Solange Hando discovers a lush heritage resort nestling among the palm groves and waterways of South India.
Step out on the private jetty and there it is, a tropical paradise accessed only by boat near Vembanad, one of India’s largest lakes. The brand is CGH, ‘clean, green, healthy’, where strict eco-friendly credentials preserve the natural world, the local community and culture. Exciting and sustainable, this is a unique ‘Earth Experience’ adding it own delights to a relaxing holiday.
Sip your welcome drink of sweet coconut water, listen to the traditional flute and as you stroll to your abode through landscaped village-like grounds, it feels almost like a dream. There are dainty footbridges and emerald streams, hammocks here and there and flowers and trees draped in beautiful orchids. In this enchanting Kumarakom Cove, 27 bungalows, 14 mansions and 8 villas with pools beckon through the greenery, all different but sharing features rescued from the past. From abandoned manors to derelict farmhouses, remnants from all around were brought to the site, reassembled and integrated into the new buildings to showcase the ancestral Tharavadu style. Wood without nails, ornate lockers, carvings and pillars, terracotta tiles, this is a work of art.
Likewise in the spacious rooms, original artefacts blend with new elements crafted in a similar way and in the former coconut plantation, the spirit of Kerala lives on. But expect the usual 4-star amenities, free WiFi, TV, air con., tea-coffee making facilities though most talked about are the shower rooms with a partly open roof where you can gaze at the stars. Mine had a banana tree climbing through the gap.
Food? Among multiple options, Kerala cuisine is the star, lovingly produced with lashings of coconut and fresh ingredients from organic allotments. There’s plenty of seafood and fish, such as the Karimeen – the glistening ‘backwaters’ pearl’-, jumbo prawns, lobster and more and the popular Kerala fish curry served with tapioca and crushed bird’s eye chilli. Food may be served on banana leaves and if you’d like to know more about the cuisine, there are cooking demonstrations.
The resort has two open-sided restaurants, the serene dignified Aymanam and the rustic Ettukettu offering a range of Indian cuisine or you could try the catch of the day sizzling in the garden on the Vembanad Grill. Then look out for the ‘floating tea shop’ when a village lady paddles her trade through the trees and time seems to stand still. Later you could have a signature cocktail in the Heron’s Pond Bar but for a special celebration, dine out in the rice fields, in a traditional hut lit up by the moon.
When it comes to exercise, check out the fitness room, join a yoga class or cool off (that’s guaranteed) in the lavish freeform pool. Or treat yourself to an Ayurveda massage or other ritual or perhaps meditate in the sacred grove dedicated to nature. Learn about creative crafts, browse the boutique for souvenirs and gifts, especially textiles, and watch the traditional show, music and dance, in the early evening. Staff from the villages are delighted to share their vibrant culture with the guests. The lane beyond the hotel takes you to the nearest village, quiet colourful houses, spotlessly clean, men building a boat, ladies scrubbing laundry at the waterside or inviting you for a cup of tea. See the impressive temple on the square, avoid intruding, just take pictures of the Hindu paintings outside, dazzling you in all shades of green, orange and gold.
Back in the grounds, there’s more to do. Did you spot a small cow or two grazing around? This is Vechur, a rare indigenous breed protected by Coconut Lagoon alongside its gorgeous butterfly garden. There, around water features, flowers and plants, the lovely ‘blue tigers’ and others flutter among damsel and dragonflies. Birdwatching is also popular -over 560 species in Kerala- and you’re sure to spot a darter or ‘snake bird’, long neck and big wings, now safe in increasing numbers.
The Nature Club will tell you all about the lake’s biodiversity while resident botanists help you explore the grounds. There are trips on the lake or in the quiet maze of surrounding canals, past sleepy villages fringed in floating hyacinths. On your last evening, relax on the sunset cruise, a magical moment when palms sway in a gentle breeze and water and sky melt in amazing colours.
Tell me more about Coconut Lagoon in Kerala
Coconut Lagoon, Kottayam – Kumarakom Rd, Kavanattinkara, Kumarakom, Kerala 686563, India
Getting to Kerala
Air India direct flight London to Kochi, from £623 airport to hotel, 47 miles, transfer can be arranged (chargeable)
E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: +91 481 252 8200
Double room from £96 (at the time of writing)