great story for every traveller. Chantilly is all about horses with its 18th century grand stables to house over 200 horses and is one of the most popular horse-raining centres. It is called the French ‘Capital of Horses’. This is the prime reason why I was in Chantilly. As a part of the team invited by the iconic watch brand Longines, I was in this charming commune to attend the most popular Longines Prix de Diane. 

Riding the hoods!

Longines always identified itself with equestrian, supporting the sport the world over, for years. The brand resonates the tradition, the racing aesthetics and the glory of this sport with their design values, as one of the most admired Swiss watch maker. Longines as the title sponsor, the Prix de Diane happens every year in Chantilly, the equestrian racing hub of France, during the month of June. Ever since 1878 when Longines designed a watch with a jockey and a horse on the dial, it is said to be associated with most equestrian events. 

Carnival mood!

This grand event attracts tourists from across the globe to this northern French part to witness some of the finest horses being raced. With the beautiful Chateau de Chantilly and the surrounding Renaissance-style architecture forming the backdrop, some of the most pedigreed & race-bred fillies assembling in style for one specular racing afternoon, what actually adds the best of colours is the prestigious Mademoiselle Diane held by Longines Concours d’Elegance. And this actually, is the most fashionably interesting part of this tale that I am framing here. 

Party in pink n blue!

Le Prix de Diane Longines is a Group 1 race, which is the highest level in horse racing, is also an event of High-Fashion that attracts women flaunting the fanciest dresses & particularly the hats to compete in the prestigious Mademoiselle Diane competition…in such elegance.

Elegance!

The event offers nothing short of the latest in high fashion, absolutely spectacular hats, and overall an electrifying atmosphere with a picnic spirit. On a typically beautiful sunny French afternoon, the event heats up with some of the best wines being poured along with the choicest of culinary delicacies popping up out-beating one course after the other. 

Elegantly hatted!

The one thing that stands out from all of these is this specular collection of hats worn by the women with flair as they walk in large numbers. Its one big carnival by noon and with the finest race action in the middle showcasing some of the fine horse-racing, you can never go tired of watching the hats. Intricate floral arrangements, placement of fruits, beautiful lace work that Chantilly is known for, different assortments of feathers, naughtily netted & knotted, tall and structurally architected and a plethora of more interestingly designed hats.

Hatted conversations

These hats worn with such elegance captures every imagination of how creative one can get. As event warrants an elegant attire and sophistication, the hats are easily the stunners. Every creation deserves appreciation as it showcases craftsmanship and taste, as an incredible evidence to stand apart from the crowd in style, boldness, elegance, exclusivity & as a winner. 

weirdly interesting hats.
Carrying an architecture…
Taking on the sun…
Showing off…their hoods.

Every year, the event attracts more than 400 participants parading on a catwalk set up in the centre of the Village de Diane. Among 45,000 spectators at Prix de Diane Longines, Aishwarya Rai, the Miss World title winner & an actor from India turned heads in her black Armani ensemble teamed perfectly with a chic hat and sporting the newest timepiece from the DolceVita collection. She still is one of their most sought-after brand ambassadors, having been associated with Longines for over 16 years. Apart from launching the new DolceVita line, Aishwarya also gave away the ‘Mademoiselle Diane par Longines’ Award for Elegance to the most stylish woman at the race. 

Aishwarya Rai…the brand ambassador
Carrying a craft.

A sunny afternoon in French oaks, most picturesque racing event with the very Chateau de Chantilly for a backdrop, the finest of race-bred horses, the best young jockeys from around the world, some great French wines & champagnes, a well designed & delectable menu and a generous dose of some high fashion distinctively marked by the HATS!

Hatted in Style!
Hatted in Elegance

That is exactly what Prix de Diane in charming Chantilly is all about. You cannot ask for a better reason to plan that French trip during the race schedule…and to get absolutely charmed by Chantilly with ‘hatted’ elegance. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

When the world’s most beautiful race rolls into Roman streets!

If a trip to Italy especially Rome is always an enticing one, I could not have asked for a better reason to have planned one in May. Quite honestly, it was indeed a surprise that it turned out to be one such sweetly timed plan that fell in place for one awesome experience. 

There is an old motto that says ‘Its fuel rather than blood flows through the veins of the people who come from Brescia’, a beautiful city in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. This clearly depicts the Brescians innate passion for racing dating back to the nineteenth century. With a rich history of having held the first ever ‘speed race’ and motoring passion, many automobile manufacturers were found in Brescia.  These races became bigger and better over the years and attained much popularity.

As the history narrates, on January 18, 1927, the preparations for the first Mille Miglia Cup began to take place. From that day on, the name ‘Mille Miglia’ along with ‘Red Arrow’ trademark have remained the inalienable property of the Brescia Automobile Club. The first race took place during the month of March in 1927, which was won by Minoja-Morandi OM 655 Sport ‘Superba’. 

The founder Giovanni Canestrini in his book states the history of 1000 Miglia, as a description of the memorable incident that occurred on December 2, 1926, the day that has since been officially recognized as the birth of the Mille Miglia.  It narrates how a group of Brescians arrived to his home in Milan on Via Bonaventura Cavalieri, which included Franco Mazzotti, Aymo Maggi, Renzo Castagnet, (the other three musketeers) and his friend, Flaminio Monti. The rest of the story is history as it came to be known as ‘Mille Miglia Cup’ – the most beautiful race in the world. And it was quite an incredibly interesting history learning for me as someone who was very keen to know when this all started.

The incredible racing event has been bringing together exceptional personalities to the world of sport. And here I was absolutely lucky and super excited to be in Italy on time to witness it all. The re-enactment of the Mille Miglia currently, is an event in a class of its own. Mille Miglia combines tradition with innovation, and vividly colours that combination with creativity, elegance, beautiful scenery and the Italian way of living. This plethora of rich elements makes the Mille Miglia a symbol of Italian excellence all over the world.


This clearly makes visiting Italy during this grand racing event most unforgettable. The beautiful narrow roads play the lucky ‘red carpet’ for all the awesome ‘vintage-to-contemporary’ cars to roll on. The hardcore racing fans line up on either side, especially at the crossroad junctions and turns to get a good look of these amazing beasts whizz past. And I was also at one of those junctions strategically closer to a traffic signal, as it drizzled on and off adding to the cool of a spectacular evening.

Some of the best classics ever made in the history of car making from the iconic creators such as Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Bugatti, Porsche, Austin Healey, Aston Martin all racing down the streets of Rome, can anyone ask for more. Specially for the car and auto sports lovers, this exciting event makes it a perfect time to visit Italy. 

For me, this turned out to be one unforgettable experience standing in awe watching these beauties roll by, sometimes even forgetting to click pictures. 

As for those planning a trip post this Great Covid Pause, be there on time to pick your spots in the historical streets of Rome to witness what is truly ‘the most beautiful race in the world’.

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

TAIPEI – The City of Azaleas & its awesome get-aways

Taipei 101 stands tall as the sun sets in the city of Azaleas

Taipei itself is a great city that has a unique character of a typical east asian shade with western influences. A busy capital city throws open a lot in itself to explore in the evenings. For one, if you are someone like me who is intrigued & interested with tall structures, this is the city that has one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. I made sure to pick a hotel that gave me a clear vision of this super skyscraper from my room…always.

The Taipei 101 is an architectural marvel that showcases the city’s pride. It is truly a majestic structural marvel that stuns you at the first sight and continues to do so every time. To start with there are two special elevators to the top, engineered by Toshiba, that gives you the fastest ascending experience in life. I would call it a ’37 seconds to a super high’! Yes, it takes only 37 seconds to travel from the 5th floor to the 89th floor of the skyscraper, at a speed of about 1010 meters per minute.

A stairway to the skies…?!

Influences of Asian aesthetics in its modern avatar defines its architectural styles. This structure is built to withstand earthquakes and storms. The skyscraper has an observatory right on top that offers some spectacular views and keeps someone like me with my lenses very excited and keen to find angles to capture Taipei from over 500 meters above ground level. Within the city, there is Taipei National Palace Museum, an incredible testimony to oriental architecture, to enthral any traveller with so much on the Nation’s history and an remarkable collection of over 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks.

A treasure trove of ancient history

The terrific Taroko Gorge

When in Taipei on a short trip, be it business or a quick visit, a one-day trip to Taroko Gorge is easily the best choice that one can make. As I set out as planned on a day trip, primarily to check out the Taroko Gorge, I am told by my travel operator that there are a couple of places that can be checked out on the way by bus. And then take a high speed train ride as it gives an opportunity to experience the country side of Taiwan. After a pleasant ride, making a couple of mandatory stops to check out the local artisan’s work, we reach our destination for an authentic local lunch.

This for me, was an interesting lunch as it had the essence of their culture in the local tribe’s cuisine style. The one thing that stood out and deserves a mention was the rice cooked inside a bamboo stem. It was indeed a cool experience to break open the stem to take the cooked rice and consume, with some exotic locally grown veggies that I had never seen before in my life. 

Enroute to the world’s deepest marble canyon

Taroko means magnificent and splendid in Truku language and it was splendid indeed with mountainous landscape and thick green cover all over. The Truku is an aboriginal tribe that resides in this region and the best part of this trip is that one gets to experience their culture and know a bit about their livelihood. Taroko Gorge is a long canyon composed of metamorphic rocks such as marble and is about 20 kilometres long situated by Taiwan’s east coast. And thus began our walk into this beautifully rugged coastal cliffs through untamed path towards an elevated deep green cover of the coniferous forest. 

A terrain so rugged cut through rocky marbles
An awesome drive curving through steep valleys along with white waters

As we walk, its interesting to see the white and raw marble stones showing themselves in patches as some of the miners work their way to cut and scrape them out of the mother earth, in an orderly fashion. The views turn spectacular as we keep going up on a rocky & rugged trail with the waterway crawling in frequent curves below. Steep valleys and narrow canyons give this place the colour of adventure and excites travellers like me with my lenses looking to capture every uncommon view. As the world’s deepest marble canyon Taroko gorge poses itself with absolutely narrow sections that are a thousand feet high.

A view from the inside
A trek through…
A view from the outside

I am told that Taroko National Park as a subtropical terrain is a home to over 140 species of birds with some of them being indigenous to Taiwan and also has lotta butterflies some animals and reptiles. The best part of the trek are few bridges, very old, rustic and a couple of functional ones that hangs across the gorge invitingly. 

Ropes and planks…to walk across with rocks & residual water below…!
A bridge so beautiful
An exciting entry into the deep green!
One of the indigenous species
A Holy Shrine embedded among the rocks and cushioned by the thick green

On completing the trek reluctantly, a bus ride towards the coast offers some beautiful views as we roll towards a specular beach. This is clearly what I call a ‘pebbly Beach’ with millions of rocky pebbles in incredible shades of colours forming the shoreline. 

A road to paradise by the coast…!

The blue of the sky seem to sink and merge with the aqua-blue canvas of a calm sea. With the peaks at a distance forming spectacular backdrop in blue and grey one behind another, the beach cannot be missed for an awesome evening walk by the coastline to finish the day off. 

Shades of Nature…moody rocks, browny sands, shining aqua-blue waters, blue mountains, and a sky with an artistic cloudscape !

The other ‘must-do’ get aways from Taipei.

The Chiffon village is a drive away from the big city of Taipei and is a quaint little place over an inclined landscape. Once a gold mining centre, this cute village now is a most colourful & bustling spot with some of the most unique teahouses lined up with a number of shops that sell a variety of taiwanese traditional stuff. 

A quaint little village

One can get the best taste of the local cuisine and buy some of the ethnic handicrafts of this land. Historically speaking, the gold rush should have turned this place into a busy little place which now attracts a lot of tourists for an unique shopping experience.

A gastronomical galore

As I walk through the narrow lanes and climb steps in between the beautifully constructed wooden houses, it opens up on top for some great views of the entire village, the sea and the islands. 

Shades of blue…and a view so spectacular!

Formations of Nanya

Another get-away is the northern coast of Taiwan that showcases an amazing coastal rock formations. Titled the formations of Nanya, this place is a must visit as it has beautiful waters bordered with some spectacularly shaped rock formations.

A rocky shoreline
Landform marvels
The rocky northern coast
An ocean to fish from…all for himself!

These sandy rocks to begin with on the shore has masterfully created layers naturally and has given themselves some interesting shapes. And as you walk towards the water these rocky shore gets darker in grey and then turns black closer to the waters, offering an eerie yet beautifully rustic look and ending my exciting ‘get-aways’ when in Taipei.

Piercing the skies…101!

Taipei, is an interesting city, that has much to offer, to make even a short trip, a memorable one. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

A bridge in the sky…where eagles dare!

A man-made marvel in between God-made nature!

Very often we find ourselves in a situation having to decide on places that we need to visit especially when the visiting country throws open a number of getaways. Malaysia is one such nation that offers multiple choices in terms of exciting destinations within its borders. And I had this challenge too as I was planning my trip to Malaysia. As someone with a passion to explore everything that I can, Langkawi fitted right into the plan.   

Langkawi is possibly an undeservingly undersold destination when compared to others, among all the places that you could visit when you are in Malaysia. The reasons for this are the amazing man-made creation amidst some breath- taking nature. The very first sight of that picture showing the Cable car ride and the Skybridge as they appeared in a climax of a movie and then its appearance in front of my eyes, in the travel guide book in my hotel room, reassured my plan was absolutely right indeed. 

Langkawi…by the pier.

Getting there

 Air Asia and Fire Fox are the two carriers flying to Langkawi and I chose Air Asia. The other option is by a ferry, if you have enough time. Made up of 99 islands on the west coast, Langkawi quietly dazzles as one place that cannot be missed when you are in Malaysia. Though you may not find many fancy resorts and glamorous hotels, this place does have modest accommodation facilities to offer. The fact that it is not commercialised as some of the other destinations, keeps Langkawi raw and full of nature. Sporting a hot, humid and a tropical climate with an average annual temperature of about 32 degrees Celsius, Langkawi’s popular beaches are Burau Bay, Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, Datai Bay and Pantai Kok. The main island, surrounded by an absolutely stunning sea in the best of turquoise as it can get, has in its interior, a mix of beautiful paddy fields and the jungle-clad hills.

Amust do’ without a doubt.

The first in most list had to be the Cable Car & Skybridge, which woos many a visitor to this place. After about an hour of driving through some really picturesque fields, with the glimpses of blue water making it more interesting as the terrain kept getting uphill, I reach the Oriental Village in the upper northwest of Langkawi Island, near Pantai Kok. This is the entrance for what turns out to be one long ride in the cable-car all the way up to Mount Mat Cincang. And as the car climbs higher, better it gets in terms of what I see, which includes an awesome view of the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls like a thick white line with twists and twirls sketched on a 550 million years old grey rock, that makes a rugged canvas. 

Spectacular setting…as the Sky Cab climbs up the heights

The best part of the whole experience is this ride itself in the longest free span mono cable car – the Sky Cab as they call it. This incredible ride offers spectacular ‘360-degree’ views as we cruise along a height of 650 meters above sea level, covering over 1700 meters in distance. What a ride! Rainforest jotted with hills under my feet, cool clouds on a blue sky over my head and the invitingly chill breeze hitting my face, I get there on top, the final destination. 

From one mountain top to another…cable cruising.

I step out to find myself actually looking at the magnificent Sky Bridge, all made all in metal, suspended across Mount Mat Cincang and a neighbouring mountain. The first flash of thoughts are in awe of this beauty. An amazing work of architecture, a brilliant art in metal and a masterpiece that defines incredible precision in design & balance.

Engineering at its best…that defines perfection in design & balance

Considering the height, this longest free span and curved bridge in the world, never ceases to amaze, especially when the passing clouds sometimes causing less visibility, it is as though you walk through ‘a curved bridge to the heavens’. Suspended from a single pylon, this brilliant work of art hangs at about 100 meters above the ground level. The uniqueness of this masterpiece lies in its curve as it offers spectacularly changing views of the world below and an unforgettable spatial experience. 

Hanging with a curve to offer the best of views
Brilliant balance…cool curve & another awesome view

This place offers such amazing views that makes you want to spend more time on top, especially if you are one who enjoys more with a camera in hand and looking for newer sights. The climb down by the SkyCab downs the excitement level too, but with a satisfaction of having explored the heights, where eagles dare!

Beautiful blues…and the green islets

Whats left to explore… 

Back in the plains, the calm beaches present a pleasant picture and worthy enough to spend time strolling around. With the ships and boats spread around on these blue waters provides great frames for the camera. 

when the sky went wild…offering a volcanic effect.
Sailin’ through…on waters so blue

The other ‘must do’ things when in Langkawi are the Eagle Square which actually offers a beautiful view of the sea with ships anchored around, an awesome landscape as a part of the background and some nice Indian cuisine. The interesting cloud formation in a characteristic dark grey right above the tip of the peak offered my lenses a volcanic effect. Sungai Kilim Nature Park, where they feed the sea eagles, Bird Paradise and Wildlife Park completes the list.

A bridge that curves…in between mountain tops…and a walk in the sky.

Langkawi, which means ‘eagle’, is a little island destination which makes a perfect ‘short getaway’ for an unforgettable experience, when in Malaysia.

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

A masterpiece in mighty metal, that millions marvel!

If there is one thing that comes to everyone’s mind the moment the city of Paris is mentioned, it is the Eiffel Tower. And it is also the very reason why it is clearly the No-1 if not the top attraction for every first-time visitor to what has been long cherished as a most romantic city in the world. 

As a traveller I am no different and neither do I wish to be different not to put the Eiffel Tower right at the very top in the list during my first visit to Paris. As most visitors, my expectation too was as towering high, right on my way to the Eiffel that showed itself in glimpses as we drove towards it. Standing over 1000 feet tall and weighing over 10,000 tons, this amazing structure in metal on 4 pillars clearly makes us go awestruck at first sight. As it is claimed, this incredible structure having taken 2 years, 2 months and 5 days, without a doubt has amazed millions till date and will continue to do so for 100s of years to come. As a testimony to French engineering, this tower is a frozen moment of the great industrial era at the end of 19th century.

The mighty Eiffel…just when I turned into the road to encounter the marvel

Though the wait in the queue may put you off, it is definitely worth it once the ascent begins. Having been modernised in 1900 by Gustave Eiffel, a decade later after their inception in 1889, two of the original elevators are still in service. Now this is an incredible fact that elevates the excitement and interest levels of most visitors like me, as we move up. As someone with the lens in hand and hungry for the views that are differently captivating, every stop that we made at different levels offers more of them. 

A structural marvel

The lovely landscapes around…

As we move up, the first sight is a spectacular landscape that showcases an orderly built city, star-studded with centuries old monumental structures such as Palais de Chaillot, the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, esplanades, the beautiful River Siene and the beautiful lush green Champ-de-Mars park forming the intermittent spaces that completes a perfect panorama. Every frame from the tower’s high, offers nothing short of centuries of rich history and culture. The slowly moving boats carrying loads of enthusiastic tourists on River Siene, adds more than life to every view, be it live or through the lens. 

On the way to dizzyin’ heights…
Shining bright to stand out from the rest.
The most scenic River Siene

The higher one gets on the Tower, more interesting are the views and the experience. The whackier side of me is made to imagine a large cake with some intricate icing in white and a green base, that has been precisely cut into a pattern of different sizes.  And thats exactly how one of these city views appear right from the top.

A spectacular view of the nearer old and the farther new of Paris!
Perfectly designed…a green view from the top.
…the green junction
An incredible view…

Every little variations seem to be adding more beauty to these sights. And one cannot miss the beautiful bridges that seem to appear like those incredible line drawings that connect interesting points on carefully drawn travel plan on a large canvas. The three main bridges Pont d’Lena, Pont d’Alma and Pont de Bir Hakim pose elegantly for me as they connect the two sides of the waterways, right below the Eiffel Tower, and also conveys much about the sophistication in planning of this romantic city.

Beautiful bridges
A view from the other side…
Tall & awesome.
A mighty engineering marvel & truly a strain in the neck view!

The Iron Lady, as it is called, standing tall above the French capital, celebrates 130 years and this goes as a little tribute remembering the Parisan engineer Gustave Eiffel, the creator. This mighty engineering marvel is sure to awe millions from all over the world for 100s of years to come. 

Gothic Heidelberg castle & a cruise through romantic Rhine Valley.

History in brick red…at dusk

As they say they, some of the best travel experiences are from those that are not so well planned. This one really was a perfect example of one such experience that I had when travelling in Europe. And the more you stay excited to explore places in the short gaps in between your planned travel, better are the chances that you find yourself enjoying such awesome experiences. This was one such “a day’s experience” that is sure to make a wanderlust soul like mine, very happy, when in Germany, especially in Frankfurt. 

The steamer by the pier for a cruise on the Rhine

Cruising through rich & interesting history

After a nice drive from Frankfurt, it is time to set sails along the Rhine river. A traditional steamer anchored by the pier looks more than inviting to unfold history so rich, as it cruised along the river. Though most popular among the travellers from across the world, this is a ‘must do’ one that should be featuring in your lists of ‘things to do’. This route takes us through UNESCO listed River Rhine and what better way to travel than on the top deck that is open to sky offering great views on either side as we cruise along. And if you are one with a camera and a couple of cool lenses, you are in for a treat. 

The Rhine Valley that is a world heritage site unfolds history as we cruise along. Some of the best known landmarks such as Lordly Rock and Rudesheim appears to be posing just the way we want them to. The quiet and romantic villages that appear on either side seem to be undisturbed by the chaos from the outside world.

By the Rhine…as we pass quietly
Calm & peaceful
a quiet & romantic village

This is clearly a ride to keep counting those medieval castles and feel intrigued as you hear interesting stories about everyone of them. The grand old castles, some of them almost as the remains of ruins bare a haunted look, while some look rustic but liveable are converted into expensive hotels. And I am sure every room in these castles will have an unique and interesting story to tell from the medieval age.

Standing the test of times…in twilight
Weathered & pricey
Testament to an incredible history…

Being the end of winter season, the flora on either side of the Rhine offers an interestingly eerie feel in different shades of grey. With cloudy skies above, the waters too seem to be dark and moody, as the chill winds keeps stinging my cheeks.

The youngest traveller who managed to distract me…very sweetly!

After the spectacular ride through history on Rhine, the cruise comes to an end, only to be hosted for a wonderful evening of wine tasting. The ambiance that the little ‘family run’ place provided us, was something that makes this wine tasting truly unforgettable.

An interesting set up for a fine wine tasting session

The entire place appeared to be a museum of some sorts, with every inch on the wall with an antique displayed. The floor just enough for the visitors to walk around, this place offers the best German wine with a lovely dinner.

The lovely loos with an incredible collection of interesting antiques

And the most adorable spot clearly are the toilets that is sure to retain every visitor in much longer than the usual, gazing around and most likely clicking pictures of a wide range of interesting artefacts.      

Heidelberg castle – the remains of rich history

The best landmark in this little town of castles is clearly the Heidelberg Castle. Standing high on the hill the Heidelberg castle appears to be in an elevated level from the plains, as one of the most important renaissance structure in the north of the Alps. Originally built in 12th century, the castle, as history says, has been hit by lightning bolts twice apart from the wars. Partially rebuilt in 17th and 18th centuries, the castle stands in all its gothic glory with its ruins narrating interesting stories from centuries past. 

Gothic glory stands elevated…
an approach marked by the ruins…
A gateway to a renaissance structure
To enter…back in time

Once on top the castles, you get a spectacular view of the old downtown, the beautiful bridges that run across the Neckar river, the similar looking houses that are built to appear in an orderly fashion with red tiled roofs.

The old Town, a beautiful bridge and river Neckar
A view…with the evening sun shining through the town

The dominating brick red colour all around and the ruins that seem to have experienced time and history, characterises the castle thus making it more interesting to know about.

The Fassbau

The best part of the castle is this giant wine barrel that sits inside the castle adjacent to the king’s hall. The Barrel Building’s cellar houses a giant wine barrel – the great Heidelberg Tun, sitting unbelievably big, all in oak wood and with an incredible story to narrate.

the great Heidelberg Tun – the giant wine barrel

The story narrates about a dwarf called Perkeo of heidelberg, a court jester who used to entertain people with his jokes and his legendary ability to drink wine. And boy, what a big barrel! Built in 15th century this giant barrel can store over 200,000 litres of wine, that was collected from the ruled territory as taxes during those days.

Perkeo…the eternal keeper stands guard

And the life size wooden figure of Perkeo by the giant barrel stands as a guardian, an eternal keeper of the barrel and became a mascot to the city too. On top of the giant barrel is a dance floor for the visitor who loves to shake a leg on the wooden floor seasoned with centuries old wine. And if you fancy a private celebration in such an historical structure, they hire out the King’s hall next to the barrel… obviously for a fat price.  

The fabulous facade and incredible interiors

Standing tall & majestic
A fabulous facade weathered over centuries

A part of the castle, as one of most beautiful palaces of German renaissance, stands with its facade adorned by amazing sculptures that seem to bring alive the likes of David, Hercules, Samson, other Kings and Emperors.

Designed to inspire…through the ages

The palace courtyard flaunts richly decorated creations of art on the inside and has lovely gardens on the outside, with incredible views.

A historical sit-out…
…for a beautiful view!

Heidelberg – the Gothic town 

The old…and the not so old…as the sun sets
…for a perfect walk
…for the shopper in us
An evening in the romantic town of Heidelberg…as the sun goes down!

After an overdose of historical ambiance, for those who wish to ease out into shopping, there is the city of Heidelberg with cobble stone streets and perfectly placed lamp posts, adding flair to the evening. The cute looking shops and inviting restaurants set up a perfect end to an awesome day of exploring and remising history in Heidelberg. 

Clearly a ‘must-do’ when in Frankfurt. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

San Gimignano & Siena – A walk through history for the best of tuscany

There will be mornings when you get up with the urge to simply indulge. Walk through the cobbled historic lanes of Italy, shop at a slowest possible pace, step into beautiful vineyards to savour some world class wines and bite into freshly made, award-winning gelatos all day long. And that’s living life “king’s size”!

We went on a gourmet trail through San Gimignano and Siena, the most gorgeous Italian destinations that treasure the magical beauty of medieval history by proudly portraying the splendours of a wondrous past. These places easily make it to the ‘must-see’ list for the discerning traveller, with an irresistible urge to indulge.

Shopping through centuries old walls

An ancient beauty

According to fascinating legends, this uniquely beautiful town has its history dated back to 63 B.C. and the first mention is stated to have appeared in the documentation during 929. With such an incredible history, this place seem to have emerged as a result of a two young brothers who built castles here after they escaped from Rome as they were implicated in a conspiracy.   

Carved lanes between the towers…

San Gimignano, declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO is a city of beautiful towers. As you walk through the beautiful lanes carved between the towers as many as 14, the story unfolds to enlighten you as they are once symbols of power and wealth of their inhabitants. It’s a perfect scene for beautiful vistas, numerous streets and piazzas, centuries old walls with unaltered sight of medieval magic.

Lookin’ out…in leisure

With around 8000 inhabitants now, this Commune lives on agriculture and wine production. Every bit of the complex history about this awesome town is sure to awe every traveller. And if you are more of an ‘inquisitive’ kind like me, San Gimignano is the place for some amazing medieval ambiance that is treasured for centuries.

For the world’s best gelato!

Remember this indulgence, halt only to sniff in the aroma of fine wines from breath-taking vineyards and for a regular dose of salami, gourmet cheeses and a mind-boggling selection of bruschettas.

World’s best gelato
…indulgence

And the most exciting part of the ‘urge’…the hunt for the best and the original gelato in the land of gelatos! Gelateria di Piazza is one place that can’t be missed for its marvellous creations. A favourite among celebrities across the globe, each flavour here is unique and is crafted in the original gelato-making tradition. From cream drizzled with saffron and pine nuts to pink grapefruit, raspberry and rosemary to blackberries and lavender…the list is enticing and endless. No wonder the boards on these outlets claim winners of the Gelato Ice Cream World Championships!

Medieval Magic

Think of a most beautiful medieval city, a world famous (Palio run) horse race around the spectacular piazza and the very place you enjoyed watching in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, it is Siena. With rich and interesting Roman history, Siena sits pretty over three hills and right at the heart of city is Piazza del Campo that is marked by the red tower, Torre del Mangia. Quite interestingly, we get to see the tower from different angles depending upon where you are walking from towards the Campo. 

Piazza del Campo…as it rains
…a view on a rainy day

As a testament to some brilliant Romanesque architecture with influences from French Gothic and Classical styles, the Siena Cathedral (Duomo of Siena) stands tall with all its glory. With a most fascinating facade, this Cathedral built in 12th century is a beautiful example of sienese workmanship. The pillars with angels, the alter and the grand dome with a gilded lantern like a golden sun shining in, this structure epitomises what we witness inside the Cathedral. Overall, the fascinating facade, the bell tower that is strikingly captivating and the incredible interiors makes Siena Cathedral a ‘must visit’ when you are on a day trip to Siena.    

a 12th century masterpiece 

Siena and San Gimignano…without a doubt is where every traveller walks into history, gets to taste some world’s best gelato and soak in the beauty of these quaint destinations.

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

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A heaven on earth in between two lakes

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‘God has been partial to this place’ – this is the first thought that rushes through my mind as I set my eyes on one of the most surreal destinations in Switzerland, Interlaken. I peer out of the large train windows as it meanders around a shimmering lake reflecting myriad shades of blue. The shutterbug in me excitedly captures nature as she poses for me – the cheery sun rays tears apart the cloudy skies, the morning mist seduces the lush green and little boats with blue sails bob around in perfect tandem. The train ride to Interlaken, from Zurich, Geneva or any other part of Europe is sheer delight. And if you are a photo enthusiast, every glimpse makes a gorgeous picture postcard! 

The train & the stream…A love story

Exploring the town

Located in the Canton of Bern, Interlaken is sandwiched between Lake Brienz in the east and Lake Thun in the west. Strategically located between the two lakes, Interlaken is the most ideal place to stay for tourists as it has easy access to most attractions such as Jungfrau, Titlis, Chilthorn, Luzerne lake and so on.

A little town called Interlaken

A wonderful little town, Interlaken can be actually covered from one end to the other on foot, if you are willing to explore. For all those who love adventure sports, Interlaken has lots to offer like skydiving, hang gliding, paragliding and skiing. Apart from lush green adorned with a rainbow of flowers, the quaint churches add to its artistic skyline.

Invitingly Interlaken…and a walk so memorable.

If you choose to drive (on-road option), it takes you through the streets, little villages and farms dotted with some absolutely stunning views of cliffs, waterfalls and lakes. 

Jus’ a neighbourhood
A church, a street and one big mountain
A drive you can die for…

The Harder Kulm

Despite the regular tourist attractions, one experience that dazzles through my itinerary is the Harder Kulm point. While most visitors tend to skip this trip for want of time, it’s worth every Swiss Franc you have set aside to splurge. It starts with a funicular rail ride in a very specifically built railway compartment or a boogey to climb up and down this interesting railway line that goes over 2,340 ft right up the summit in a straight line.

This funicular leaves every 45 minutes to 1 hour from the ground level and it takes about 20 minutes to witness some absolutely stunning views of the entire town as well as neighbouring cities like Speiz and Bern. While you marvel at the way the funicular has been built, it reaches mid-way to flaunt a breathtaking sight of a sparkling emerald-green lake cutting across the green land mass and flowing through it gently changing its colour to different shades of blue. Once you reach atop Harder Kulm, one can enjoy amazing views of mountains like Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau – some green tops, some white, two lakes and alpine tress scattered around.

An incredible view from the funicular

The highlight of this trip is when it starts snowing, but well, you must be there at the right time of the year for that. A panoramic restaurant at the top lets you grab something to eat and the best thing to get back is to take a walk down the summit through the woods. 

Other activities

The other places to visit when you are in Interlaken include the Alpine garden, the Mystery Park. The Trummelbach Falls which is the world’s only glacier waterfalls. For the trekkers, there is Rugen forest. If you are making your travel plan in January the chances are that you can catch up with the International Lauberhorn Race which is a part of the Audi FIS Ski world cup or be there to enjoy the lake Breinz Rock festival.

Car wash…anyone?!
Heaven above…and a little town below!

Or you can indulge in a private visit to a cheese dairy farm in a nearby little town to learn about the art of making cheese, Swiss-style. This little town offers quite a few shopping options too. For watch lovers there is Bucherer watch store showcasing some of the best Swiss brands. There are other lovely looking shops to walk around and shop for traditional Swiss bells, chocolates and other souvenirs. 

…for the shopper in you

Your abode

And if you are one of those crazy rich Indians, looking to feel and chill like a Bollywood star, Interlaken offers just the right place for you. Located right in the heart of Interlaken, perfectly positioned to offer you the picturesque mountain setting of the Bernese Overland, Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa offers an unforgettable Alpine experience. With the best of regional and international cuisine and bars, this property offers fine dining experiences with breath-taking views. From culinary artistry at La Terrasse to pasta creations at the restaurant Quaranta Uno, the Victoria bar is popular for cocktails and nightcaps. The Spa Nescens is where you want to be when in Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel to pamper yourself.

The superior duplex suites have a view of Interlaken, while the deluxe duplex suites offer views of the Jungfrau. The Tower Suite with elegant furnishings that characterises the unobtrusive luxury, is the highest and the largest too. It offers great panoramic view of the Alps. And for the true Bollywood lovers, you have the Yash Chopra Suite  dedicated to the filmmaker, who personally opened it in 2011. Designed in Indian style with subtle accents makes you feel like a movie star.

Truly a beautiful little town

This could be heaven..or simply Suisse!

Interlaken, without a doubt, deserves to be right on top of the list of ‘must see’ places in Europe and the best choice to stay when in Switzerland. It truly is a ‘heaven on earth’ in between two lakes, to indulge. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

Historical Hanoi & the Halong Bay

A boatman, passing through…appears to carry the monster rock!

‘The most luxurious hotel’ reads the board, right outside Grand Plaza, standing tall in the heart of Hanoi. Though it sounds too confident, it can be your choice, particularly if you had a tiring journey boarding a flight at an unearthly hour as most flight from Indian cities are.  If you are too eager to soak in what the hotel had to offer, it may not disappoint you, as it does offer luxury honestly. Obviously there are choices when it comes to finding a hotel in Hanoi. 

The beauty of this chaotic yet idyllic Vietnam city, the spectacular Halong Bay and its magical islands are bound to leave you enamoured.

There is a clear evidence of lavish space and grandeur in the facade and the interior starting from the hotel lobby, with high roofs and crafty decor in dominating gold. Le Jardin, created tastefully with a touch of fine interiors, offers all-day dining with a specialty being the Vietnamese style boiled vegetables with steamed rice. Grand Plaza also hosts the elegant Taoyuan restaurant that serves a choice of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai specialties. The Fuji offers an extensive menu of authentic Korean and Japanese dishes with traditional decor to suit your mood. In all if you are on a quick trip and want to give the usual Hilton, Intercontinental and Sofitel Metropole a miss, this abode is good.

The most famous Red Bridge

Now that bit done, if you are eager to experience the true beauty of Hanoi, the capital city has lots to offer. Starting from the Hanoi Museum as a witness to the past, the grand old St James church standing tall as a testimony to strong faith, the most famous Red Bridge as a perfect stage for every tourist to strike a pose and much more. Talking of exploring Hanoi, one cannot resist but mention the unbelievable traffic. Yes, unbelievable even for those who traverse in unruly Indian traffic every day. For any first time visitor, the city’s weird traffic patterns is a challenge to even understand. And hundreds of lean and mean motorbikes swamping you the moment you step out makes for a freaky start.

Setting sails to explore the Bay

Enroute to Halong Bay

The place that amazes you most is Halong Bay. Beautifully described by Vietnam’s national poet Nguyen Trai as ‘a marvel of the earth erected towards the high skies’, a first glance at it brings the complete imagery of his poetic line to life. Situated in the North-East region of Vietnam, Halong Bay is part of Bac Bo Gulf and comprises the sea area of Halong City, Cam Pha Town and a part of Van Don island district, Quang Ninh Province. It’s a reasonably long drive, and even though the road isn’t kind enough to allow a smooth ride, it is worth the effort to reach this natural beauty. It also borders Cat Ba Island to the South-West and the Mainland to the west with a 120km-long coastline. Enroute, one can stop by to witness local artists who are physically challenged, creating incredible works of art, be it with thread or paint. It is difficult to get out of this place without picking a piece of their craft. The chances are that you may instantly fall in love with many a piece that depict so beautifully, the real imagery that is so Vietnam.

One of the first sights of a beautiful setting

The Luxury Cruise

Soon a captivating smell of the sea that draws you, a busy pier dotted with a large number of boats, some small and beautifully crafted, others big like a modern cruise. All of them head to the Halong Bay. Now when it comes to taking this beautiful trip, there are a few options but your pick could well be ‘the Paradise Peak’ cruise. Stylishly crafted in a traditional way, this high-end boutique boat is a classical work of art made of wood and from the finest materials that can be found in Vietnam. As one of the paradise cruise line, the Paradise Peak is a most refined one in its class and beauty that offers royal luxury and comfort. The cruise offers 8 lavishly designed suites, an awesome spa treatment, a fine dining restaurant and an outdoor bar. 

An interesting sight of the fruit vendors who hop in and out of boats in the middle of the waters with such ease teaches you a lesson or two ‘on-the-sea-mobile-delivery’. When the cruise gets closer to nature’s wonder, you could spot the varied shaped rocks lapped up in green, appearing in the middle of the sea in large numbers. The different shades of grey and green kept getting clearer as you get closer. 

Mobile fruit shop for instant delivery on water

Halong Bay covers a total area of over 1500 km, including 1,969 islands of various sizes, 989 of which have been given names. Limestone and schist are concentrated in two main zones: the South-East which belongs to Bai Tu Long Bay and the South-West that belongs to Halong Bay. It appears as if parts of earth right in the middle of the sea just woke up and stretched towards the sky in an attempt to reach greater heights, competing with each other. Exploring the bay, you will find those legendary stone islands appearing to keep changing their shapes depending on the angle and natural light. And it is bound to keep a shutterbug very busy. Based on their interesting shapes, these islands are given many amusing names such as ‘Human head islet’, ‘Dragon Islet’, ‘Cock and hen Islet’ and so on.

Geological wonder

These natural islands are considered to be between 250 and 280 million years old. Apart from the magnificent mountains coated thickly in rich, the mystery of Halong Bay is incomplete without the grottoes and caves. Each of them flaunts its own grandiose architectural creations. At the first stop you get to explore the most remarkable caves that are unbelievably formed right into the massive mountains. Over the last 100 years, the advance of the sea and the strong erosion by the heavily salted water has resulted in geological evolution with deep engravings on these stones, adding to its real beauty. The regaling guide will point out and urge you to see familiar forms such as dancing dragons, elephants, a man’s face and so on with a bit of imagination. Simply amazing, it makes you stand in awe while witnessing the precious geological museum that has been naturally preserved over 300 million years. The sight of sun-rays piecing through a small opening into the caves adds drama to every shot on your lenses.

Captivating caves

Sailing in to discover

After witnessing the captivating caves that was recognised as the world natural heritage by the committee of UNESCO twice, you get onto the boats to sail through some of the spectacular sights.

A picture perfect bay
Harboured boats
Sailing through spectacular natural settings
A caved entry into hidden paradise
Rocky green all around a natural pool and sky above!

Passing through some of most beautiful rocky forms in the sea, you will suddenly find yourself entering a little ‘village on water’. A few families have made this their own with their boat-houses. They even have a school for the little ones. Operating the boats and kayaks for the tourist is their livelihood. And right there, you find yourself all set to go kayaking to one of the best ever hide-outs that you may have ever been in your life. With only one narrow entry to get in you will find yourself in a natural hide-out surrounded by beautiful green topped tall rocks, still green water and blue sky above. You may so not want to get out of this paradise when you are there, as it brings an end to this awesome trip. While sailing back to the pier, the interesting setting of the rocks on the sea is sure to keep you busy with your camera. 

A busy day at the market place
Vietnamese delicacies to try

Back in the city, the ‘historical Hanoi’ promises to keep you busy walking through the numerous streets with shops, food and an adorable over-dose of vietnamese culture. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99