What do you look for in a short family getaway?
For my husband, it means to just chill out, a break from work, time for himself, time with friends & family. My daughter thinks of weekend getaways in India as holidaying with other families and getting unsupervised play time with kids (read ALL day!). As for me, I like to bond with friends and family but am also keen to see the sights around.
Increasingly, we have been booking villas to holiday with friends for our short trips within India. Several friends from Mumbai recommended SaffronStays after their experiences. So, when I got a chance to stay at their beach villa in ECR (East Coast Road) near Mahabalipuram, I jumped at the opportunity!
SaffronStays is a hospitality collective with a network of more than 40 leisure homes. Their idea is to provide a comfortable holiday experience with the warmth of a homestay along with maintaining certain standards akin to a hotel.
Venmani, a town in Tamil Nadu is about 1/2 drive from Mahabalipuram. It lies south of Chennai on the East Coast Road (ECR) at a driving distance of about 2 hours and north of Pondicherry at about 1 hour drive . This is a peaceful small town where the main attraction is the nearby UNESCO World Heritage site, the Monuments at Mahabalipuram. It shows up as Paramankeni on google maps.
This villa is a great option for those looking for beach resorts in ECR with swimming pool. It is located at Pearl Beach, a gated community with direct access to a private beach. I reached here from Bangalore in about 6.5 hours with only a short stop at Murugun idli shop for a quick dosa and coffee. I had expected the scenic verdant views in monsoon season but not such good roads.
Stay at SaffronStays Venmani
This is a nice 3-bedroom villa, with several common spaces. It is one of the few properties by SaffronStays where room-wise booking is allowed. The 3 bedrooms are far apart, two on the ground floor and the third on the first floor where the dining room and kitchen are located.
The best visual feature of this beach house is the large swimming pool that features a small slide. Kids would enjoy splashing in the pool with the waterfall functioning! If swimming is not your idea of a relaxed getaway, there is a hammock near the pool and a large gazebo with deckchairs for lounging.
There is a tennis court next to the pool as well. I didn’t try it but I suspect you might end up in the pool if the game becomes a bit hectic 🙂
Parking (outside the garage) is available in the villa which is convenient for families doing a road trip from Bangalore, Chennai or Pondicherry.
Food at SaffronStays Venmani
Well, you booked a villa option for home-styled meals so don’t go expecting a continental spread 🙂
Before I reached the villa, I got a call from a lady who introduced herself as a Guest Relations Officer. This person asked my approximate time to reach the villa, explained the food options and wanted to know what I would like to eat.
Once I reached the villa and freshened up, a home-cooked meal of rice, sambhar (lentils), 2 vegetable dishes, papad and dahi (yogurt) was ready and served in the dining room.
The cook is a south-Indian lady with a ready smile. She lives close by and comes to prepare all meals fresh. The caretaker, who lives on the premises is also handy in the kitchen. I am not sure who prepared my cold coffee but it was delicious!
The only issue in a 3/4 day getaway possibly is that you might tire of the home-cooked (south-indian) food, delicious as it may be, and need to step out for a meal in Mahabalipuram for a change.
Activities at SaffronStays Venmani
Now comes the favourite part of my stay!
If your idea is to have a relaxed stay, bond with friends and family till late in the night, have a drink while lounging on the deck chair near the pool and do nothing, you have come to the right place.
But for restless souls like me, who need to ‘see and do something’ even on relaxed breaks, this villa offers several activities. Pearl Beach is walking distance away and unlike its crowded counter-part in Mahabalipuram, you will have this to yourself on a walk in the morning or evening.
‘Is that all?’, I asked the caretaker.
He left me puzzled by responding that he wants to show me the garage. I was sure our communication was off-track with my non-existent Tamil and his rudimentary English. But when he opened the garage, all became clear.
This is a man-cave for big toys. A gleaming Harley Davidson was the first thing I saw (the only thing that cannot be used by guests). A red 2-seater ATV and 2 single-seater ATVs were next. A bicycle hung on the wall. And in the far corner, a jet-ski! 2 big and 2 small kayaks were stacked neatly. I cant imagine the Bay of Bengal waters being calm enough for kayaking. The ocean certainly wasn’t calm either for kayaking or jet-ski in the month of July when I went. But I did have a blast on the ATV.
Believe it or not, there is also an open-air theatre system at the villa! A large screen has been installed on the tennis court (making it unusable as a court, I guess!) with a projector and Netflix options! Your nights are definitely sorted 🙂
Activities near SaffronStays Venmani
Mahabalipuram is 25 minutes driving distance from the villa, so you could consider this as an alternative to Mahabalipuram resorts for a family trip. The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram are not to be missed! You need not be a religious person to enjoy these historic monuments. Go early morning and I assure you would have the Shore Temple all to yourself.
There is also a Madras Crocodile Bank on old Mahabalipuram road – about 6 km after the Mahabalipuram town – which turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me. Not a typical zoo, this Crocodile Bank was set up for conservation of crocodiles & reptiles.
What puts a smile 🙂
The ATV ride on the beach and on the nearby sand pit for sure!
The caretaker’s real skills are in driving the gleaming red ATV on the sandy pit. The ride reminded me of sand-dune bashing that I had experienced in Dubai about a decade ago. And when he asked me to take the wheels on Pearl beach, I said yes. But it is not as easy as it looks, you need to press the accelerator HARD to go fast on the barren beach.
In the evening, the caretaker said he will put a movie for me on the open-air theatre. While he was going about setting up the system, I was puzzled that he didn’t check with me on the movie options. It all became clear when the screen image flickered to N. Yes, there was Netflix at hand and I could choose anything from their vast options.
Recommended for families?
Absolutely! The villa is built for families.
The best option would be a group of 6-9 people to come and enjoy the property.
Website: SaffronStays Venmani
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Disclaimer: I was hosted by SaffronStays at this villa. As always, all opinions are my own.
Do you prefer a resort or a villa / homestay for your family getaways? I would love to know your thoughts.
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