We were, literally, heading for the hills. Six of our family, including three ‘oldies’ (in their 70s and 80s), embarked on our first outing after six months of home incarceration, from Delhi to Shimla on a four-day holiday. We drove in two cars, passing the verdant, mountainous region of Solan with its colourful houses nestled within the slopes, before hitting the vivid, pretty town of Shimla in nine hours. Our destination: Wildflower Hall, a luxury Oberoi resort, sitting majestically at 8,250 ft, a dozen kilometres from Shimla. My son and his wife celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary; on their coattails, we were transported to another era.
Originally built by British Army officer Lord Kitchener (of Khartoum and Boer War fame) it began in the 1870s as a sprawling, hilltop, single-story structure. A friend remembers going there in 1949; his memory is of a picnic on the lawns of a fairly derelict mansion. Sometime after Independence it underwent rebuilding to four stories, and became an agriculture school, and then a state guesthouse; another friend stayed at this guesthouse. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of it in the 90s, after which, it was saved from the fate of most sarkari properties, when it was rebuilt as a luxury hotel, a joint venture between the Oberoi Group and the Himachal Pradesh Government. Today it is a luxury resort, with 85 rooms and suites, secluded and self-contained, perfect for today’s ghastly pandemic times.The reception area of Wildflower Hall - with full health and hygiene norms in place, you can sit here and soak in the ambience beneath a portrait of Lord Kitchener – Photograph © Ajit Rana
Owing to ‘social distancing’ norms, hotels can only let out 40 percent of their rooms at a time; within those limits it seems to do rather well, gently bustling with activity, without any overcrowding. It has managed to create a ‘bubble’ that offers to its clients health security, and convenience. It offers luxe facilities, including a massive entrance salon hall. Just off this grand salon is an old world billiards room, a card room and library (the latter has collections of Punch magazine dating to 1880!), plus a splendid bar.One of the gems of Wildflower Hall is the indoor swimming pool with a sit-out overlooking a forested valley – Photograph © Ajit Rana
Imagine a swim in the beautiful heated indoor swimming pool – sadly not in use because of the pandemic – with snow-capped trees visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass panes. A sun-filled lounge adjacent to the main salon is the ideal sit-out, reminiscent of the old-world Swiss sanatoriums of the 1930s. For the more sporty, there’s a single tennis court completely surrounded by a forest, which transforms into a skating rink during the winter months.
The sunny terrace adjoining the restaurant is especially apt for their generous breakfasts. Other facilities include a nearby gazebo to watch the sunset and enjoy a ‘high tea’– complete with scones accompanied by butter and jam.
A gentle 20-minute hike – remember, we are at over 8,250 feet! – takes one to a splendid picnic spot, complete with tents, hammocks, and sunbeds to lounge in, while you’re served a wonderful lunch – the chicken rolls are outstanding – surrounded by the towering Himalayan spruce trees. Unobtrusive, but exquisite, service completes the picture.
All in all, a place of old world charm, sharpened by modern facilities and meticulous service. Luxury meets value-for-money!
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A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.
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