Rajakkad Estate

near Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, India Book from

Reviewed by Kate Darnton
Perched on a hilltop in central Tamil Nadu, surrounded by forest, this peaceful retreat is a nature lover’s paradise
As your car winds its way slowly up the steep slopes of the Palani Hills, leaving the hot, flat valley of central Tamil Nadu behind, the air cools and the population thins. Forests envelop you. There are hardly any people, no signs. Finally, 1,000m up, you reach Rajakkad, and let out a sigh of relief. The grand, 18th-century Keralan-style house seems to glow in the evening light. It feels less like a hotel than the carefully curated home of a very cultured friend. Antiques from Pondicherry mingle with mid-century modern furniture and funky light fixtures, brought all the way from Paris and Japan. There is a lovely library and 3 open-air courtyards surrounded by seating, dining, and writing nooks. Rather than windows, the 7 bedrooms have sliding outer walls. We slept with ours wide open, waking to birdsong and a jaw-dropping view of distant mountains.

You come to Rajakkad Estate for the great outdoors; there are 60 acres of farm, forests and plantations, criss-crossed with hiking trails and stunning views. We visited the farm's animals, lolled in hammocks, and lunched in the landscaped gardens, surrounded by coffee and citrus trees. During our afternoon hike, our congenial guide stopped every 10 minutes to skin cinnamon bark from a tree, hack open a jack fruit, or point out monkeys swinging through the canopy. Unforgettable.

Highs

  • Fresh, cool air, star-filled skies, and only the sounds of birdsong; sweet relief from the heat and chaos of Madurai and Tiruchirappalli
  • Genuinely eco-friendly and a unique architectural experience: the 18th-century house was moved from its original Keralan home in 26,000 pieces, then jig-sawed back together on site
  • Rates include all meals and the food is excellent, largely sourced from the estate
  • Fascinating, guided walks through the surrounding forest, along rocky cliffs, past waterfalls or through local villages - and it's a birdwatcher’s paradise with Golden Oriole and Fairy Bluebirds
  • A good option for single travellers, thanks to the sociable house-party atmosphere

Lows

  • Remote (but that's the point): a 2-hour drive from Madurai Airport
  • This is a quiet nature retreat - there’s little to do besides hiking, reading, eating and relaxing, and there's no swimming pool
  • No mod cons in the rooms, and while it’s too mountain-cool for mosquitoes, you are surrounded by nature, so may encounter creepy-crawlies in your bathroom
  • Dinners are a communal affair unless you ask for a private meal, and the menu is pre-set (changes daily)
  • Voices travel at night

Best time to go

Situated at an elevation of 1,000m and surrounded by forest, Rajakkad is blessed with a consistently cool and refreshing climate; there is no bad time to visit. The same cannot be said of the valley below; inner Tamil Nadu gets scorching hot in summer (April-June). The hotel is open all year round.

Our top tips

We arrived at Rajakkad via Madurai, where we joined throngs of pilgrims at the jaw-dropping Menakshi temple - an experience not to be missed. From Rajakkad, we travelled on to the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, a fascinating cluster of villages crammed with crumbling mansions built by wealthy Chettiar merchants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our final stop before flying out of Trichy (Tiruchirappalli): the magnificent Chola temple complex at Thanjavore, a Unesco World Heritage site - and deservedly so.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Rural Hotel
  • 7
  • Full Board
  • All ages welcome; best for older kids
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

Rajakkad’s 7 simple bedrooms fan off the main courtyard. While the largest 2 (Deluxes) are slightly more expensive, even the smallest room felt open and airy to us, so don't feel you need to upgrade.

Bright white ceilings and walls contrast with ebony tadelakt floors, and both are set off by bold splashes of bright colour - a candy-cane lampshade here, a funky floral throw there. In our Standard room, a red and blue Rietveld chair anchored one corner. These colourful touches lend the rooms a fanciful twist, as does the unusual lighting. We loved the star-shaped paper lanterns hanging in the corners, as well as the clever pin-dot LED lighting that lined the bathrooms, giving them a soft, Christmas-tree glow.

Unusual art graces the bedroom walls. We had a Cecil Beaton painting in our bedroom as well as 2 kitschy collages of Indian gods, picked up in an antiques store in New Delhi. Handsome carpets come from Samarkand. All together, it’s an eclectic look, but one that works.

Most importantly, mattresses are thick, pillows plush, and linens finely woven, ensuring each guest a restful night’s sleep. Ensuite shower bathrooms are nice and there are cotton bathrobes, though no toiletries. In the morning, slide open your exterior wall and step straight out into Rajakkad’s magnificent garden, a magical way to start your day.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer (on request)
  • Internet access
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

All meals are included in the room rate. Rajakkad serves mainly South Indian food, as well as some Mediterranean-inspired dishes, and ingredients are sourced locally when possible - preferably from its own farm and garden. (The hotel’s goal is to eventually source 80% of its ingredients from its estate.) Fixed-menu evening meals are served at a communal table, but ask for a private table if you prefer. We particularly enjoyed our silky pumpkin soup and the green bean salad with coconut shavings and black mustard seeds that followed. Fresh curry leaves, plucked right outside the kitchen door, adorned many of the delectable offerings. Note that meals include fish and meat, but can be adapted to vegetarian on request.

Breakfast was a sheer delight. Pick a favourite spot - under the shade of a towering palm tree or out on the lawn, in the sunshine - then sit back as plate upon plate of South Indian specialities (idlis and dosas with spicy sambar and chutneys) or eggs, cooked to perfection, stream from the kitchen. Oranges and sweet limes were picked from the estate’s trees, then fresh-pressed for us. Coffee came from beans at the neighbouring plantation. The delicious yoghurt, as well as jams and pickles, were all made on site.

Lunch was light: a fresh tomato salad, straight from the garden, partnered with a buttery quiche. We were offered homemade cakes - lemon sponge and fresh walnut - as dessert. And after our long afternoon hike, we found Rajakkad’s signature snack - generous bowls of knotted, fried onions, spiced with fresh green chilies - irresistible.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Beer and wine available on request
  • Children meals
  • Organic produce
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Hike in the surrounding forest, marvelling as your guide points out the wild animals (monkeys, giant squirrels, maybe even bison), clambers up trees to retrieve snacking fruits (jack fruit, oranges, limes), and introduces you to local spices (cinnamon, cloves, curry leaves, peppercorns)
  • Install yourself on a comfy garden lounger, then scan the skies for the huge number of migratory and indigenous birds, including Golden Oriole, Fairy Bluebirds and Kingfishers
  • Pluck a book from the extensive collection in the library then slip into a hammock for a lazy afternoon’s read
  • Visit a nearby coffee plantation and learn about the coffee-making process from bean to brew
  • Ask charming manager Robesh to organise you a day trip to Madurai to visit the awesome Menakshi temple complex - one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in all of India (2 hours each way)
  • Take a day or overnight trip to the charming hill station of Kodaikanal. There's a beautiful lake, waterfalls, pine forests, caves and a solar observatory

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife

Kids

An oasis of quiet elegance in the Tamil Nadu hinterland, Rajakkad may not seem the most kid-friendly place at first glance; the drive is steep and winding (not fun for tummies prone to car sickness) and once you get there, what are little ones to do? Lots, it turns out. Our daughters petted new-born calves and hugged wriggling baby goats tight to their chests. They plucked peppercorns straight from the vine and tropical fruits from the trees. They chased giant squirrels and marvelled at monkeys. They even harvested coffee, learning how it is made into the dark brew their parents are so addicted to. They hiked trails and listened for birdsong. And in the evenings, their energy finally spent from hours and hours in the great outdoors, they snuggled up on couches with Uno and Scrabble, kindly provided by the hotel.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Standard rooms can fit 1 mattress on the floor; Deluxe rooms can fit 2 mattresses on the floor.

Children's meals:

While dinner was served on the late side, the chef cooked up separate, kid-friendly food for his younger guests. It was yummy and healthy to boot: roast chicken with mashed potatoes flecked with veggies, and pasta with garden-fresh tomato sauce.

Families Should Know:

With its uneven surfaces, steps and unfenced pools of water, Rajakkad is not very toddler-friendly.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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