Stay the night: The Park Hotel, Kerala, India

Sarah Barrell discovers high style at the latest hotel to grace the shores of Lake Vembanad

Kerala's backwaters, a network of mangrove and rice paddy-fringed canals, rivers and estuaries, stretch hundreds of kilometres inland from the Malabar Coast and are anything but a backwater tourist destination. This green and pleasant land has become a forward-looking site for smart hotels in the past 10 years.

Yet none has been so pioneering, in style at least, as the newest address from India's design-conscious Park Hotel group, which opened earlier this year on the west shore of Lake Vembanad in the heart of the waterways. Here, the traditional aesthetic characterising Kerala's hotels (red-tiled roofs, wooden doors, colonial touches) is ousted in favour of a sophisticated style that manages to be slick and sharp while remaining sensitive to its rural setting.

And what a setting: a prime waterfront position on Vembanad Lake, India's longest body of water. The grounds, thick with seductively perfumed plants and flowers, have been gently landscaped around several pre-existing palms, crowned by an infinity pool, designed with sculptural nods to a traditional "snake boat", which appears to sail seamlessly into the lake. Surrounded by nothing but water and quiet villages, this is a real retreat. There's an ayurvedic-focused spa and yoga classes, but simply being here is an act of meditation, starting with the glorious sunrises over the lake, which brings even the most jetlagged guest into the day with a beatific smile.

The rooms

Along with 10 rooms (including two suites) facing the water, the hotel is unique in that it has its own modern riverboat, Apsara ("Water Sprite") a peripatetic, floating hotel with eight rooms, done out in the same rich, contemporary style, complete with a restaurant and open-air spa. There's lots of leather and suede throughout, in the furnishings and wall panels, coloured in hot pinks, tropical greens and saffron. Indian works of art (carvings, vases, contemporary paintings) have been dotted around by the wife of The Park group's owner. Abstract silhouettes of traditional Indian dancers are depicted in the cushions; cool, grey slate and creamy tiles line the floors. Bathroom products are ayurvedic, fragrant with herbs including neroli, basil and lemon zest.

The food and drink

Chef Sinu S Vijayan (formerly with the Taj hotels) goes out of his way to make sure you return from India rounder, happier, and healthier. Food is locally sourced (fish and giant freshwater prawns and crab from the lake; exotic jack fruits, okra, green lentils and coconut galore). Sinu delights in bringing out his kitchen kit to show you: huge pestle and mortar, special dosa (pancake) pans, a hand-wound iddiyappam (rice noodle maker). The latter produces fresh, sticky noodles that are served with fish cooked in the spicy coconut curry sauce that defines the best of Kerala's excellent cuisine. If Sinu S Vijayan ever needs a British visa, I've already put my hand up as his sponsor.

The extras

The spa, currently housed in two makeshift tents, is a bit rough and ready. A more permanent structure is coming soon. Not that I noticed the setting once the treatment started. My warm essential oil massage was surprisingly blissful, even in the heat of the afternoon, followed by Shirodhara, a mind-body therapy where warm oil is poured over the forehead, rhythmically back and forth, across the "third eye". An odd sensation to begin with but even on the hard, traditional wooden ayurveda bed I was knocked out within minutes, confirming that the treatment works for, among other things, insomnia. My hair benefitted from the hot oil, too.

The access

The five ground-floor rooms are wheelchair accessible, but the grounds are very uneven, with rough stone steps and tiered gardens.

The bill

Sarah Barrell travelled as a guest of Asia specialist, Trans Indus (020-8566 3739; transindus.co.uk), which can arrange packages and bespoke tours of Kerala. Doubles at The Park Hotel cost from £228 per night, room only.

The address

The Park Hotel, Puthenangadi, Muhamma Panchayat, Alappuzha, Cheratala Taluk, Cochin, Kerala 688525 India (00 91 478 2584430; theparkhotels.com).

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn