Stay the night: Marari Beach Resort, Kerala
Laze in the sun all day, then learn how to make a cracking curry. That's what Sarah Barrell did
Sunday 06 February 2011
Open on three sides to a headily perfumed vegetable garden and topped by a neat palm thatch, the "kitchen" at Marari Beach Resort provides a sublime setting for its newly launched cooking classes.
Marari is located on the beach, 60 miles from Cochin in Kerala, and cooks aren't put through their culinary paces until sandy pleasures are done for the day. We tour the vegetable garden at dusk, harvesting freakishly shaped veggies, such as snake gourd, and find 25 different types of aubergine, none the colour you'd imagine. That hue is found in a crop of spinach instead. This three-acre garden even has a little rice paddy.
There's a strong focus on conservation at Marari. The garden is organic, and across the hotel, rainwater is collected, water is solar-heated and plastic is avoided. The Malabar Coast, where the Arabian Sea meets the Indian Ocean, is rich in sea life: blue crabs and fat mussels, giant prawns, lobster, shark and baby octopus. Add to these fishy varieties Kerala's exquisite spices – notably pepper, cardamom and ginger – plus tropical limes and coconuts and you have the recipe for a cracking curry.
And that's exactly what we make: snake gourd with coconut, ginger and chilli; finely shredded cabbage with cumin, ginger and curry leaves; a supremely refreshing spinach and papaya soup; plus a delicate reef cod cooked in mint and banana leaves. We dine by candlelight, on the counter top where we prepared the food; it's one of the most memorable meals I've ever eaten.
Modelled to mirror Mararikulam, the local fishing village, the resort's 52 thatched Garden Villas, Pool Villas and Deluxe Pool Villas are spread across 55 acres of gently landscaped grounds. No trees were felled for its construction, which was done with local wood, tile and stone. The villas are connected by pathways that wind between thickets of trees and lotus ponds, down to the coconut grove that shades the edge of a pristine, white-sand beach. Each villa is allocated its own stand of palm trees, with sunbeds and hammocks. All the rooms have air-conditioning, ceiling fans and seductive indoor/outdoor bathrooms.
The food and drink
The main restaurant serves richly spiced fish curries, cooked in wood ovens, eaten with a traditional "fisherman's spoon" – a Jack Fruit leaf. Good but not as tasty as the ones we cooked. Hearty buffet breakfasts are also served in this cane-weave traditional Malayalam building. The Beach Grill cooks superb lobster, eaten with the sound of surf pounding just beyond the palm grove. The resort's pagoda-like bar does one of the best fresh ginger-lime-sodas I have ever tasted anywhere in Kerala. Mid-afternoon, the village's bell-tinkling chai cart arrives for an impressive display of "metre long tea" pouring.
A huge range of Ayurvedic programmes is led by the resident doctor at the traditional clinic-like spa. Medicinal potions are magicked out of roots and leaves grown on site, beautifully displayed in glass jars on polished wooden shelves. The sunrise hatha yoga lessons are authentic, excellent and free. Tennis courts and beach volleyball are also offered. On the terrace of the Club House (home to the resort's only TV, free WiFi and a library), I sat out one of the region's not irregular power cuts, watching a fierce electrical storm bend and strobe light the treetops. The lovely stone swimming pool (which sadly heats up like a curry pot by mid morning), is attended by the cheekiest crows I have ever encountered. Expect to have to defend your sunbed.
The grounds are large but flat. Villas have step access, as does the main restaurant. One room has been adapted for guests with disabilities.
Transindus (020-8566 3739; transindus.co.uk) offers a nine-day trip to Marari, including B&B, sightseeing tours, backwater excursions, transfers and return flights from £1,395 per person.
Marari Beach Resort, Mararikulam, Alleppey (Alappuzha) 688 549, Kerala, India (00 91 484 3011711; cghearth.com).
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