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Hillside haven

MADIKERI

 

The spectacular pool in the reception building, located a level below the lobby, offers a matching view of the surrounding Coorgi countryside
The spectacular pool in the reception building, located a level below the lobby, offers a matching view of the surrounding Coorgi countryside

Wow. That’s usually the most often used word first by anyone entering the Vivanta by Taj at Coorg. Or superb. Or stunning. Or sensational. Or simply a silence. You get the drift.

It’s not their fault. As any visitor can testify, that view has few parallels, helped by the fact that there are few places as beautiful as Coorg. Think of all the clichés – rolling hills, misty mountains, lush rainforests, verdant valleys, birdsong dawns, quiet getaways, and Coorg ticks every one of them.

Combined with the best of amenities and service, no surprises then that Taj’s ambitious new Rs 150-crore, 180-acre property looks to set new benchmarks for luxury resorts in the country.

Nestled deep in Coorg’s hills and forests at a height of about 4,000 feet, the Vivanta by Taj Madikeri brings a new level of luxury hospitality to the area. The vast property actually includes hills and fields within its expanse, and has just 56 villas or rooms – which means solitude is a default setting here. Every villa, situated on slopes, has a view, and the exterior architecture follows the local pattern of solid platform base, seen best at the fort in Madikeri.

The slopes mean that unless you want to get tired and / or lost, you have to use, or rather be driven in the golf carts, which zoom around all day, carting guests in every direction, the only downer here as you could have to wait on busy days. Even the GM Krishan Kant may possibly drive you! Passionate about the property, he points out the must dos in the resort.

The rooms are spacious, and start from the 850 square feet superior charm room to the exquisite 1,400 square feet premium indulgence room. For a lifetime’s memory try the 3,000 square feet luxury bliss villa, which comes with a plunge pool and balcony. The 9,000 square feet presidential villa is just wicked – do you want to get lost? The touch of Pramod Ranjan, Non-Executive Director, Oriental Hotels, whose dream project this has been, is evident in the smallest of details across the hotel. The furniture is dominated with clean lines, the baths are extravagant, and the lighting perfect, right down to the fish trap inspired lamps. Did I mention the fireplace? Yes, every room has one, for apparently winters are cold. Could this get more perfect!

Being green is a way of life here – right from the way villas have been built without cutting trees to the way resources such as water and energy are used within the hotel. Earth compound bricks were used, says Ranjan, who also got all furniture except for the ones at al fresco made on site from local hardwood. “Accessibility to the site during construction was a challenge,” says Ranjan, who started work on the hotel in 2006, with Taj joining in a year later. Closeness to nature is evident in the seasonality of food, or the extensive forest walks on offer with resident nature expert Abhishek Jain, whose knowledge of the surrounding forests will make you stretch the walk for as long as you can. He can tell you which hills offer the best views, or where the tigers are most likely to frolic!

Actually a lot of activities are on offer. The start has to be made by the inhouse museum, which showcases Coorg – and is much better than the government one at Madikeri. Col Muthanna is on hand to show you around personally. Get a great introduction to Coorg from him. There’s a resident potter, sessions for coffee tasting, yoga retreats, mountain biking, nature trails, including walks to Nishanibetta Hills and even zip lining. There are excursions to the source of the Kaveri, which begins nearby or to the largest Tibetan settlement in India at Bylekuppa, or visits to the palaces of erstwhile royals or to spice and coffee plantations. Just outside the resort is a picturesque golf course. And of course there is a gorgeous infinity pool.

Another aspect of the resort you shall indulge in are its dining options. Given the isolated location, the nearest eatery outside the hotel is quite some distance away, so the hotel has probably chosen to offer some spectacular choices.

Describing Fern Tree as an all day dining option would be gross disservice to it, given its lavish food options, with a free side dish of views. Many drive up just for that, it seems!

A level above with the stunning Jiva spa, also in the main block but a level below the pool, is Dew, a wellness restaurant where food is not just healthy but delectable. An experience at Nellaki, with traditional Coorgi cuisine is unforgettable for its distinct aromas and flavours. There’s the almost concealed Hive Bar. A concealed candle lit table by a natural spring that has to be seen to be believed. Easily the most spectacular experience however is dining under a star lit sky at the Poolside Grill, which has its own adjacent bar as deep hills surround you, dotted to the east with the distant shimmering of lights of Madikeri.

Resort service standards are generally high, and the staff here go all out to make the stay memorable. Already the setting for some expensive weddings, the resort has extensive conferencing facilities too. The resort seems to fit in more with Taj’s top line palace hotels. Step in for the Taj resort experience, and make your own one of a kind memories!

Coorg, or Kodagu, has not really been on the tourism map, especially for north Indians. It’s an average of seven hours drive from the most accessible wide body plane airport, Bengaluru. Now Mangalore is about fours away, but almost agree that is not the best option, especially as road conditions aren’t great. Mysore, just two hours by road, is such a famous domestic tourist destination, but unfortunately not on the aviation map yet in any proper way, though there is talk of the current airport being expanded. That could well make the area far more accessible.

Historically distinct from both Karnataka, which it is today a part of, and adjoining Kerala, Coorgis are said to have ancestral links with the Greeks. In any case their distinctness remains to this day, with many Coorgi families still with members in the Indian army. The Indian hockey team has rarely been without a Coorgi. Yes, they are good at actually playing sports. Think Cariappa, Thimayya, Ponnacha, Muthamma, Uthappa, Nachappa, Bopanna, Somaiya, Halappa…

Even today in this predominantly agricultural region days are languid, and food and drink free flowing, and life pleasurably slow. Major plantations of coffee and spices abound, and there are a hundreds of homestays, many of whom are popular with the global tourist. Forests are within walking distance as are valley views of dawn and dusk and the green hours in between, but only if you walk up the invitingly gentle hills all around. For anyone seeking an escape from urban hustle, look no further.

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