Anonymous review of Raheem Residency
There are certain experiences that live with you forever – like swimming with dolphins, or enjoying sunset from a private balcony, or like a stay at a boutique hotel such as this in Kerala. Sitting across a quiet road from the shores of the Arabian Sea, Raheem Residency is a 19th-century colonial villa, which has been lovingly restored in a rich, classical Indian style and is now a chic boutique hotel, which in brochure-speak, you might just call a gem of an Indian hotel, a little piece of paradise to soothe away the memories of a long and stressful journey; and having travelled all the way from the mountains of Karnataka to the banks of the backwaters of Kerala, we could vouch for that first hand.
Ushered from our car through a cool, fragrant courtyard and into a large reception room packed with beautiful antiques, relaxation was handed to us on a plate, along with some tasty local snacks and refreshing watermelon cocktails. Our room, Begum’s Nook, was more generous than we’d ever hoped for; originally a family suite, it was now an ample double just for us. While I got lost in the vast four-poster, with its spiralling wooden columns and super-soft mattress, my Mrs Smith was delighted to discover not only a beautiful bath in the bathroom but also the first bath plug she’d seen since arriving in India. Soon drowning herself in the complimentary Ayurvedic soaps and creams, this Mr Smith burrowed deeper down into the pillows and dialled for a very large G&T.
A panoply of delights at supper that evening left us in a total food dilemma. The concise but excellent set menu? Or the inventive and extensive à la carte? Eventually, plumping for the former, I wasn't disappointed; the subtlety and variety of flavours of the dishes were easily a match for the best Indian food I have ever had.
Hiding behind lush palm trees, this converted private home is imposing and yet welcoming; substantial yet intimate. It had been in Mr Raheem’s family since the 19th century – until the current owners acquired it in 2003 and began the delicate process of lovingly transforming it into its current state of open-armed hospitality. Mr Raheem still lives locally and is a frequent visitor, proud of the manner in which his old family home has been revitalised. Peeking into the other bedrooms, we spied dark teak furniture and colourful embroideries contrasting with whitewashed walls and tiled floors. Neither excessively fussy, nor overly-spartan, this place seemed to just ‘get’ our taste.
Lazily stirring after a fantastic night’s sleep (oh so precious in noisy India, where the music from the temples can start blaring at about 04h), breakfast was a sleepy climb up a spiral staircase to the balcony restaurant. Open to the elements on all sides, we nibbled on Indian delicacies with a western twist, enjoying the view of the municipal cricket ground to the rear, and the undulating golden sands to the front. Mr ‘Om’ – the operations manager with a name so unpronounceable that people have given up trying – and the rest of the staff were charming and attentive, without being intrusively so. The perfect combination.
Resisting the urge to disappear to the hotel’s spa for a three-day Ayurvedic treatment, Mrs Smith suggested we stroll the sands on our doorstop instead. Unlike nearby Cochin, Alleppey is a part of Kerala as yet blissfully unused to Western tourism. Used almost exclusively by locals, a place for wave-frolicking and Brazilian bikini lines this beach is not. But romantic it is. And awash with colour, not only from fringing trees and plants, but from the oranges, purples and yellows of the saris worn by the groups of local women, demurely strolling and engrossed in their secrets.
I've always had a dream of chucking in the legal career and setting up a chic hotel at the back end of beyond. And never has that been more tempting than when wrenching ourselves away from the Raheem Residency’s courtyard pool and delicious lime sodas. The highlight of our trip to India, we were loath to leave it. But move on we did – with a camera full of memories and a Smith review to remind ourselves that one day, we will return.