By Laurielle Penny
When we create a trip for Classical Pursuits, we pay attention to where you put your head down at the end of a day filled with amazing experiences.
I’m recently back from a trip to South India scoping out the hotels for Melanie Blake’s Temples, Traders & Tamarind: Culture & History in South India in February 2017. I stayed at two gorgeous heritage properties that you may never want to leave.
The Palais de Mahe in Pondicherry was designed with the approval of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage. While it’s a modern creation, it perfectly recreates the magic of the French period – simple elegance with French style at its best. Carefully curated and very personal, it’s an au courant take on French culture from its white and mustard façade to its elegant guestrooms.
It’s in a picture-perfect location a short amble from the seaside promenade on the Bay of Bengal and the heart of the French Quarter.
The rooms and public areas feature cool, airy high ceilings, traditional roof beams, electric fans, fuss-free elegance; the perfect mix of contemporary and period touches. There’s also a lap pool for a reviving dip.
Fusion cuisine is another highlight – there’s plenty of fresh fish, of course, and lots of light vegetarian dishes – served in the open-air rooftop restaurant.
Chettinad is the cultural home of the Chettiars, a community that dates back to the Chola period, and made its fortune as money lenders, merchants, and jewellers. Most Chettiars migrated to Sri Lanka, Singapore, Burma, Vietnam, and Malaysia in the 19th and 20th centuries. They sent back lavish fittings and furnishings for their ancestral homes. Thousands of these magnificent mansions still stand. Far from the tourist heart of India, 70 villages hide these incredible homes.
Visalam is one of these. This 80-year-old home in the village of Kanadukathan is now a restored heritage hotel with 15 rooms. The open central courtyard is flanked by tall pillars, intricately carved thresholds, heavy doors, and black and white marble tiled floors. The mix of architectural styles is delightful; Art Deco mixes with colonial mixes with traditional south Indian. All in all, much more home than hotel.
Guestrooms are huge and airy. Tiled floors and overhead fans keep the rooms cool (and there’s AC too if you need it). High antique beds are fitted with gorgeous fabrics. Colonial style furniture keeps the right feel. Bathrooms are blissfully modern.
There’s a lovely swimming pool for lolling away the quiet hours.
Ask the chef for a tour of the hotel’s organic garden where most of the vegetables for the kitchen are grown.
Chettinad cuisine is known for its flavourful and fiery cuisine, which the hotel tones down for us. Breakfast includes a nice choice of Western items as well as local fare: paniyaram (fried dumplings) eaten with chutney and idiyappam (string hoppers) with kosumalli (a local stew). Meals are served either in the cool of the dining room during the day or outside on the covered terrace.
Dinners are served in traditional style; my banana leaf is filled with dollops of the aromatic and perfectly spiced delicacies. I also enjoy Chettinad chicken, mixed vegetable kootu, drumstick sambar.
Village women are in the kitchen sharing their recipes with younger chefs. Every afternoon, I’m invited to watch a dish being prepared and learn a recipe.
While exploring the area, I also enjoyed moments of daily life. For example, the local market is a cornucopia of lush vegetables and fruits.
The tile workshops at Athangudi are reintroducing the turn of the last century tradition of handmade floor tiles; the clever use of colours and techniques creates stunning floor tiles in floral, geometric, and paisley patterns. The weaving centre in the village features cotton saris in various lengths and fabrics.
Has Tamil Nadu tantalized your senses? To book this Travel Pursuit, please submit our online form or contact Worldwide Quest directly at 1-800-387-1483.
Laurielle Penny is the director of Worldwide Quest, Classical Pursuits’ travel partner.