The Hungry Happy Hippy: From vineyards to wellness retreats, Nashik should be on your wish list

The city is emerging as the new vacay hotspot

Priya PathiyanUpdated: Saturday, December 18, 2021, 03:40 PM IST
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View of the vines, lake and mountains from the terrace at Vallone Vineyards | Photo: Priya Pathiyan

I find that Nashik is one of the most underrated holiday destinations in Maharashtra. At first, it was regarded only as a place of pilgrimage thanks to the ancient Shiva temple at Trimbakeshwar, which is considered extra special, being one of the 12 jyotirlingas, located at the source of the mighty Godavari. And then there are other important ones such as the Anjaneri mountain, said to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, which also has 108 Jain caves from the 11th and 12th centuries. Even older are the 24 Pandav Leni Buddhist caves, some dating as far back as the first century! The fact that Shirdi, where devotees of all denominations head to pay their respects to Sai Baba is only 97-km away, gave Nashik an extra patina of piety. 

Then came Sula Vineyards, bringing with it the famous Sula Fest, which celebrated music and wine annually for 14 years, becoming a cult experience before it had to pause in February 2021 thanks to the pandemic. Sula’s Rajeev Samant made wine-making cool and sowed the seeds for Nashik to take on the mantle of India’s own Napa Valley. A clutch of wineries followed Chateau Indage and Sula, making it the countries wine capital. Two very different types of tourists began to stream in, some solemnly worshipping deities, and others praying at the altar of Dionysus, Bacchus and our homegrown goddess of wine — Varuni — in a very different way. 

Over the years, some serious wine tourism took shape. Each vineyard offered its own experiences, some with a wine flight, most with a winery tour, many adding restaurants and luxury stays to the mix, like Vallone with its Malacca Spice or Sula with its Beyond and Source. Last week, the team from the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Nashik hosted me at the Chandon India Winery where their Wine Trainer and Wine Ambassador did the honours with a tour of the beautiful vineyards, winery, and the exquisite experience centre, only one of six such in the world. The Radisson’s Executive Chef Anirban Dasgupta had curated a satisfying platter of cheese, fruit and bread to go along with the three sparkling wines they popped for us. As I sipped the bubbly sitting back on their plush patio, I realised that this experience was comparable in style and substance to any of the finest I had had across the world, be it in the vineyards of Australia’s Yarra Valley, in Canada’s Niagara Peninsula, or across France and Italy. 

This feeling continued during my stay at the Radisson, where their all-day restaurant called The Smoked Vine continued to dazzle, be it the Maharashtrian-meets-Bengali fine-dining lunch served on Baarique hand-painted brass tableware, or a breakfast buffet that featured everything from excellent thalipeeth to elegant Italian to an actual honeycomb! So global in execution and yet very much rooted in the local, they totally get what travellers today are looking for. A Warli tribal art painting session with Sanjay Deodhar, art researcher, journalist, and my art teacher for the evening, was extremely enlightening and enriching. And it only added to the symphony of experiences that followed — sundowners in a spacious suite or a family-style Tuscan dinner under the stars. 

A few months ago, I had sampled a different type of hospitality at the sparkling new Viveda Wellness Village. This property, cleverly designed around 16 cottages, is the perfect retreat for those seeking inner and outer peace. The architecture may be temple-inspired and Ayurveda-infused, but the rooms are replete with every element of luxury one wants. A sophisticated spa with international equipment and traditional therapies, an evolved restaurant offering sattvic cuisine using locally grown organic ingredients, Croquet on the lawns, and high tea in the al fresco pavilions again gave me the sense that Nashik knows its onions when it comes to enticing the global traveller.

Most of the larger hotel chains, many boutique properties, and a host of luxury villas for rent are all available in Nashik now. And yet, despite all these players setting new standards, I believe the area has a lot of potential still to be explored. Its proximity to the Gujarat border gives it an extra edge if it can drive tourist traffic from both states and not just for its reputation for temples and wine! The Vaitarna lake is so extensive and stunning, it would be a great place for everything from curated day picnics to film shoots. On a drive past it when I took the scenic route from Ghoti, the sun glinting off the golden grass, the crisp air and craggy mountains transported me to the American Wild West. The temperate climate is certainly a big draw for humidity soaked Mumbaikars. And though the mornings are already misty, I think Nashik would make a lovely destination for adventure in winter, if developed properly. Rock climbing and trekking, water activities and birding, there’s so much that I can imagine doing here.

(The columnist is Associate Editor, TravelDine, and a bespoke Mumbai tour specialist. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @priyapathiyan and @thehungryhappyhippy on Facebook. She blogs on thehungryhappyhippy.com)

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