Tuesday, June 09, 2015

'Neemrana' Fort Kochi – An Interesting Tale Of 'Twin Hotels'

HOTEL REVIEW: During my visit to Fort Kochi last month, I stayed in 16th and 17th century bungalows that also hosted the likes of Vasco da Gama, governers of Portugese and Dutch administration, a French Admiral and a British Major.

About a month ago, universe conspired that I should take a holiday in Fort Kochi. I had scheduled a work-related visit to Cochin and my air tickets were all booked. Just as the dates approached–I still hadn’t planned my accommodation–I was invited by Neemrana to visit and experience their two non-hotel hotels in Fort Kochi. And two days before departure, all my work commitments in Kochi were cancelled, enabling me to enjoy an undisturbed beach-side holiday.

My first day at Fort Kochi was spent at Le Colonial, a 16th century bungalow that has witnessed much of Kochi’s recorded history. It was established as the governor’s residence when the then small fishing village was gifted by Raja of Kochi to the Portuguese. 

It continued to serve the same purpose more than a century later, even after the area came under Dutch control . Fort Kochi changed hands again and came under British rule another one-and-a-half centuries later, in the last decade of 18th century, and remained in their hands until the day of independence.

Now a boutique hotel since it last changed hands into Neemrana, Le Colonial has just seven rooms carefully decorated to reflect the days of it’s past. The rooms aren’t numbered, but named after personalities associated with the building. My room was named after Mahe de la Bourdonnais, who happened to spend a night here on his way from Pondicherry to Mahe.

Even today, after five hundred years and morphing from a governer’s residence to a boutique hotel, the bungalow reflects its past of a royal residence. The lobby, passages and the halls are filled with paintings that tell a stories of the past. The generous use of wood in the decor helps maintain a sense of past.

The welcome at the hotel is very personal. You do not walk in to a front-desk manned by someone with a business-like smile and present your reservation slip. The manager, Smita, met me on arrival and we had long conversations over lunch about Fort Kochi, the place and its past and all things about travel beyond borders. 

I was treated more like a house-guest at Le Colonial than yet another customer who stays for a night. Reading the guestbook and online reviews reiterated this feel, also echoed by Smita who said, ‘we try to keep this like home without too much formalities’. The staff are unobtrusive and yet attentive enough to understand what you may need.

The rooms and the common area are slick and flawless, but it’s the homely feel that makes the hotel appealing. The place doesn’t have a full-time restaurant, but you can suggest your preferences and the staff will be happy to cook your meal accordingly. The swimming pool is small that can at-best be used as a place to beat the Kochi’s generally warm weather, not for a game of water polo. 

The lobby, though not large for a hotel, is spacious and grand. If you are travelling with family and love heritage or history, enjoy looking up a large collection of paintings that tell stories from the past, prefer a quite and private place with ambiance fit for ranks, Le Colonial might be just what you want. The quietness of the place suited me well, and vicinity to the beach meant that I could spend a leisurely evening strolling along the shore and watching the setting sun.

The next day, I shifted to ‘The Tower House‘, another Neemrana Hotel just five minutes walk from Le Colonial. I perhaps carried the impressions of Le Colonial with me, but this place is be much different in its character. Tower House too has a long history and is a renovated heritage property, now owned by the 150 year old Peirce Lesley India Ltd and managed by Neemrana. 

The history of the building did not appear as documented as the Le Colonial, except that it is located at a place that once had a lighthouse. The property manager showed me an old Peirce Leslie poster hung in the office, which may not have any association with the building.

Among a large number of heritage hotels in Fort Kochi, The Tower House is one of the handful properties facing the sea and the famous line of Chinese fishing nets near the Vasco Da Gama Square. The building has plenty of open-spaces, with its large lobby, well-stocked library and seating spaces, all of which are dominated by colonial-style high-ceiling interiors that speaks of affluence of the past, although today’s decor is simple and functional. 

The rooms too are large with plenty of walk-around space. My room’s layout was very non-standard and appeared to be a large first-floor balcony that is now converted into a room by covering it with French windows on two sides. The result is a room that has a long array of curtains and plenty of light when you want it.

Unlike Le Colonial, which has a homely feel, The Tower House feels more professionally run, where the service is on a need-basis and unobtrusive and no one really chats up with the guests beyond essential. The property has a relatively large swimming pool that allows for some indulgence. For a 13 room property, the restaurant deserve to have a larger menu and better service. 

But staying at Fort Kochi, you are already spoilt with choices to eat. The spacious interiors, well-stocked library, reading room and an unhurried simple decor make it suitable for travellers who are looking for a longer stay with reasonable comfort. It is also priced well below Le Colonial.

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