Family Hotel Review: Hotel Eagles Nest, Dharamshala, India
This former mission station turned charming family-friendly guesthouse is a wonderful Himachal hideaway with plenty of activities and incredible mountain views.
Best For: Fresh air walking fiends; kids of all ages
Reviewed by: Victoria Westmacott
Why You’ll Love It
This former mission station turned charming family-friendly guesthouse is a wonderful Himachal hideaway. Located in the Himalayan foothills, 1000m above McLeod Ganj (home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government), the only way to access this retreat is on foot or pony. Fortunately a team of friendly porters are on hand to carry bags and, if necessary, young children!
The setting is absolutely sublime. With the Dhauladhar mountain range to one side and the Kangra valley on the other, the mountain views are simply magnificent. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of walks in the area as well as other activities including horse riding, bird watching and leisurely games of croquet.
Sheila and Bo, a convivial British couple, are your hosts here and they run Eagles Nest as a home rather than a hotel. You’ll be very well looked after but don’t expect five star service with all the trimmings, this is very much a homely, laid-back mountain retreat where guests of all ages mingle and dine together.
Why The Kids Will Love It
This is a wonderful mountain getaway for families and perfect for those who love spending time outdoors. The setting is beautiful and although the views may be lost on little kids, they’ll love the open space and plethora of insects and animals to seek out, including the chance of spotting a wild leopard.
There are a multitude of walks on offer (depending on the age and inclination of the children) ranging from 10 minutes to day-long treks led by knowledgeable, friendly guides. Pony rides can be arranged for everyone and cricket and croquet games can be won (and lost!) on the front lawn. During warmer months kids can cool off in the small plunge pool. For those teenagers who find the Great Outdoors less inspiring, the small yet buzzy town of McLeod Ganj is a short downhill walk away.
It’s worth noting that the hotel’s location in the mountains is by no means toddler-proof and there are, as you would expect, narrow paths and steep slopes to be aware of.
Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett would certainly approve of the rooms here; the views are spectacular. There are seven suites in total, four overlook the Dhauladhar mountain range and the other three overlook the garden and forest.
The spacious rooms are individually themed featuring Mughal, Tibetan and Himachal designs. The double beds are comfortable (although the linen is a little tired) and they all have wood burners, verandas and ensuite marble bathrooms with showers (only the Craven Cottage Suite has a bath). The water is heated by solar power but the water is not always piping hot. If this is the case, the friendly staff will bring large buckets of hot water up to your room. The hotel is in the process of installing a new solar system, which should improve this.
With the exception of the Moonlight Suite, all rooms lead off a central, double height dining room and living area and are within baby monitor reach (or earshot) if you are travelling with young children.
Best Rooms For Families: All of the rooms are suitable for families. On the ground floor the Mughal Suite has adjoining double bedrooms (one of which can be changed to a twin if required). There is further space for an extra bed. It has a large, private glass conservatory overlooking the mountains, which opens out further onto a shared veranda.
The Tibetan Room, decorated by local Tibetan artists from the Nurbulingka Institute, features a colourful painted ceiling depicting the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. There is one double bedroom and an adjoining small double room. There is further space for an extra bed. Doors open onto the front veranda of the house.
The Craven Cottage Suite is a large double room (which can be converted to twin) decorated in warm reds that can accommodate a couple of extra beds. This is the only room with a bathtub, which comes with its own mountain views. The room also has a small private glass conservatory overlooking the mountains, which opens out further onto a shared veranda.
Upstairs, the Dhauladhar Room is a spacious room that can fit two or even three extra beds and has wonderful views. The Deodar Room can accommodate two extra beds. These rooms are less suited to families with curious toddlers owing to their shared balcony. Although the balcony railings are a good height, the space between them is wide enough for an inquisitive child to climb through.
The Hallet Room, named after the British Royal School of Art artist Alfred Hallet, features a number of his paintings. Hallet once lived in a nearby cottage and painted a number of landscapes and portraits of the area. It’s a very pretty and romantic room with a four-poster bed and lovely views of the mountains and garden. The room is large enough to accommodate one to two extra beds.
Upstairs, the cosy Blue Room, features a lively royal blue carpet and is a wonderful spot to catch the morning sun. This room can also fit up to two extra beds.
Set apart from the main house is the Moonlight Suite that can accommodate up to 6 people. Above the main room is a small bedroom known as the ‘Crow’s Nest’ which has 360 degree views. There is also a private balcony overlooking the forest and mountains. The suite is double glazed with solar powered under floor heating. The communal games room with table tennis and darts board is also part of this block. It’s worth noting that the Moonlight Suite is approximately 50m from the main house where meals are served so it’s better suited to families with older children.
Hotel Eagles Nest is vegetarian and the food is increasingly organic and home-grown. However, with advance notice they will arrange special meat meals (local lamb/mutton) and can also procure fresh fish. The (fixed) menu is continental and Indian, although requests can be accommodated with prior notice.
During the day meals are served on the lawn and at night around a communal table. Getting to know the other guests is all part of the experience here and adds to the homely environment. Dinners for young children can be served earlier in the common room in front of a log fire, or wherever is convenient for you.
Breakfast is served on the sunny lawn and includes eggs of your choice, pancakes, toast and homemade jam, fresh fruit and filtered coffee and tea. The milk comes from the neighbour’s cow.
Lunch and dinner menus change daily and are displayed in the house. A typical menu might include a salad (from the hotel’s own veggie garden), a rice or pasta dish such as egg rice or momos, and a vegetable dish such as aubergine bake. There is also always a homemade dessert. Picnics can also be arranged if required.
There is no bar and any alcohol or soft drinks must be requested prior to arrival.
For Kids: Although there is no dedicated kids’ menu, there are child-friendly dishes on offer. If the main menu doesn’t appeal then pizzas, pastas, and omelettes can be arranged. The banana custard pudding is usually a big hit. The kitchen staff are happy to prepare fresh pureed vegetables for babies.
Activities for Parents
This place was made for walking – enjoy one of the many treks in the area such as the one-hour hike to Bhagsunag Waterfall for a refreshing dip or one of the local village walks.
Relax on the lawn, enjoy tea on the patio or de-stress with a relaxing Ayurvedic massage by Anita, a qualified masseuse who comes to the hotel on request.
Enjoy an audience with the Dalai Lama (if you’re lucky!) and then visit the Norbulinka Institute, a centre dedicated to preserving Tibetan art and culture.
Grab your binoculars and see how many of the 556 bird species that call the area home you can spot.
Learn how to make momos and more with an informal in-house cooking lesson.
Activities for Kids
Play hide-and-seek with the hotel’s horses and ponies that roam freely around the grounds. Once you’ve found them climb aboard for a horse ride in the area. Chandra, the little palomino pony, is a big hit with smaller children.
Ask Manu, one of the local guides, if he’ll take you to his home. Here you’ll meet his charming family and learn about life in the mountains.
Younger children will revel in the hotel grounds that are home to bugs, sticks, butterflies and stones. Older children can keep a lookout for the abundant wildlife including porcupines, mongoose, langur monkeys, flying squirrels and leopards.
Teens can head to McLeod Ganj to shop for Tibetan trinkets and eat banana pancakes in the many backpacker-friendly cafes.
Childcare can be arranged during the day for serious walkers with young children, common room, nearest doctor and hospital are in McLeod Ganj 2km away, extra beds available depending on size of room, inter-connecting rooms, laundry, massages, small plunge pool, travel desk.
At the time of writing rates were as follows:
Room rates start at INR 5,000 per person per day (approx. US $80). (Children under 6 free, 6 to 16 @ 50%). This includes taxes + all the following:
All suites with modern marble bathroom, veranda and mountain views,
Gorgeous outdoor dining /indoor Hall and inclusive of all resort facilities:
All meals, + fresh coffee & juices, teas and snacks
Maid accommodation + meals (Driver accommodation separate)
Horse riding on site
Guides for walking/day trek + picnic
Badminton, croquet, table tennis, cricket
DVDs, Satellite TV, library, internet.
Extra: Alcohol, other transport if required.
Ayurvedic masseur/masseuse in-house.
Please contact the hotel directly for an exact quote based on your family’s requirements.
When to go:
The best time to visit is from mid-September to June. Winter runs from December to February and is cold and snowy. Expect temperatures to drop below -1C during this time. March to June is warm with temperatures ranging between 22C – 38C. The monsoons descend in July and carry on until early September. The autumn months (mid-September to November) are beautiful with blue skies and sunshine; temperatures during this time range from 11C – 35C.
The Losar Festival, the Tibetan New Year, occurs in December or January. This is the most important Tibetan holiday and is celebrated with processions and masked dances at local monasteries. The Dalai Lama often gives public teachings at this time.
Location & Travel:
Hotel Eagles Nest is located above McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Gaggal Airport near Kangra is the closest airport. From the airport it is 25 km to McLeod Ganj, approximately one hour’s drive.
Overnight trains run from Delhi to Pathankot, which is approximately 90 km from the hotel (three hour’s drive).
The hotel will meet you in McLeod Ganj from where it’s a 15-20 minute drive in a 4WD and a further 10 minutes walk along a forest path (porters are on hand to carry bags and children!). The hotel insists that guests arrive in the daytime as there are no lights along the track from McLeod Ganj.
Contact The Hotel
For more information or to make a booking enquiry, visit the hotel’s own website by following the link below:
— Elizabeth Owen (@ElizahoyleOwen) January 5, 2015
Reviewer’s Top Tips!
1) Layer up! Daytime temperatures can be warm, especially when walking, but they tend to drop considerably at night. In winter, pack for snowy climes. Note that the weather can be unpredictable at any time of the year.
2) A daypack is an essential bit of trekking kit, as is a baby backpack/carrier if travelling with younger children
3) Bring a bottle or two of your favourite wine, but be prepared to share it with other guests!
4) If you would like a pony to carry your kids to the house, be sure to state this at the time of booking, and send a friendly reminder the day before you arrive.
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