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A fiery sunset over a tiny canal surrounded by palm trees – definitely the stuff of dreams. Soon, the sky was alight with twinkling stars. We lay there, hand in hand, staring at the starry sky, not wanting to retire for the night. Such was our rendezvous with a houseboat in Kerala.
Once upon a fairytale – floating and gliding in the canals of Kerala on a canoe
Labyrinthine canals and backwaters, lush bougainvillea sprouting from every nook and corner, verdant spice plantations, hot scents arising from creamy coconut curries, ribbons of light playing with cascading waterfalls – all experiences that make you throw your arms up in wonder! When a state boasts of such luscious experiences, it’s only natural to look for hotels that amplify the experience. Run-of-the-mill luxury hotels just don’t make the cut.
On our trip to Kerala we wanted hotels to be experiences in themselves and boy did we luck out! We ended up finding bespoke retreats hidden in the middle of coffee farms, eco hotels accessible only by boat, and luxurious houseboats made for romantic getaways on Kerala’s backwaters. If you’ve read our itinerary for a road trip in Kerala, you would know we booked a couple of hotels independently while we discovered others on Plush Escapes, a website that curates experiential getaways in different parts of India. These curated properties turned out to be some of our favourite hotels (and experiences!) in Kerala. All these hotels had a distinct character, that revelled in paying homage to local cultures and traditions. No wonder we loved ’em. Here are 3 of our favourite hotels in Kerala:
Shalimar Spice Garden, Thekkady
Nestled in the midst of Kerala’s famous Cardamom Hills, lies this private hideaway. The hotel pays tribute to the rich heritage of Kerala and boasts of acres upon acres of spice plantations and coffee farms. But it does not compromise on creature comforts. Shalimar Spice Gardens boasts of rustic yet luxurious cottages, equipped with spacious bathrooms, organic toiletries, fast wifi, and sprawling balconies. The hotel’s pool boasts of a coffee bar overlooking lush spice plantations. Take a dip in the pool and relax in one of their bohemian crochet hammocks as you sip on some typical South Indian filter coffee. Go for a walk in their plantations which boast of several kinds of trees and shrubs – everything from avocado and papaya to gooseberry and nutmeg is on offer.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, head straight to the in-house restaurant. Now we ate at several hole-in-the-wall eateries and luxury hotels on our trip to Kerala, but we enjoyed the food at Shalimar Spice Garden the most! I don’t resort to hyperbole often, but I would call it finger-lickingly delicious! Try their Malabari Chicken salad – flash fried mustard seeds, curry leaves, shredded chicken, and julienned carrots are tossed together with a spicy dressing bursting with flavour. The spiciness is offset by slivers of juicy oranges.
But this is just the (scrumptious) tip of the iceberg. Try their appetising Meen Pollichathu (fish grilled in a banana leaf), decadent pepper chicken cooked with pepper procured from their plantation, crisp dosas (savoury crépes), or the delectable ulli theeyal (shallot curry). Wash it all down with masala chai , tea spices with herbs from their own plantations. One thing’s for sure – you’ll definitely leave Shalimar Spice Garden with a mini food baby.
Visit Shalimar Spice Garden for a tranquil getaway in Thekkady. The property screams character – right from the bridge at the entrance to the hammocks by the pool and the swing in the compound. You will not be disappointed.
Fact File – Shalimar Spice Garden, Thekkady
Shalimar Spice Garden is a perfect blend of modern luxury and tradition.
The drive to the hotel is smooth. However the last 5-10 minutes are on a well marked but bumpy road.
Enjoying the lush greenery and peace whilst enjoying fresh fruit
Cultural performances at the hotel
Perfect place to cosy up 🙂
Spice Coast Cruises
When it comes to travel experiences in Kerala, few can rival the feeling of gliding through Kerala’s backwaters on a decadent houseboat. Be careful while choosing a houseboat for yourself. Most of the larger houseboats can house upto 20 people. They lack character and resemble modern boats. Try to choose a small and traditional houseboat for an archetypal South Indian experience.
We chose a private one-bedroom boat by Spice Coast Cruises. Their traditional houseboat is a work of art. It is crafted out of locally-produced materials such as coir and cane. But that’s not all. It boasts of creature comforts such as comfortable beds, power sockets, fans, and even an air-conditioner. There is a private chef on board the board and all meals are tailored to the guests’ preferences.
We spent the entire day sprawled on the lounging deck absorbing the sights and sounds of rural Kerala. Delicious hours were spent floating past villages, duck farms, and bustling marketplaces. We nibbled on grilled seafood and sipped on freshly-squeezed juices as we watched the day metamorphose into evening in front of our eyes. A fiery sunset over a tiny canal surrounded by palm trees – definitely the stuff of dreams. But the magic didn’t stop there. Soon, the sky was alight with twinkling stars. We lay there, hand in hand, staring at the starry sky, not wanting to retire for the night. Such was our rendezvous with a houseboat in Kerala – a romantic escapade like no other!
Fact File – Spice Coast Cruises, Kumarakom
Spice Coast Cruises offers both one and two bedroom boats. We opted for the former.
Boats boast of a private chef, elaborate 3 course meals, and frequent snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. You can carry your own alcohol.
Power points, air conditioners, and fans are available on the boat.
Take a book along as you will be lounging for long periods of time on the boat.
People book houseboats for longer periods of time but we spent 1 night and 1 day on the boat and felt this was sufficient.
Lounging on our houseboat whilst floating past gorgeous scenery, bustling villages, and busy marketplaces
Playing captain for the evening 😉
Anchored for the night under a million stars. Sigh!
The amazing crew – Sanal, Raghu, and Siva – thanks guys 😀
Scrumptious lunch served with a view 🙂
CGH Earth – Coconut Lagoon
I’ve been penning an article titled ’10 of our favourite hotels around the world’ for a while now but I’m so glad I did not press publish before visiting this gorgeous hotel in the backwaters of Kerala. So many of our readers suggested Coconut Lagoon Resort to us that we had to check it our for ourselves on our trip to Kerala. We parked our car at Kumarakom Jetty and hopped on a boat. 10 minutes later we floated through the hotel entrance, into the reception, where we were greeted by a flute player and fresh green coconuts. Talk about arriving in style!
This gorgeous property is spread over 30 acres of bridges, backwaters, and canals and it doesn’t feel like a hotel at all. Its unique setting – in one of the prettiest areas of India – is probably what prompted Conde Nast Traveller to include it in the top 25 getaways in the world. All bungalows, rooms, and villas at Coconut Lagoon are well integrated into the idyllic village-style setting. We chose one of their romantic pool villas facing the famed backwaters of Kerala. The pool villas are located in the quietest section of the hotel and afford great privacy. Each spacious villa boasts of a hammock, a luxurious private plunge pool, and a balcony overlooking a lagoon. The best part? You can sleep to the sound of waves lapping up against the shore.
Our days at Coconut Lagoon were spent admiring its architecture, going for nature walks around the property, indulging in morning yoga, photographing colourful birds in the neighbouring bird sanctuary, and sampling holistic Ayurvedic treatments at their traditional spa. On our last afternoon there, we booked a canoe ride and went floating through sylvan canals on a canoe. We wound down by sipping on tea served by a lady who comes by on a traditional boat every evening. It was soon time to leave but we just did not want to pack our belongings. At the end of 3 nights, both of us said goodbye to Coconut Lagoon with great reluctance.
Mark my words – we will be back at Coconut Lagoon Resort for a week soon. You heard it here first 😉
Fact File – CGH Earth Coconut Lagoon, Kumarakom
CGH Earth Coconut Lagoon is one of the prettiest hotels we’ve ever stayed in (and we’ve stayed in a fair few hotels! 😉 ) and one of our favourite experiences on Plush Escapes.
The hotel offers a thoroughly experiential stay and you don’t even need to leave your room to experience the majestic backwaters of Kerala.
Don’t leave without sampling an Ayurvedic massage at the spa or a canoe ride in the vicinity of the hotel.