The last time I visited Kovalam was about seventeen years ago. I had just moved to Bangalore and started work. My friends and I were discovering financial independence and learning to enjoy it. We traveled by train (second class) to Trivandrum and then took a seedy taxi to Kovalam. We stayed in a small hotel near the beach, ate banana pancakes and fruit salad on the beach, drank tall glasses of fruit cocktails, wore sarongs, took a catamaran ride and enjoyed an Archies comics style beach for the first time ever. Speaking for myself, the only beach I had seen before this had been the Marina at Madras with manga badrai and kadalai. A world apart. Anyway, Kovalam had been cool.
Now we are much older, hopefully somewhat wiser and definitely much more jaded. And Kovalam would surely have changed too. I had no idea what to expect. As things turned out, we didn’t really visit Kovalam at all.
We were staying at the Niraamaya Resorts, Surya Samudra which is a relais and chateaux property. From their website:
Established in 1954, Relais & Châteaux is an association of more than 550 landmark hotels and restaurants operated by independent innkeepers, chefs, and owners who share a passion for their businesses and a desire for authenticity in their relationships with their clientele.
Relais & Châteaux is established around the globe, from the Napa Valley vineyards and French Provence to the beaches of the Indian Ocean. It offers an introduction to a lifestyle inspired by local culture and a unique dip into human history.
Relais & Châteaux members have a driving desire to protect and promote the richness and diversity of the world’s cuisine and traditions of hospitality. They are committed to preserving local heritage and the environment, as encompassed in the Charter presented to UNESCO in November 2014.
It sounded wonderful and it was in fact beautiful. They have built cottages in the style of traditional Kerala bungalows. They have lovely nature bathrooms with trees (and lizards of course) and have reused coconut shells to make everything from dessert cups to bunds for raised beds to water pails. I have spoken before of how I love old restored old furniture and artifacts. Surya Samudra has salvaged sculptures and structures from a demolished temple and used them to decorate their property.
Not that it needs that much decoration because the location is simply beautiful. The terrain is not really suited to small children since it is on a hill and there’s a lot of up and down. My boys were not able to play much cricket which was a great disappointment to them.
The sea in these parts is fierce and our beach facing room got the whole sound effects. All night long the waves would roar and crash. It was frightening but also soothing in a fatalistic sort of way. It hardly seemed believable that the same sea turned so magically serene in the afternoons. I would watch the eagles soaring and dipping and drifting at lunch every day. I suppose they were hunting crabs all the while but the lunchtime music and gentle all day breeze put a totally different spin on it.
The rooms themselves are well appointed and beautiful. The beach cottages are all traditional Kerala architecture and simply lovely. The rock garden rooms on the other hand are large and modern and more suitable to families with children needing extra beds.
As you might have guessed from all the hotel-centric descriptions, we did not get out much. The very day after we arrived, news of the Nipah virus outbreak reached us. Even though the district in Kerala at the center of the outbreak was at least as far from Kovalam as from Bangalore, we were traveling with children and with a 90% mortality rate could afford to take no chances. Except for one day outing to Poovar Island, we stayed put at the resort and spent our time playing dumb charades, card games, cricket (losing the ball every now and then and having to clamber up and down) and lots of chatting. I was meeting my baby nephew for the first time. Our days were gently occupied.
The food was nice but what we got at the Niraamaya in Thekkady tasted better. Sacrilege to say this about such a property but true all the same. The staff however were super friendly and their hospitality made up for everything else.
I cannot say much about Kovalam based on this trip but the Surya Samudra is a lovely resort, picturesque with one of the most photogenic yoga pavillions I have ever seen!