The Backwaters of Kerala – God’s Own Country By Fiona Sanderson

Fiona Sanderson traveled to the Backwaters in Kerala to check out the best hotels the region can offer….

1) Vivanta By Taj – Malabar, Cochin

Vivanta By Taj Poolside

After a long flight from Europe, The Vivanta By Taj Malabar Hotel in Cochin is the perfect starting point to introduce your senses to the sights and sounds of India. Situated on Willingdon Island with a view across Cochin Harbour, it is situated at the ‘gateway’ to the Southern State of Kerala – ‘God’s Own Country,’ as it is called. A blend of old-world opulence with all the latest, modern amenities and a contemporary designed Tower Wing with modern suites. The architecture and design follows this philosophy, such as in the rooms – classic design is interwoven with modern technology, including LCD screens, internet access and surround sound home theatre systems.

The Vivanta is all about work, rest and play, offering guests ample opportunity to do all three. We took afternoon tea in the sunshine with uninterrupted views overlooking the harbour. Although you are in the midst of a large city, the waterside transports you and your imagination to another time and era away from a bustling city life. Although we didn’t have time, you can take evening cocktails on board a boat to the exclusive Gundu island, just ten minutes away from the hotel.

Vivanta By Taj Pool

As we came down for dinner, we were greeted by the smell of incense wafting through the lobby and greeted by friendly hotel staff who offered us the various dining experiences which were on offer. From casual, all day type eaters to formal dining, we were spoilt for choice. We were tempted by the Rice Boat Restaurant – decor inspired by a traditional ‘kettuvalam’ rice boat with every kind of seafood you could imagine, but in the end were lured by the swaying lanterns and sea breeze on the bayside. Very romantic. Here we sampled a really delicious selection of BBQ meats and curried seafood grills.

The state of Kerala is known for its ‘ayurvedic’ massage, and The Jiva Spa at the Vivanta by Taj Malabar has an array of traditional Ayurveda and signature Indian treatments to really help you unwind and put you in the mood for the exotic sights and smells of Indian life.

Although we were only there for one night, this hotel is perfect as spot to stay for a few days and explore the multi-faceted culture and rich history. With friendly staff, comfortable suites and delicious food, we would highly recommend this hotel.

Vivanta By Taj – Malabar
Willingdon Island
Cochin – 682 009
Kerala, India
Tel: +91 484 664 3000 | Facsimile: +91 484 664 3182

2) The Park On Vembanad Lake

The Park On Vembanad Lake

The first thing that you notice upon arrival at The Park On Vembanad Lake is the vibrant sound of birds and the rustle of a warm breeze through the hotel’s palm trees.  Nestled in Kumarakon West on the shores of one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes, this hotel really is a tranquil and hidden gem from which you can explore Kerala’s magnificent backwaters. One of the longest lakes in India, it is famous for its scenic beauty and has become a major tourist attraction. It is home to more than 20,000 waterfowls in India – the third largest such population in India and the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the other side of the lake from the hotel. What better way to see the lake’s wildlife than on board the Park Hotel’s houseboat, with its deluxe cabins and private dining. Although more modern than the traditional-looking houseboats that you see all over the lake, we thought the Park Hotel houseboat would be our first choice for comfort and freedom to enjoy the sunset and be able to take photos from different angles of the waterside.

The Park On Vembanad Lake

We opted to sleep in one of the The Park’s ten luxury rooms which were decorated with traditional Indian craftsmanship, were very comfortable and in easy reach of the infinity pool – great for that early morning dip before breakfast.   We were particularly impressed with the cuisine at Hyacinth, the hotel’s lakeside restaurant which offered both local Kerala cuisine and international dishes.  If you like coconut, this is the place to try out their vegetarian curries and exotic blends of spices and sweet flavours.  Seafood cooking, with peanut and coconut based sauce, served with egg fried rice, was utterly delicious. Our fellow guests were also inspired by the choices on offer and were more than complimentary about their dining experiences.

Like the other luxury boutique hotels in India, the Park Hotel brand has retained its sophisticated edge of relaxed and simple understated luxury with great food.  We would certainly go back.

The Park On Vembanad lake
Mohamma Panchayat
Cheratala Taluk
Kerala 688525
Tel: +91 478 258 4430

3) Niraamaya – Surya Samudra, Kovalam

Surya Samudra

Surrounded by lush greenery, the 31 Niraamaya Surya Samudra heritage cottages in Kovalam are traditional Keralite homes, effortlessly blending time-honoured old world style with modern-day luxury. Situated on the side of a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea, these intricately crafted lodges have been built using centuries-old traditions, and all without a single nail.

Surya Samudra Pool

With a globally acclaimed spa on site, guests can enjoy relaxing therapies from a range of international disciplines, such as Thai massage, Asian reflexology, Western relaxation techniques, or Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healing system. The care and attention doesn’t end there, as the Spa’s doctor can ensure that the resort’s chefs prepare your meals individually tailored to your specific nutritional needs, ensuring you feel rejuvenated both inside and out. If you want to be a bit naughty, however, the resort’s bar offers spectacular views across the ocean. With a simple and luxurious comparison to one of the top hotels in the West Indies, this is definitely one of those choices that is hard to make. 

Surya Samudra, Kovalam
Pulinkudi, Mullur PO
Thiruvananthapuram 695 521
Kerala, India
Tel: +91 471 2267333 / +91 471 2480413
Fax: +91 471 2267124

4) Chittoor Kottaram Palace, Cochin

Arriving By Boat At Chittoor Kottaram

When you arrive by boat at Chittoor Kottaram, you feel as though you are being transported into another century. Situated just 34km from Cochin Airport, the former palace of Chittoor Kottaram is a hotel with just one master bedroom and two additional rooms. So with space for just a mere six guests, you feel like you and your companions are the only ones staying here, enjoying the seclusion of the private grounds. Chittoor Kottaram has been faithfully restored to its former regal glory, ensuring that you live like a king as authentically as possible. As this is Kerala, however, and the nobility who resided here were a slightly more austere breed than elsewhere, there is no lavish opulence. Despite being a former palace, Chittoor Kottaram eschews extravagance in favour of the simple refinement the kings of Kerala tended to like. You arrive barefoot by boat, just as Chittoor Kottaram’s former royal inhabitants would have done. Even the private dining house, with its simple decor, points only to the authenticity of its food and local cuisine prepared by your private cook.  We were spoiled with banana fritters laced with honey, homemade chutneys and rice dumplings. Arranged on banana leaves, we were given a selection of local vegetarian delicacies and curries with very distinct and utterly delicious flavours, which were apparently recipes from the royal household of Cochin. The whole experience here is based entirely on how the kings would have lived. The menu is strictly vegetarian, and whilst lunch is served on banana leaves, dinner is eaten from polished silver ware.

Chittoor Kottaram

As master of your own little kingdom, you dictate how you would like to spend your holiday – from boat trips across the backwaters, to music recitals, to martial arts demonstrations, to traditional Keralan massage provided by local therapists, you decide when and what you want to see.

They’re keen to stress that “if you’re open-minded enough to consider luxury as a feeling rather than a shiny object, you may be in for an experience of a kind you’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else.” We loved it.

CGH Earth Chittoor Kottaram Palace,
Chittoor Temple
Opp SDOA School
Chittor P.O – 682027
Kerala, India
Tel: 91-484-3011711, 3011712