Built all the way back in 1506, boutique hotel Le Colonial is an aptly named private home near Kerala's Fort Kochi. Portuguese, Dutch and British owners have left their mark over the centuries, with the current custodian getting bid-happy at Christie's in order to furnish their pad in fittingly vintage style. Assorted European admirals and traders have set up home here – today, the wood-panelled walls, grand furniture and an enviable antique collection can be read like a history book. After days out exploring the fort, or watching the fishermen cast their iconic Chinese nets at the harbour, the lantern-lit gardens and peaceful verandas are timeless spots to retreat to.
Noon. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability and an hourly charge. You’ll be charged for one night if you check out after 4pm or check in before 10am.
Double rooms from £276.65 (INR26,180), including tax at 19 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
The hotel can arrange private yoga sessions, and cookery classes with the chef.
At the hotel
Laundry, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: air-conditioning, free bottled water and Cochine bath products. Suites have Nespresso coffee machines.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the seven rooms – which were named for the house’s famous former guests and notable explorers – has its charms, but we especially loved the rooms upstairs. Mahé de La Bourdonnais has a feminine flair, soft-blue hues and French chest of drawers. Families can book out the Viceroy and Aide de Camp rooms, which interconnect to form a two-bedroom suite, with a garden-facing veranda.
There’s a small, decking-surrounded pool in the garden with a corner ledge to lounge on.
There’s no spa, but in-room or on-your-veranda treatments can be arranged.
Bring cooling cottons and loose linens for modestly coping with the Keralite climate.
The house’s communal areas are accessible for wheelchair users and one room on the ground floor has been specially adapted.
All ages are welcome. Cots and extra beds can be added for a fee; two bedrooms connect. The restaurant has a highchair and board games to borrow, and there’s a playground around the corner. Babysitting is available with a day’s notice for INR500 an hour.
The hotel uses organic produce where possible and harvests its own coconuts (for cooking and making its famous coconut ice-cream).
A table out by the pool in the lantern-lit grounds is the most romantic – or head inside to admire the oil paintings.
Something vintage to match the interiors, but long sleeves and trousers to save you from the mosquitoes.
There are no menus at the Lord Mountbatten – the chef has a chat with guests in the morning before he heads out to the market and comes back to create thalis of dishes like classic Keralite prawn curry and courgette soup, with house-made ice-creams definitely worth saving space for. Western tastes are catered to as well, with mealtimes switching between northern and southern Indian and international fare, with lighter dishes for lunch. Breakfast is a just-squeezed juice of the day, a fresh-fruit platter, toast with organic honey and eggs how you like them (even if that’s a masala omelette).
Breakfast hours are 7am to 11.30am; lunch service is noon to 3pm; and dinner is between 7pm and 11pm.
Le Colonial is near the city of Kochi in the state of Kerala, on the coast and next-door to the St Francis Church in the Fort Kochi quarter.
The nearest airport is Cochin International, an hour and a half away by car. Hotel transfers for up to four guests cost US$50 each way. Chances are you’ll have to connect in Delhi (from where it’s an onwards three hours in the air) or Mumbai (a two-hour flight from Cochin).
The hotel’s half an hour by car from the centre of Kochi. The Fort Kochi neighbourhood is easy to explore on foot, but if you want to head off further afield, a car or private driver will come in handy. There’s a free car park just outside the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Make yourself at home by the pool or out on your veranda, before heading off to see the famous fort (the hotel can arrange English-speaking guides). The hotel is on a quiet side street right by St Francis Church, and just a few minutes on foot from the coast. Take a tuk-tuk to explore Jew Town, to see the Paradesi Synagogue and all the antique shops in its winding alleys (prepare for some international shipping costs). Just to the north, don’t miss the Dutch Palace at Mattancherry. The Dutch cemetery is within walking distance of the hotel, and all the cafés and boutiques of Princess Street and Burgher Street are right behind it. Head over to Aspinwall House to admire the artworks on show at the oceanfront gallery, originally the home of the namesake English trader who settled here in the 1860s. Pop into Cult Modern to pick up some threads, or ask the concierge to assist in arranging a lunch and afternoon out cruising the Kerala backwaters.Take a trip down to Vasco da Gama Square to see the Chinese fishing nets in action – the technique was taught to the Kochi fishermen by a Chinese explorer 500 years ago.
If you’ve made it to the Kashi Art Gallery in Fort Kochi, treat yourself at the on-site café afterwards. The Drawing Room at the Cochin Club is a stylish seafood restaurant with sea-facing windows, a garden and regular live music. Sit out on the terrace at the Fort House Hotel’s waterfront restaurant, as you enjoy the spicy seafood and curries. There’s also lots for vegetarians and vegans, along with some milder fare for homesick palates in search of pasta and other European dishes.
Smith-approved Malabar House has a candlelit courtyard and assorted terraces that make perfect sundowner spots.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in India and unpacked their coconuts and cardamom, a full account of their beach break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Le Colonial in Kerala…
Fort Kochi's most historic hideaway, Le Colonial in Kerala has had several important visitors over the years – and now you can join their ranks. Much like the coastal city it calls home, the hotel has stood strong through various colonial rules since it was built by the Portuguese in 1506. As for those famous guests, the room names hint at who’s bedded down here: Vasco da Gama (he of a-local-square-in-his-name fame) is said to have stayed here, along with the French naval commander Mahé de La Bourdonnais and Kochi’s final Dutch governor Jan van Spall. It was the latter who sold the house to the British in 1795, when it became the dwelling of a tea trader, and it’s kept it’s refined air until today. Yes, the 16th-century villa has seen its fair share of action over the years – these days it’s more interested in making holidays magical than making the history books, so just settle in, admire the artworks and antiques, and snooze by the pool. No aiguillettes necessary.