Travel stories

Chennai – Weekend at The Westin

The words ‘staycation’, and ‘daycation’ were new to me. Both, as you might have guessed, are not ‘vacations’ but almost qualify. I wasn’t sure which category an overnight trip to a hotel in Velachery would fall within. But every bit of it felt like a vacation, in its own right.
On an earlier trip to the ‘Westin’, Velachery I had noticed the quiet elegance of the hotel, combined with a potential for vibrancy. It was not too heavily advertised, and didn’t impose its presence on you with a gigantic structure. There was something to it, that made me wonder if we could steal away a weekend to experience more of the place.
Deepak Dodani, who I had been introduced to earlier, extended us a warm and gracious invitation. We drove in on a Saturday afternoon, determined to forget we lived in Chennai, but not quite sure how we would manage that.
One of the first things I noticed about the hotel is how much it uses and revels in natural light. It is not one of those spaces seeking to be hidden in a dark corner with artificial lighting. The restaurant directly overlooks the Velachery Main Road, and the sun streams in magnificently bathing the hotel in its warmth. The design is contemporary yet earthy, and leaves you feeling light. A lot of wood is used and hues of brown and white dominate.
Our room was on the 4th floor. Unlike the old-style hotels in Chennai I had grown used to, every floor has a massive opening covered with glass panes giving you lovely montages of the city outside. There is no particular view it tries to capitalize on. It could be our very own Everest – St. Thomas Mount!, just a cluster of houses or a patch of green. It looks beautiful, thanks in large measure to the fact that it’s so real.

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The Heavenly Bed in our room

We drew the curtains in our room and let out a whistle. There, levels below us, was the spectacular pool. The pool is open to the skies, giving you an incredible feeling of space. Floors of rooms and the gymnasium rise on both sides of it, but don’t closet you in, owing to the vast expanse above and beyond. You can see beyond the highest point in the hotel into the sky, and as we discovered to our delight, catch a flight glide past its very edge every now and then. The waters are a lovely mix of blue and green, and the deck chairs are in an elevated portion, raised yet steeped in water, giving you the lovely feeling of being in the air and in water at the same time!
Huge beds with lovely designs in wood line the platform next to the pool, and it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to give them up. Every aspect of the pool area is evidence of how much thought has gone into the conception and planning. The pool is no mere accessory. It is a significant part of the Westin experience. When the promised grill restaurant overlooking the pool inaugurates in a few months, Chennai will have one of its most exciting dining destinations.

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The Westin Pool area

After hours of soaking in the pool and enjoying the warmth of the Chennai sun, we retired to our room. The rooms are spacious, and the style is modern and elegant with a blend of soft tones. The bed is sheer bliss, one of the highlights as it is, of the Westin. Trademarked as the ‘Westin Heavenly Bed’, it lives up to the name. You sink into a hole of comfort even as the pillows seem to magically adjust themselves to your sleeping position.
We woke up eagerly anticipating the breakfast spread. Aarohi Tambe who manages marketing for the Hotel had described it to us with a great amount of fervour. It didn’t disappoint. While the diversity of the spread did not surprise us, we were amazed by the quality of a few things we had resolved to assess – the Chutneys for example. No discerning South Indian who has grown up with good food will easily certify a Chutney.

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The assortment of Chutneys

But we were blown away by what was on offer. Each of the Chutneys was delicious and executed to perfection. The variety of bread (sadly, we missed the bagels!) and the authentic fruit preserves that went along were a treat as well. One of the unique features of the Westin food experience is the ‘SuperFoods’ concept, with your meals carefully constructed to suit your health needs. It’s perfect for those who constantly travel on business and are concerned about eating rich frequently.

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The busy ‘Bubblicious brunch’

Brunch, which followed a few hours later, was equally good. The quiet restaurant that serves you breakfast transforms into a sprightly place. Live music lights it up as the hotel staff scurry around tending to a dozen counters. The Mediterranean section is superb and strong testimony to the skills of the Executive Chef Pravin, who has spent a decade in the Middle East. The Italian food on offer is also excellent.

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(L-R) – Some explosive Chaat and Cold Mezze platter

There is some good thin-crust Pizza, a light Polenta soaked in flavours of fresh tomato, olive oil and basil cooked to the perfect consistency, and the Pasta bar.  The crowds grew gradually to fill the place, serenading it with the characteristic buzz of a Sunday afternoon.  One of the highlights was the dessert counter, and Chef Priya insisted we experience it. In a first for me in Chennai, I saw molecular gastronomy at play. Chocolate and Mango Pannacotta were dipped in liquid nitrogen, and handed out to us as frozen treats with a warm molten centre! The burst of flavour is incredible, compounding the richness of the chocolate with an element of surprise. You can tell there will be more surprises in store, with the plans changing every Sunday.

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The decadent dessert selection

After a decadent meal, we were ready to collapse. But Roshni Praveen, the Spa Manager was not to let us off so easily. She spent time and effort putting together an experience for us. The spa is located by the pool, and is yet another space consciously designed to make you unwind. You are received with some fruit-infused water and taken through the numerous small, precious details, worked on impeccably to add up to a wonderful experience. God is in the details. The emphasis, as Roshni tells us, is on the sensory. White flowers are placed strategically at spots you would turn to while taking your massage. The music, unlike the Thai spa music you hear everywhere, is just good old jazz and soft numbers playing in the background. A bell is rung to mark the start of the treatment, and the room suffused with a serene White-Tea & Aloe fragrance that touches you with its lightness without overpowering – treats designed to awaken each of your senses. The masseurs are well-trained and take their job very seriously. Dolma, who took me through an intense Thai massage made sure she stretched every part of my body beyond imagination. All of this, with a lovely smile on her face.

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Fresh from our massage we lounged around with some walnut, dark chocolate, and tea to savour. It was somewhat poignant to go through the message book left behind by visitors to the Spa. You are in a luxury hotel, in a spa, but not far away from the realities of people’s lives. There are visitors, as you can see from the messages, trying to cope with lack of physical wellness, stress of a modern life, and the pressures of a demanding world.  The Westin can’t rescue you from them, but it can certainly make you forget them for a while.

Look up at the sky, stare at the birds, and find yourself filled with hope.

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