Shalimar Spice Garden

Thekkady, The Hill Country, India Book from IRs7,000

Reviewed by Yasmin Boland
Cross the wooden bridge into this aromatic mountain garden with stylish cottages, pool and Ayurvedic centre, and leave the world behind
Shalimar is a testament to love. No, we're not being soppy; the secluded mountain bungalows which make up this resort were designed by Maria Angela, an Italian, and her Indian partner, Shaji. Shalimar is a combination of their names and of their talents. When they first came here in 1996, it was nothing but an overgrown hillside, set 2500 feet above sea level. Now you walk across a wooden suspension bridge into 5 acres of cool, landscaped gardens, containing palm, spice and mango groves, an Ayurvedic centre, a large swimming pool and thatched cottages and rooms hidden deep in the woods.

Designed to offer you peace, pampering and privacy in natural surroundings, the accommodation is a charming mix of old and new, simplicity and stylish comfort. The décor is Malayalam in style, with wooden beams, wide verandas and clean white lines which wouldn't look out of place in a Western interiors magazine.

Since being taken over by the Amritara Group in 2007, the resort has become more luxurious as a whole, but the tranquil ambience is still the same. With a range of treatments and a choice of cosy fireside or breezy poolside lounges, you’ll find your cares simply melt away. Apart from being a lovely place to rest, you can also spot elephants and other wildlife in the nearby Periyar Wildlife Reserve.

Highs

  • The fresh mountain air is a cooling change from Kerala’s humid plains
  • The fragrant garden has a beautiful pool and a long wooden suspension bridge separating it from the outside world
  • The Western-style cottages combine comfort, privacy and elegance
  • The location is near the Periyar Reserve, one of the best places to observe Kerala's wildlife
  • There are many luxury touches: delicious ginger lime or hot cocoa as a welcome drink, a cool face towel on arrival, Ayurvedic bath products and courteous, attentive staff
  • Soulful Indian music wafts out from the main building

Lows

  • Mosquitoes can be a problem, although rooms are thoroughly fumigated every evening
  • You’ll probably have to travel at least 3 hours to get here
  • The sounds of temple ceremonies carry on the clear mountain air and can wake you as early as 5.30am
  • There's a 10% service charge for snacks and drinks served in your room, although bowls of fruit and bottles of water are provided free
  • The only safe for valuables is in reception

Best time to go

October to April is the optimum time, with temperatures between 15 and 30C. If you’re coming primarily for a course of Ayurvedic treatment and you’re not fussed about the weather, it’s quieter (and cheaper) outside these months, especially during the monsoon season of June to September. April to June can be very humid and if you plan to do any hiking you might want to avoid October, November and December, when the post-monsoon leeches can be a problem.

Our top tips

Make the most of the tranquillity and have an early night, particularly as the dawn temple music could well wake you at 5.30am. Periyar Wildlife Reserve tours or treks elsewhere tend to require early wake-ups too as they kick off around 7am, unless you choose to go late in the afternoon.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Honeymoon
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Resort
  • 16
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • Over 3s welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Of the 18 guest suites dotted around the gardens, 10 are standalone cottages and 8 are rooms arranged in units of 2 or 4. All have thatched elephant-grass roofs, ensuite bathrooms and private verandas (with divans and cushions for the cottages). In some cottages the double beds can convert to twins, so state your preference when booking.

The 8 rooms are simple but tastefully decorated, with colourful lamps and cushions, white walls, terracotta-tiled floors and wood panelling dividing the bedroom from a little corridor with a desk.

The cottages have flower and bamboo arrangements, individual colour schemes and mellow, atmospheric lighting throughout. Eight of them are roomier Elegant Cottages, complete with day beds on their verandas and coloured lights to guide you home. There are also 2 extra-secluded and petal-strewn Honeymoon Cottages, one at the bottom of the garden by the lily pond, the other hidden behind the swimming pool with a ladder to its loft bedroom.

Complimentary fruit bowls, water bottles, Ayurvedic bath products, bathrobes and slippers are all provided, with hairdryers available on request. None of the rooms or cottages are air-conditioned, but the mountain climate means nights stay cool throughout the year and heaters and extra blankets are provided.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Phone
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Meals are served as a buffet when more than 10 rooms are filled. Otherwise, they can be eaten in the semi open-air restaurant, at one of the stone tables in the garden, by the swimming pool or on your own veranda.

Breakfast can be fresh fruit, a continental spread of eggs, toast and jam or Indian dosas, uppumas, bhajis and parathas, washed down with locally-grown tea and coffee.

Lunch and dinner feature a tasty and light selection of fresh salads, vegetables, meat and fish marinades, grills and bakes. This includes a comprehensive range of local delicacies and North Indian favourites such as Meen Pollichathu (spicy fish wrapped in a banana leaf) and lots of chunky fish, chicken, mutton and paneer curries. During high season, Tandoori dishes using a range of fish, chicken and vegetables are also available. Pasta is another specialty thanks to Shalimar’s Italian co-creator, and our Arrabbiata accompanied by triangles of garlic toast was delicious, as was our super-spicy vegetable soup, fish curry and cardamom soufflé.

With the evenings being so cool – and very wet in the monsoon season – the restaurant is set behind glass walls around the main foyer, giving an intimate feel, with views over the whole property. Pre-dinner drinks are often taken around the fireplace in the lobby.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Indulge in a massage using natural Ayurvedic oils (find out more about Ayurveda here) - you can have treatments all day if you so wish
  • Practice yoga at one of the morning or evening classes (available by request)
  • Take a dip in the large swimming pool, secluded in a natural sunbowl at the top of a hill
  • Explore the 5 acres of woods and gardens and look out for birdlife, including ducks floating gently on the stream
  • Take a tour through nearby Periyar Wildlife Reserve (in Thekkady). One of India’s most beautiful, it has a lake at its centre and is home to elephants, macaques, sambar deer, langur apes, antelopes, Indian bison and wild boar. If you visit after dark, you may also spot a leopard or tiger

  • Stroll down to the local town, Kumily (5km away), and get an auto-rickshaw back up
  • Visit a nearby tea or spice plantation
  • Take a day trip to the forests and waterfalls of Cardamom Hills
  • Enjoy the wonderful mountain views on an organised hike (such as the Sabarimala pilgrimage) or car tour
  • When 10 or more rooms are full, you can watch traditional dance or music performances in the lobby or restaurant

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Ayurvedic treatments
    • Birdwatching
    • Hiking
    • Plantlife / flora
    • Private guided tours
    • Safaris
    • Traditional cultures
    • Trekking
    • Well being
    • Wildlife
    • Yoga
  • Kids

    There are no particular kids facilities here, but the setting is great and it's well located for Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and the nearby lake. Over 3s only.

    Those under 6 stay for free and those between the ages of 6 and 10 are charged half price when no extra bed is required and they’re sharing a room with their parents.

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Elegant Cottages and Elegant Rooms are your best bet: add an extra bed to either. If you have 2 children, you will need to book an extra room, and since the cottages are spaced throughout the resort, it might be best if you're bringing older children. All cottages and rooms have showers, not baths.

    Babysitting:

    Babysitting is available by arrangement

    Children's meals:

    There's a buffet-style set up with largely Indian food, but with pasta, soup and other non-Indian snacks too, so less adventurous kids are catered for

    Kids Activities on site:

    • Swimming pool
    • 5 acres of woods and gardens to explore
    • Spice groves and fruit trees

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • Visit Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, with elephants and activities aplenty
    • VIsit tea and spice plantations nearby
    • Go hiking in the hills - the resort arranges treks
    • Take a day trip to the Cardamom mountains

    Families Should Know:

    Mosquitoes can be a pest

    Distances:

    • Airport 4.5 hours
    • Medical facilities: 10 minutes
    Kid Friendly:

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