There are bed and breakfasts, and then there's Sunnymead. At Sunnymead, you don't just get a bed, you're welcomed into an exquisite Colonial-style ancestral property with rambling English cottage garden. And you don't just get breakfast, you're given an unforgettable gastronomic experience.
Overview of Sunnymead
Undoubtedly, Sunnymead is a rare property in Shimla, which these days is sadly saturated with run-of-the-mill hotels and hordes of rowdy tourists. Walking down the hill, entering the inviting home, and being greeted by engaging hostess Madhavi and her pets is a longed-for, refreshing reprieve from the ruckus outside.
The sweet and quirky Madhavi is as much a gem as what Sunnymead is, and she's a significant part of what makes a stay there so special. Madhavi is someone you immediately feel comfortable with and before long find yourself chatting away to as if she's an old friend. The conversation is diverse, intelligent, and entertaining.
Originally from Delhi, Madhavi relocated to Shimla to operate Sunnymead as a bed and breakfast after restoration of the property was completed in 2011. She's a perfect fit for the house, which also has its quirks. As she told me, it leans. I didn't notice though, as I was too absorbed in the delicate interiors. Everywhere I looked there were family treasures, and they blended in beautifully with the contemporary touches that had been added.
As Sunnymead is full of precious items, it's a place that refined, animal-loving guests will appreciate.It's definitely not suitable for families with boisterous, fussy children -- especially as there are no TVs, but rather plenty of books, in the bedrooms. Madhavi's pets include a couple of cats and three big dogs (also with quirky names). They are amongst the most friendly dogs I've ever come across, with plenty of affection to lavish on those who want it. The surrounding garden is also full of wildlife, including flying foxes and some rare birds.
How to Get There
Sunnymead is located on the outskirts of Shimla, in Himachal Pradesh.The town is one of India's top hill stations. A popular way of getting to Shimla is to take the toy train from Kalka, near Chandigarh. Otherwise, Shimla is a three to four hour drive from Chandigarh (where there is a major airport), depending on traffic. The taxi fare is around 3,000 rupees.
When to Go
The Indian summer, during May and June, is peak season. Monsoon season runs from July to September. Post-rain, October and November are the perfects months for a peaceful time, although avoid Diwali school holidays. Winter starts setting in in December, bringing cold weather and possibly snowfall. By April, the weather begins to warm up, and the garden is in full bloom during April and May.
Sunnymead has two floors, with the guest accommodations occupying the whole of the top floor. There are four bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. Three of the bedrooms -- a double and two twins -- share a common balcony. The other room is a spacious single room, separately situated at the end of the house. It has a sunny alcove with big windows that open out.
Just like the rest of the house, the bedrooms are gorgeously decorated in classic style with contemporary accents. Think antique wooden furniture, open fireplaces, Fab India towels, and embroidered silk cushion covers in bright colors.
The highlight of the main guest room, which I stayed in, is a solid wood four poster bed. There are steps leading up to it and a deliciously soft mattress to sink into. The vast collection of books is eclectic, and I was delighted to find everything from The Cat in the Hat to Outlook Traveller.
As I stayed during the week, I was fortunate that the adjoining guest rooms were vacant and I had the balcony all to myself. I could've easily spent days there, sitting and reading, and listening to the birdsong.
It's obvious that a lot of care and attention has been given to selecting the furnishings. Yet, what really surprised me was the provision of a cell phone with a local SIM in my room. As Madhavi explained to me, it's so guests can make local calls without incurring roaming charges on their phones. She really has thought of everything!
Expect to pay 9,500 rupees per night for a double, 8,000 rupees for a twin, and 6,500 rupees for a single. The rates include full breakfast (plus high tea and cake for Tripzuki guests).
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It's not an exaggeration to say that the food at Sunnymead is on par with that of a fine dining restaurant. Madhavi and her very talented chef Madhu have mastered many types of cuisine and each dish shines.
There's no fixed menu. Rather, the meals are prepared using seasonal ingredients from Sunnymead's fruit and vegetable garden. Special dietary requirements (such as gluten free) are catered to, as long as 10 days notice is given.
The pampering of my palate started from the moment I arrived, with herbal tea of my choice and sumptuous chocolate mouse. As I sat on the front porch, drinking the tea and gazing out into the garden, I was surrounded by the soft scent of jasmine outside and tantalizing aroma of dinner cooking inside. It produced such a feeling of comfort and contentment.
I had two dinners and two breakfasts at Sunnymead (lunch isn't provided). Overeating is inevitable as it's impossible to resist both the abundance of mouthwatering food, and Madhavi's gentle persuasion to have just a little bit more.
Here's what I was served. My plate was overflowing!
Dinner - Traditional Indian
Aloo methi (potato and fenugreek), aviyal (south Indian coconut curry), coconut beans, sukha chicken (a dry chicken dish), a hearty and delicious daal, rice, paratha, tomato chutney, mint coconut chutney, and apple chhuhara (date) chutney.
Dinner - Continental
Cucumber soup, homemade focaccia bread, beetroot salad, mashed potato and sage, roast pumpkin, steamed broccoli with roast garlic, green salad with mango and sesame, baked fish with tomato olive caper salsa, and chocolate almond pudding.
Homemade bread, omelet, chicken sausages, mushroom, tomato, mustard chutney, pancakes, strawberries, maple syrup, filter coffee, and a mint smoothie. (And, I confess, I was decadent enough to eat some of the leftover chocolate almond pudding for breakfast too)!
See my photos of Sunnymead on Facebook.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, Tripsavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.