“A restored colonial villa, the former guesthouse of a British tea company, offering cool plantation-style rooms close to Old Cochin’s historic spice district”
There are 10 of them (of which 3 are twin bedded), all named after Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea ports (Malabar, Zanzibar, Mombasa, Mauritius, Cochin etc); 3 on the ground floor of the old building, 3 on the first floor and 4 more in a new 2-storey garden annexe designed to match the original house. They are all quite different, though they share a common look: light, uncluttered spaces, neutral décor with an antique colonial flavour (think turn-of-the-century plantation house), rich silk throws on white linen, and at least one wall of bold colour (forest green, olive, wine, cerise, ochre or terracotta). Contemporary art, model sailing ships, dark-wood furniture and rattan blinds complete the picture.
The rooms in the main house, called Heritage Premium, are larger, with higher ceilings and either marble or Malaysian wood floors. All the rooms in the garden annexe, categorised as Heritage Deluxe, are kingsize doubles. Most of the ground-floor rooms have a small garden, terrace or private access to the gardens; upstairs, only the suite-like Cochin (in the main house) and Calicut (in the garden annexe) have private outdoor space (the former a veranda, the later 2 small balconies).
All rooms are air-conditioned and furnished with flatscreen satellite TVs (with CNN, BBC World and HBO among other international stations), ceiling fans and tea and coffee-making facilities (including supplies of Tetley, Chamomile and Earl Grey). Hairdryers, cotton robes and slippers are also provided. On arrival, staff scent the rooms with lavender oil and bring bowls of fresh fruit.
The bathrooms are a special feature and come in 2 distinct styles: either large contemporary marble-tiled spaces with double-size glazed cubicles and rain or monsoon showers, or quirky indoor garden rooms, tiled with pebbles or glass mosaics and planted with beds of exotic shrubs. All are equipped with Ayurvedic Biotique toiletries, handmade sandalwood soap and handy dental and shaving kits.
The hotel’s airy, spacious Café du Mahe (named after Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, an 18th-century Governor of Mauritius), forms the heart of the building (some of the rooms even open onto the dining area). The décor is colonial planters’ club, the atmosphere is informal bistro and the food is a mix of Keralan, pan-Asian and continental (the chef has done stints in Italy and the UK).
During our visit the menu featured South Indian staples like fish and king prawn curries, a bit of classic Indian fare (aloo mutter, prawn masala and chappatis) and a curious hotch-potch of out-of-place European dishes (French onion soup, Caesar salad, fusilli carbonara, chicken schnitzel and beef stroganoff). But the menu changes every 10 days, and there are daily specials and themed evenings (like Thai nights with a guest Thai chef). Certainly it seems to be finding its feet: more recent guests have raved about the "melt-in-the-mouth fish" and the not-too-spicy pancakes "which the kids loved".
Breakfast, served in the restaurant or in the garden by the pool, consists of fresh fruit and juices, breads and pastries, and a choice of traditional south Indian dishes (such as dosas and idlis) or eggs to order.
If you want to eat out, old-town Cochin - a 10-minute taxi ride away - offers a number of good (or at least interesting) restaurants: Ginger in Mattancherry, for example; or Malabar Junction at the Malabar House hotel.