In too many hotels in Asia, charm and comfort lose out to luxury. The foyers are either decorated with McChandeliers and stiff sofas imported from European capitals, or stuffed with antiques that, while evocative, are seldom welcoming. The Malabar House in Fort Cochin, a 16th century Portuguese trading post on India's southwest coast, is the rare exception that combines elegance, style and decadent comfort. It is the cashmere tracksuit of boutique hotels.
In terms of ambience, the 17-room renovated colonial villa occupies a position far removed from, say, the great heritage palace hotels of Rajasthan that usually come to mind when considering luxury travel in India. Located in the middle of a historical preservation zone, it faces India's oldest church, St. Francis, and just a few minutes' walk away are the old ramparts and iconic Chinese fishing nets that frame Cochin's harbor. Not that the hotel gives you any incentive to leave. Ayurvedic massages, a garden and pool, and private verandahs with comfortable lounge chairs make excursions to the old city seem excessively active. The telepathic staff materialize with cups of tea the moment the desire forms, yet they never seem to hover. Malabar Junction, the hotel's stellar seafood restaurant, serves a mix of Mediterranean dishes and some of the best examples of the distinctive Portuguese-Indian cuisine that is the soul of the region.
Each room is furnished with an eclectic combination of modern design, choice antiques and contemporary art. Flowers fill test-tube sconces on the walls, and Keralan princesses wink from wall paintings. The bathrooms are sumptuous and large with beautiful sunken bathtubs. Instead of the usual, chilly marble, their walls are painted in vibrant colors, with matching linens and great mirrors set in heavy carved frames. The Malabar House, as its name suggests, is less a boutique hotel than the home of a well-traveled aesthete boasting wit, warmth and an eye for whimsy.
by Aryn Baker
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