In the second part of a spotlight on Kerala, Lucy Self reviews Kovalam beach resort, The Leela.
Those with pockets deep enough to stay at The Leela are lucky sods. The five star resort overlooking the Indian beachside hang out of Kovalam really does tick every box for an idyllic break. Service so sincere you’ll think you’ve made friends for life of the pool staff. An elegant reception area of dark wood beams, elegant cream pillars and sunken seating softened with plump silk cushions and bowls of vibrant flowers that instantly soothes that frazzled, travelling soul. Amenities – a two spas, two infinity pools, various restaurants and bars, tennis courts and a private stretch of bright white sand – coming out of its immaculately finished ears. And, to put the perfectly glazed cherry on top, some of the best food we tried in Kerala.
From the moment our taxi climbed the plantation-esque lawn-flanked driveway to our final cocktail at the The Sky Bar (an alfresco drinking spot perched on the cliff top where guests gather to quaff martinis and watch the sun set), The Leela pulled off that elusive trick of working hard but appearing to be hardly working.
Though it certainly never feels over subscribed, The Leela boasts 183 rooms – all of which are finished with a mix of modernity expected from this kind of hotel the world over, and the Asian ability to be both chic and concise. Dotted about the cliff top, its accommodation comes in many forms – slick doubles with cleverly proportioned bathrooms and ocean-peering balconies; pretty cottage style rooms close to the beach; and a few gigantic suites for those that can afford them (these are popular with high profile guests, the manager proudly tells us, but refuses to divulge any further).
Though price and size obvious varies wildly (particularly from season to season), the quality of the finish doesn’t seem to. Each room we managed to nose in, having crisp white beds of high cotton count, gleaming wood floors and all the usual facilities you’d expect when hitting that five star mark.
Holidays to India are not about staying in your room, which is just as well as The Leela sits on a particularly stunning part of Kerala’s southern coast. A pristine road, cut out of the cliff face takes sun-worshippers down to the private beach. The raised yoga studio stares out into the deep blue beyond. And most of the restaurants remain open plan (or with huge, retreating doors), making it impossible to ignore the beauty of the surrounding Arabian Sea.
Food is another highlight. And one of our most memorable meals was a poolside lunch at The Terrace, The Leela’s casual but charming restaurant. As with many International hotels, all palates are catered for, but best are the Keralan dishes created by Executive Chef, Vijayan Parakkal. Having spent much of our time in Kerala delighting in its cuisine, Parakkal’s skill in elevating everyday foods into masterful culinary examples of his culture was as obvious as it was impressive.
First hot rounds of paratha with all the naughtiness and butter-puffed flake of a croissant. Then neat little green parcels of Pollichathu (fat fillets of sea bass steamed in banana leaves on a bed of ginger and chilli) eaten with sunny strands of saffron rice. Blasts of sharpness from bright batons of pickled vegetable and a lip-pursing curry of cucumber and raw mango, gave way to a mellow stew of green beans and coconut. Crisp discs of sweet potato golden with cumin dipped in punchy dots of green chilli chutney until our mouths gave way to fire.
For all its obvious charms, it is The Leela’s charm and ability to put its guests at ease that have made it so enduringly popular – especially when it comes to that all-important question of relaxation. India might be a magical place, but it can also be loud, brash and insensitive – so this classic Kovalam retreat is the perfect anecdote. And after a few days indulging in morning Ayurvadic massages, mid-afternoon beach ambling, early evening Cliffside cocktails and sea-fresh fish cooked in a world-class kitchen – it will seem like the best value hotel in the world.
For more information visit theleela.com