Exploring Lonavala through the lens of a luxury villa and great food
With plush interiors and homely comfort food, this stay truly has the best of the worlds
On a quiet Friday evening, I found myself (as usual) at Marine Drive. I was looking out at the ocean, with the cold breeze brushing against my skin when out of nowhere, a light shower of rain started to trickle down. With the perfect weather for a hot snack in place, I walked a mile or so to get myself a kadak chai and vada pav. The reason I bring this up is because I want to establish at the outset: I am the kind of person that can travel a great distance for food.
Thankfully for me, as a Mumbaikar, that quest can be quenched in multiple ways and at various locations, given that I inhabit a state that is flanked by great weekend getaways, and often those locations have undiscovered food. A recent visit took me to Lonavala—the OG weekend escape that always harks me back to family vacations from my childhood. But this trip was different because it involved a stay at a unique and quaint property, Chandralok Villas.
The boutique villa, which is perfect for a staycation or wokation, is owned by the same family that has helmed one of Lonavala's oldest establishments, an eponymous hotel, which has been around since 1962. As soon as you step inside the villa, you will be struck by its tastefully done interiors and 'gram-friendly decor. The spacious bungalow is divided into four rooms, two on the first floor and two that you can access through a winding wooden staircase. The rooms are fairly sized with modern amenities, but the thing I loved most? The high ceilings that were a refreshing change from the cramped spaces that we are so used to in our city abodes. The villa comes attached with a private pool with a jacuzzi ledge on end and features a barbecue too to ensure you get your dose of R&R. Accompanied by three of my fellow colleagues we made sure to utilise every bit of this exclusive stay.
Being born and brought up in Maharashtra and with a house help from the region who fed me tons of food from the state, I have always been an enthusiast for authentic Maharashtrian cuisine. And during our stay, we gorged on plates and bowls full of lip-smacking regional food that was homely and comforting.
The food lover in me was definitely excited about what the property had to offer in that department and I was pleasantly surprised. Prepared by their resident cook, Archana Tai, the food at Chandralok Villa is made with carefully picked seasonal and locally available ingredients and spiced intelligently with tons of love. Right from poha and cute, pillowy idlis for breakfast, to homemade and garma garam vada pavs for evening chai sesh, the nosh here was fulfilling and good for the soul.
And I'll tell you what I mean when I say that. On day one of our visit, for instance, we started lunch with a spectacular masala bhaat that is made using long grain rice and vegetables cooked in freshly ground Indian spices bringing the flavours out just so perfectly. Accompanying it was a vangi or brinjal ki bhaji and it was stuffed with a goda masala that simply blew me away. Along with it, was a panoply of Maharashtrian staples, like a resplendent sprouts sabzi, jowar bhakri, a refreshing chaas or buttermilk, and Archana Tai's specialty, handmade thecha that's a proper keeper.
Needless to say, after a meal this fulfilling, we could barely move, so we each decided to retire to our rooms and while I worked from the comfort of the massive, cushiony beds that add a touch of luxury to Chandralok's otherwise retro-inspired interiors, I sunk into a state of relaxation that is characteristic of a good workation. In the evening, over delicious vada pavs and tea, we discussed the agenda for the next day, where the highlight was a visit to their family-owned restaurant.
Situated on the Mumbai-Pune highway, Chandralok hotel has a restaurant within its premises that serves traditional Gujarati food and the whole thali experience. Designed like a quintessential eatery from the 80s, with traditional knick-knacks (including a giant swing), a narrow courtyard and a sprawling space dotted with community-sized tables, the restaurant here primarily focuses on the food, and man, do they mean business! From fresh dhoklas and soft khandvi to tiny-but-addictive gulab jamuns, seasonal sabzis and sweet dals, the offering here is sure to transport you to a Gujarati home. A fitting tribute to traditional Gujarati food, the thali here is insurmountable, but joyous nonetheless. Churners, coal angithi's and old-school style of cooking using local produce are the hallmarks here.
Satisfied with yet another memorable meal and experience, we drove back to the villa to check out of the property for our return to Mumbai. And while my travel plans may not take me back to Chandralok soon—because I am constantly seeking out new experiences—it should definitely take you there, not just for the villa experience, but also the food that has left an indelible mark on my palate.