For those who prefer hills minus the hullabaloo, Strawberry Garden Cottages in the outskirts of Manali is the perfect place to be
One of the four cottages at Strawberry Garden
The living area in a cottage at Strawberry Garden, Manali
Wild strawberries at the Strawberry Garden Cottages, Manali
If you love the hills and not so much the hill towns, then Strawberry Garden Cottages is nicely located for you. Rupert and Bholi Eugster’s property is in Rangri village, a 10-minute drive from Pathlikuhal between Kullu and Manali towns. Here you will wake up to a relentless orchestra of birdsong, clouds knocking at your window and a vista of the great verdant mountains — and you don’t need to move an inch from your bed for this. If you look down from your balcony, beyond the tall hollyhocks, you will see spreading beneath you the strawberry garden that Rupert, Bholi and their young children are so proud of.
This English-Himachali couple built their home and garden first and then decided to build four little cottages to host guests on their property. Theirs is a small operation and you won’t see them advertising along the way. The cottages are sweetly proportioned, like doll’s houses, with a living-dining room and fireplace downstairs and a bedroom, bath and balcony upstairs. The rooms are basic and clean, if a bit too colourful in contrast to the sedate mountains outside; but with long winding mountain trails beckoning, who’d want to stay indoors for long? You can spend your day walking up a fabulous appetite but before you set out, make sure you have asked Rupert if he can cook up some ‘Sticky Chicky’, the house speciality of roast chicken glazed with honey, for lunch — it is delicious and the salad they serve with it is garden-fresh.
If you ask for a tour around their garden, you will find the family more than eager to show you where they grow their potatoes, garlic, chives, leeks, avocados, artichokes, herbs, lettuce, apples, apricots, peaches, plums and strawberries. Not surprisingly, much of the food they serve is grown organically at home — my breakfast consisted of toast with home-made apricot jam and apple juice pressed from the season’s crop.
While her parents took me around, the Eugsters’ lovely daughter Natasha hopped about collecting wild strawberries, encouraging me and her energetic puppy to eat them. At the end of our walk around the property, before her father brought in a pot of steaming, aromatic herb tea, she plucked a nasturtium and asked me to eat it. Her mother explained that the flower, stem and seed are edible and sometimes add a touch of colour to their salads.
In the evening, while my friend played ball with Rupert’s children and the dog, I sank down on a chair high up on the balcony to read in the company of the mountains. If you are the sort who doesn’t really like to leave the city behind, then Manali is just a 20-minute drive away — teeming with all your neighbours from the city. If you like to do all sorts of ‘things’ while you are on holiday, then Rupert can organise paragliding, river crossing and all manner of terribly exciting activities for you. The rest of you can just put your feet up and have a quiet, pretty holiday.
Location Outside Rangri village, midway between Kullu and Manali and near Nagar, Himachal Pradesh
Accommodation Four stone-and-wood cottages. The cottages have sofa beds for children. Each cottage can accommodate up to five people.
Tariff Rs 2,000 a night for a couple/Rs 2,250 a night for a couple with children. Tariff includes breakfast. Lunch/dinner extra: Rs 150 (set Indian menu)/Rs 200-400 (international menu).
Contact 01902-257032, 9816847422, www.strawberrygardenmanali.com