Aanavilasam

Thekkady, The Hill Country, India Book from

Spoiling plantation retreat with romantic suites, set high in the hills near the Periyar Tiger Reserve
The cooling flannels and chilled glass of papaya juice offered as you roll up set the tone. Even if the encircling lush foliage, enthusiastic birdsong, and nightly ticking of frogs and crickets make you feel you’re lost in the jungle, the stylish décor, pampering touches and delicious food are 5 star - and prove you’re anything but. Opened in August 2009, this is the start of photographer Salim Pushpanath’s dream: a luxurious homestay on his tranquil 7-acre working plantation near Thekkady.

Salim’s artistic eye is clearly in evidence, from the graceful design and elegantly coordinated palette, to his black and white art prints on every wall. And though you can buy any of his 12 Kerala photography books to date, he’ll give you at least one as a present for booking through i-escape.

Highs

  • The sweet, fresh mountain air and serene leafy plantation surroundings
  • The abundant attractions nearby - spice gardens, elephant treks and the Periyar Tiger Reserve
  • The delicious Indo-Continental fusion food
  • The spacious and tastefully decorated bedrooms, with excellent showers and candelit garden baths in the Suites
  • The enthusiasm and hospitality of the cultured Salim and manager Pirkko; especially helpful when arranging trips around the countryside

Lows

  • The dense plantation foliage obscures the mountain views
  • A problem only for the bug-phobic: large moths, spiders and exotic beetles feel quite at home on your shoulder, veranda or bathroom floor
  • The sounds of dawn devotions at distant temples can carry rather too loudly on the clear mountain air
  • The concrete reservoir to the right of the villa looks a little unsightly when half empty, and there’s some rubbish in the surrounding woods
  • It is a bit of a trek to get to as the nearest public transport is 3-4 hours so your only option is a car with driver or an expensive taxi transfer

Best time to go

Aanavilasam is open all year. September to March has good, mild temperatures with very little rain, April and May are very hot, though not humid given the altitude, June, July and August are the monsoon months (though Aanavilasam has long chains hanging from its gutters to train the deluge and minimise splash), and August is great for photographs, particularly in the Periyar Wildlife Reserve, as it’s so lush after 2 months of heavy rains.

Our top tips

Don’t miss visiting the wonderful and huge Periyar Wildlife Reserve 15 minutes drive away in Thekaddy, and try and book Mani to guide you - he escorted us and his animal-spotting skill was amazing and whispered enthusiasm wonderfully infectious.

Great for...

Eco
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Homestay
  • 6
  • Half board (+ lunch on request)
  • Over 5s welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Designed and built by Salim himself, the architecture is a graceful blend of traditional Keralan and contemporary Western, and the interior decoration reminded us of a posh New York Hotel. Its elegant olive, brown and white palette is jazzed up by bed-covers and curtains of funky black-and-white silk swirls.

The Suites, each around 600 sq.ft, sit either side of a compact leather-suite lounge and open-sided dining area, with a feature stone fireplace that is often lit during the cooler months of December and January.

The luxury Pool Villas are even more spacious (around 900 sq.ft apiece) and have large verandas, steam rooms and swimming pools (15'x12' and a depth of 4.5'). You get wonderful views down the valley, and a large level of privacy, so these are popular with honeymooners.

Largest of all at 1000 sq. ft. is the Presidential Villa, which is accessed by a private bridge. This and the budget-friendly Deluxe Double have been added since our visit, but appear to follow the same decorative styling of the other rooms.

All cool, smooth elegance, white walls reach up to raftered ceilings, deliciously comfortable kingsize four-posters have romantic white veil curtains, and floors are polished slate and local wood. Most also have garden baths, with candles and bath oils.

Bedrooms all have a private veranda, sitting area with sofabed (in the Suites; rollaway bed possible in the Pool Villas), desk, and pantry with fridge and tea and coffee station. The smart ensuite bathrooms, with state-of-the-art body-jet booths and open-roofed showers, plus dressing gowns, slippers, hairdryers, scales and comprehensive toiletries, feel thoroughly 5-star too.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Coffee tea making
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Fridge
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Safe box
  • Slippers
  • Sofabeds
  • Toiletries

Eating

Breakfast and dinner are included in your half-board room rate, lunch is modestly priced. In-room coffee and tea, chilled water, daily snacks and fruit are all complimentary.

The chef, Krishna, has 12 years’ experience in Keralan boutique hotels. He sources his fresh, organic fruit and vegetables from local villages, and serves a terrific fixed fusion menu of Keralan, North Indian and Continental, or any other dish you particularly fancy.

Our breakfast was a masala omelette, with watermelon, orange juice, and freshly baked bread rolls made by Pirkko, a Finnish friend of Salim’s who lives nearby, and acts as hostess. A complimentary snack of spicy deep-fried bananas on a bed of shredded, honeyed cabbage, served with a pot of strong Masala chai fuelled us through the afternoon. And our dinner was a tasty 4-course feast of clear chicken soup, tandooried pepper chicken kebab, Kingfish platter, and coconut soufflé.

Four tables in the dining area allow for independent or (when pushed together) more sociable dining with your hosts or other guests. The Suite rooms have a small table suitable for light refreshments; Pool Villas have a table and chairs by the pool.

If you want to go out for lunch, good eating-out options in Kumily include the Coffee Inn, Hotel Lakeshore, and lavish buffets at Spice Village with its Raj-style bar and billiard table.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Coffee tea making
  • Communal dining
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Fridge
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Enjoy a complimentary cooking demonstration; watch and help the chef prepare your dinner

  • Take a guided tour of Salim’s 7-acre plantation and see pepper and banana trees, ginger and cinnamon growing among the cardamom

  • Book an early morning or late-afternoon tour of the famous Periyar Tiger Reserve and boating lake for exciting glimpses of the local flora and fauna, including langur apes, exotic birds, wild elephants and deer - though you’re unlikely to see any tigers as they tend to be shy and only come out at night

  • Enjoy one of the many spice gardens, plantations and elephant treks within easy reach

  • Drive up into the charming towns of Cumbum or Lower Camp and ride a bullock cart

  • Drop into a yoga class in Kumily (8km away) or book a massage at one of several Ayurvedic centres

  • Ask Salim or Pirkko to organise a specific trek or tour for you (charged at cost) and start early with a sandwich then return home for a late breakfast

  • Salim can give you a photography lesson

  • Chill on your veranda, swing in the hammock or watch honey being harvested from the garden beehive

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cooking classes
  • Elephant rides
  • Farm tours
  • Photography classes
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife
  • Yoga

Kids

Children are only welcome if they are very well-behaved and over 5, because of the luxury furnishings and out of respect for other guests’ peace. There’s an additional charge for extra beds but no babysitting or childminding service. Salim feels the property is really more suited to couples than families.

Family friendly accommodation:

Families are not allowed to take the Pool Villas due to safety reasons (the plunge pools are 4.5 ft deep).

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
6/
Food
8/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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