Southern India

Because I’ve always wanted to…

Issue 47 / January 2021

New Year, New Start!

At last it’s 2021 and we can all start looking forward to getting back to normal over the next few months. In these short, dark days how better to cheer oneself up than by starting to plan ahead for where you might go later this year. Of course, with all the current news about hotel quarantine for UK travellers on return from 30 or so countries optimism is hard to come by despite the fabulous vaccination programme which is underway. As always, I’m feeling optimistic and I’m here with the team to help inspire you in terms of destinations. I’m pleased to say that we have been working hard with all our trusted partners around the world to be able to offer you maximum flexibility in terms of booking ahead.

Want to go somewhere soon? One of the safest options at present is Costa Rica, the first in Latin America to start a vaccination programme, and it’s perfect weather-wise from now until October. You can see an example of a lovely trip to Costa Rica here.

In the meantime, for some true travel inspiration I would like to highlight some of the amazing places I visited in India during my last visit in late 2019. India never fails to fascinate in all its vibrant glory.

Even though I’d been there many times before, I was absolutely thrilled to find some extraordinary new places, and I also revisited some old favourites. You can view my itinerary here. Below I am featuring the first part of my one month trip; the second part, Rajasthan, will follow in another newsletter.
With our best wishes for a bright new world in 2021!

Laterally yours,

Kolkata: Glenburn Penthouse

Kolkata was somewhere I’d always wanted to visit but it had never slotted comfortably into one of my itineraries before.  It’s well worth including this fantastic city on any trip to India, especially if it’s a return trip.  Kolkata was the colonial capital of India before it moved to New Delhi in 1911 so it’s bursting with history from that era.  So much to do – take the ferry across the Hooghly River to Howrah Station, walk over Howrah Bridge to the buzzing Mullik Ghat flower market, visit the imposing Victoria Memorial, Mother Teresa’s house or just wander past the old Town Hall at Dalhousie Square.  Go while you can still see the iconic yellow Hindustan Ambassador taxis which are now out of production.  There’s only one place to stay in central Kolkata and that’s the superb Glenburn Penthouse, a sleek 9 bedroom luxurious boutique hotel on the top floors of an anonymous ‘80s tower block.  It was quite a surprise to find this gem once you emerge from the lift.  The Penthouse is a recent addition to the Glenburn Tea Estate portfolio and is exquisitely decorated throughout and totally sumptuous in every way.  The Bengali menu is delicious and you can enjoy a lovely cold beer on the terrace whilst looking down at a floodlit Victoria Monument.

Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu: Mantra Koodam

Flying from Kolkata to Tamil Nadu the next stop was this verdant area with a whole host of temples to explore and, just outside the charming village of Veppathur, the peaceful resort of Mantra Koodam.  The warm welcome was just the ticket after a long day’s travelling and it was most enjoyable exploring this small, friendly resort which has everything you want including an inviting pool.  Tamil Nadu is renowned for its wonderful food and the chefs at Mantra Koodam served up some outstanding traditional cuisine.

Kanadukathan, Chettinad region: Visalam/The Bangala

The Chettinad area of Tamil Nadu is really special; the Chettiars were a prosperous trading community centred in this area where they built elaborate outsized mansions.  Today some of these are in ruins having been abandoned due to family ownership disputes but happily others have found a new life as one-of-a-kind hotels.  Visalam is a wonderful example of this, a splendid house that KVAL Ramanathan Chettiar built for his eldest daughter, Visalakshi more than a century ago.  It has been beautifully and sympathetically restored and it’s a joy to stay in its barn-like rooms opening out on to the pretty garden.  There’s plenty of sightseeing in this area and the bullock cart tour is highly recommended!  Try and visit one of the intriguing Chettinar mansions still inhabited by a descendant of the original family if you can.  You can also stay at the attractive, family-owned Bangala which is famous for its top notch food and cookery classes.

Madurai: Rajakkad

Madurai’s most famous monument is the sky-high, multi-coloured Meenakshi temple.  Once you’ve seen it, rather than stay in the city, why not head up to this little piece of heaven in the depths of the lush forests up in the Palani Hills?  Rajakkad is a petite but perfect place to stay.  The 18th century wooden Palace building at its centre started life in Kerala and having been twice dismantled, twice transported and twice re-assembled by Jeremy Fry of chocolate fame is a living testimony to its wondrous construction..  This is a peaceful, magical spot where you can forget all about viruses and all the other troubles of the world.  Take a hike into the forest as dawn breaks with a guide who can spot the local birds, or enjoy a lovingly-prepared breakfast on the terrace overlooking the valley below.

Mysore: Royal Orchid Hotel Metropole

Mysore is a relatively small city with plenty of open space and greenery, less frantic than many in India.  It has an embarrassment of riches by way of attractions.  The main event must be magnificent Mysore Palace itself. Some 15 km from Mysore city, Srirangapatna island is vast and features various highlights of religious, cultural and historic importance mainly to do with the late ruler and warrior, Tipu Sultan. Tipu’s summer palace outside the town walls is unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else.  It is emblazoned with colourful and beautiful decoration inside and out.  Spend some time here and stay at the centrally-located Metropole for a mix of contemporary and heritage Indian style.

Wayanad & Coorg, Kerala: Amaryllis & School Estate homestays

Indian homestays are a great alternative to hotels.  You stay in the owners’ house and eat with them so you get an authentic taste of how people actually live.  Above is the stunning Amaryllis in Wayanad which looks out over magnificent backwaters jam-packed with birds and other wildlife which make for some rewarding hikes around the area.  A sunset gin and tonic in Victor’s well-stocked bar is a real treat!  School Estate in Coorg is a traditional property which is part of a coffee farm where you can walk around and enjoy the scenery and birdlife before tucking into some first class fare in the luxuriant and mature gardens.

North Kerala: Neeleshwar Hermitage/Lotus Houseboat

Neeleshwar Hermitage is not easy to get to but is so worth the journey as in my opinion it’s the best beach resort in India.  Imagine relaxing by this pool all morning with the occasional dip to cool down and a stroll out on to the miles of golden sand beach beyond.  If you’re lucky there’ll be a Theyyam on nearby, a highly colourful and theatrical ceremony which takes place regularly in Hindu temples (see the headline photo).  Neeleshwar also has its own luxury houseboat, the Lotus, which you can stay on during part of your time here.

Up Periscope: Sao Tome & Principe: Roca Belo Monte & Praia Sundy
Príncipe Island, the smaller of the twin islands which make up the nation state of São Tome & Príncipe, is a real hidden gem. It’s situated off the coast of Gabon in West Central Africa and is covered in dense, prime rainforest and surrounded by unspoilt golden sand beaches.

Stay on an atmospheric old cacao plantation up in the hills overlooking the sea and mountains at Roça Belo Monte and combine it with a few days at the wondrous and luxurious Sundy Praia.

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