Malabar House

Fort Cochin, Cochin & the Backwaters, India Book from

Reviewed by Yasmin Boland
A haven of stylish hospitality: an 18th-century residence in one of India’s historic trading ports
To transform an 18th-century Dutch colonial residence into a small, luxury hotel, and to preserve its calm spaciousness, is an achievement anywhere. To do it in India is practically a miracle. But miracles do happen, and Malabar House in Fort Cochin is proof. Painted in heartening yellows and whites, furnished with antiques and artwork chosen by the German owner and kept spic and span by Mr Isaac and his team, each of the 17 bedrooms is a haven of tranquillity amidst a bustling harbour city.

Outside, you can almost smell the centuries of imperial trade: Portuguese forts, Dutch and British churches, Chinese fishing nets and Jewish shops selling local spices and fabrics are all within striking distance. After watching the sun set into the Arabian Sea, you can dine in style on Indian or European cuisine at the hotel’s poolside restaurant. A favourite amongst journalists and style-setters, Malabar House has won best heritage hotel awards from the Kerala Government (and others) and was the first operation in India to be certified by Green Globe, the global environmental certification programme for travel and tourism.

Highs

  • The staff, led by the cheerful Mr Isaac, are wonderfully friendly
  • The design of the old home, which dates back to 1755, is stunning
  • You'll find excellent food and service
  • The elegant and clean rooms have been sensitively revamped

Lows

  • The pool is set in the courtyard so dips feel slightly public, but this is no place for a ‘sun and swimming holiday’; it's an oasis for visitors to historic Cochin
  • The rooms which open onto the courtyard can be a little noisy

Best time to go

October to January is the peak time for visitors, as the heat is less intense (18-30C). Summer, from February until May, sees temperatures rising to 35C before the monsoon season from June until September, when prices are reduced. This can bring heavy showers, but you may still enjoy some clear weather if you visit during this time.

Our top tips

Consider the Essence of Kerala package (enquire for more details), which combines a stay at Malabar House with visits to the hotel’s sister property Serenity at Kanam Estate. It's a great way to get a true taste of Kerala without compromising on comfort.

Great for...

Foodie
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 17
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages 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
  • Concierge Service
  • Bicycles Available
Room: Room 17 (Roof Garden Suite)

Rooms

There are 17 rooms of varying sizes and luxury. We were lucky enough to be treated to the famous Room 11 (one of the Roof Garden Suites), which has a huge, L-shaped roof terrace on which we dined by candlelight.

All the rooms vary slightly, so ask to see what’s available on check-in as some have more pleasing aspects than others. The first floor features the Roof Garden Suites and the ground floor houses the Deluxe rooms, with the 7 rooms surrounding the courtyard having been most recently refurbished (2009). The largest room, The Malabar Suite, is split over 2 levels and has a separate seating area, as well as a terrace.

All have air conditioning, ceiling fans and lock-up wardrobes, as well as phones and cable flat-screen TVs. But despite the mod cons, a stay at Malabar House feels like stepping back to a more genteel era: the beds are antique, the floors cool and clean and the ceilings high, with walls daubed in sunny yellows and whites, warm reds or cool aquamarines. Each room boasts local works of art chosen by owner Joerg Drechsel, who also happens to be an antique dealer, with splashes of vibrant colour provided by piles of silk cushions. Some also have elegant wooden columns in smooth dark wood, lending a particularly refined air.

The ensuite bathrooms have both bath and shower - a rarity in India. Accessories include wonderful linen bathrobes, hemp slippers and the Malabar House range of toiletries, all made from natural ingredients.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Phone
  • Plunge pool
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

The hotel’s restaurant, Malabar Junction, claims to be 'one of the best seafood restaurants in southern India'. Quite a boast and sadly one we can't verify as the menu has changed since our last visit, but it sounds terrific and it's receiving rave reviews.

Breakfast, available from 7am to 11am either downstairs or in your room, is a simple but hearty spread of pastries, fruit, toast, coffee and juices, or typical Keralan fare such as dosas (savoury rice and lentil pancakes) with coconut chutney and fresh banana.

For lunch and dinner, tables are set up around the pool in the courtyard (lit by candles in the evening) or in the lofty dining room if it rains. The dishes on offer blend southern Indian and Western influences. Starters are the likes of sesame-crusted tuna or leek soup with crab and coriander dumplings. The delicious mains include Kuttanad duck roasted with fennel and pineapple, Uralthiyathu (tiger prawns and sea bass with ginger, mustard seeds and tapioca) and Keralan thalis. And the desserts? We'd struggle to choose between the home-made ginger ice cream and the chocolate samosas, so would probably order both.

Also unsampled by us as yet is the new wine lounge, Divine, which showcases emerging Indian wines as well as serving tapas dishes celebrating both Eastern and European flavours.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Browse through the nearby arts and crafts shop, explore the antique markets and peruse the exotic spices and fabrics on sale in the non-PC sounding Jewtown
  • Board a cruise to Bolghatty Island, famed for its colonial palace and lush gardens, from the nearby jetty
  • Find out about Cochin's colourful colonial past by admiring the 16th-century Indo-Dutch Mattancherry Palace, walking to the Indo-Portuguese Museum (built by the Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon) and visiting India’s oldest Christian building, the 16th-century church of St Francis
  • Don’t miss seeing Fort Cochin's famed Chinese fishing nets on the quay nearby
  • The travel desk in the lobby can arrange trips on the Keralan backwaters aboard the Discovery houseboat
  • Enjoy a Kalari Massage, where not one but two therapists give your body an oily Ayurvedic workout (find out more about Ayurveda here)
  • Watch one of the regular dance and music performances in the courtyard, or wander down to the beach which, though not great for swimming, runs a wonderful daily show called sunset
  • Play cricket with local kids on the oval outside the hotel then cool off with a dip in the courtyard pool

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Ayurvedic treatments
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Wine tasting
  • Yoga

Kids

This place is better suited to adults as it’s more of a sanctuary than a play area, although children are welcomed. Children below 5 stay free, though there is a charge for extra beds and cots if required. Babysitting is available on request.

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Extra Beds Available

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available by arrangement.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots are available on request for an additional charge.

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
7/
Food
7/
Service
6/
Value
7/
Overall

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