Tea Bungalow

Fort Cochin, Cochin & the Backwaters, India Book from

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
An island-like peninsula between Lake Vembanad and the Arabian Sea, Fort Cochin was once the centre of Kerala’s international spice trade. Arabic and Oriental traders rubbed shoulders with Jewish merchants; Dutch, Portuguese and British colonists added to the mix; and all made their mark here. On a wide boulevard nudging the ocean, among white-washed churches and back-street synagogues, the Tea Bungalow is part of that old-world legacy.

Built in 1912 as the offices of a British company trading in coir and spices, it was bought by Brooke Bond in the 1950s and used as a staff guesthouse for visiting managers. By the time it was sold again, some 50 years later, it was empty and semi-derelict. A 2-year restoration followed, and in 2009 it re-emerged as a small heritage hotel. Under low red-tiled roofs there's a wide veranda, with original French doors opening onto a walled garden shaded with banana, avocado and jack-fruit trees. Inside, the décor nods towards colonial imperialism (there is a picture of the Queen on the stairwell), but the airy rooms, luxury bathrooms and the glittering tiled pool are new-born 21st century.

Highs

  • The graceful old building (more mansion than bungalow) has been beautifully restored; it's a wonderful collision of historic and contemporary India
  • It's in a great location, in a quiet corner of the so-called Heritage Zone; it's an easy walk to the sea and a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from Mattancherry’s Jewtown
  • The accommodation is comfortable and stylish, particularly the large, lofty rooms in the original house
  • The contemporary bathrooms are very smart: all marble, glass, pebble tiles and monsoon showers (some have little forests of tropical plants)
  • There's a wide choice of dinner menus - both western and Indian - which will suit children and anyone wanting a change from curries

Lows

  • Some of the rooms open directly onto the restaurant, which might compromise privacy
  • For those who like to sleep in a dark room, the combination of thin blinds and outdoor night lights could irritate
  • There are only a few loungers around the pool, so get there early if you want to spend an afternoon sunbathing

Best time to go

Peak season is November to January when the weather is cooler. The temperature starts to rise in February and continues thus throughout the summer. Prices are cheaper during the monsoon (June to October) but heavy rains are accompanied by a steamy climate and high humidity.

Our top tips

Pack some heavy-duty insect repellent and, if necessary, ask for your room to be sprayed at sundown - Cochin is mosquito central, and the little blighters get into the best of hotel rooms.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
City Style
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 10
  • Restaurant (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
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

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.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Central heating
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Fireplace
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Phone
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

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.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Coffee tea making
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Climb aboard a tuk-tuk for a whirlwind tour of Cochin’s Heritage Zone, taking in the Bishop’s Palace and adjacent Indo-Portuguese museum (founded by the Gulbenkian Foundation), St Francis’s Church (the oldest in India) and Fort Cochin’s dhobi (where all the local laundry gets washed and ironed)
  • Other sites worth a visit are Mattancherry’s Jewtown district (once the heart of the spice trade, it’s now a bazaar of touristy shops, mostly selling antiques and textiles), the Jewish Cemetery and the decorative Paradesi Synagogue (founded in 1568, it’s the oldest in the Commonwealth)
  • The famous cantilevered Chinese fishing nets are worth a snoop, too (they're within walking distance of the hotel), but be prepared to share your photo opportunity with busloads of tourists and touts
  • Join the locals on an often-crowded public ferry from one of Fort Cochin’s boat stations (the nearest is the Customs Boat Jetty), to Ernakulam (for shopping), Bolghatty (for golf, picnics and an 18th-century palace), or to the southern tip of Vypeen (Vypin) island. The latter, a finger of land around 25km long, is best known for beautiful Cherai Beach, which lies at its northern end
  • Cruise the waterways: Cochin is the northern gateway to Kerala’s famous backwaters and a starting point for some of the cruises, which travel south down Vembanad Lake to Kottayam and Alleppey
  • Among a number of tailormade activities organised by the hotel, you can visit an elephant training centre to the north of Kochi, or have an Ayurvedic massage nearby

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Music
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Well being

Kids

Children are welcome, and extra beds and baby cots can be provided in the rooms. The western dishes on the menu will also appeal to kids.

Family friendly accommodation:

All rooms can fit an extra bed or baby cot, but we'd recommend the Heritage Premium rooms as these are more spacious.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

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

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