Lined with coconut palms and home to colourful birds, Kerala’s backwaters are best seen on a languid houseboat ride. The Lotus hotel is a luxuriously modernised rice-barge hull with just two suites, each with a private veranda for tea sipping and wildlife spotting. The on-board chef grills fish straight from the water for starlit meals on the roof deck, and staff are skilled in cocktail shaking, too. Every bend reveals a village or temple to explore, but merely gliding through the lazy waters is magical.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, noon.
Double rooms from £181.15 (INR18,000), including tax at 1 per cent.
Rates usually include a Continental breakfast of fruit, bread, yoghurt, cereal and eggs cooked to order.
If the motion of the water isn’t quite relaxing enough, Ayurvedic massage therapists and yoga teachers can be picked up in port. If on board, afternoons are passed in genteel fashion, sipping local tea infusions and nibbling home-made cakes.
At the hotel
Rooftop sun deck and indoor sitting room. In rooms: private veranda, iPod dock, air-conditioning and a safe. Be ready to switch off: the boat is a WiFi-free zone.
Our favourite rooms
In Malayam, suite names Sukhima and Lalima mean ‘happiness’ and ‘beauty’ respectively, but both spaces are equally appealing. Each showcases the lively local style: splashes of neon brights, a painting in the style of the temple murals and hand-embroidered rugs – teak and cane furnishings add a colonial air. The furnished private veranda ensures restful views and romantic seclusion.
Bring binoculars, some light reading and a wide-brimmed sun hat for glamorous alfresco dining on the deck.
Light sleepers needn’t worry, the engine is whisper quiet as it purrs along.
Over-13s only. Teens will enjoy the novelty of staying on a boat, but on-board entertainment is fairly low key. An extra bed can be added to each of the rooms (INR4,700 a person, each night, from 16 April–15 October; INR7,900 from 16 October–15 April).
Yes. Plastics are banned on the boat, and drinking water is purified using a reverse-osmosis system, so no waste water is emptied into the lagoons.
On the roof overlooking the expanse of river and watching the world go by.
Go with the flow in loose linens.
If the mercury’s rising, meals are served in the blissfully air-conditioned indoor dining room – a relaxed space with comfy, cushioned chairs and 180-degree panoramic views. As temparatures cool, around sunset, diners head to the roof deck for a romantic meal under a sky glittering with stars. The chef’s speciality is a lavish seafood thali (small dishes of fish, vegetables and sauces served with breads and rice), which guests are encouraged to eat using their hands. Otherwise fat prawns, freshly caught river fish and a selection of western-style dishes are whipped up at the built-in kitchen.
There’s a bar on board, but you can take their drink wherever you wish. The signature Lotus Fresh lime soda with mint and pepper is a refreshing tonic on a hot day. The bar has an arary of wines and spirits, and cocktails are made to order.
Breakfast is served 7am–10am; otherwise, guests set their own hours for lunch and dinner.
There’s no formal room service, but the laid-back atmosphere on the boat means guests can dine on their veranda.
The boat sails through Kerala’s beauty-blessed backwaters in the sultry green Malabar region, by the coast. The Lotus drifts past tropical forest, painted temples and laid-back villages; board at the Sultan Canal by Kannur, or the Neeleshwar Hermitage.
The nearest airport is Mangalore, around a three-and-a-half-hour drive away. From the UK, fly Air India to Mumbai or Delhi then hop aboard a two-hour flight to Mangalore. From the US and Australia, fly Etihad to Abu Dhabi then Jet Airways to Mangalore. The hotel can arrange one-way airport transfers to the boat’s mooring points at the Sultan Canal or Neeleshwar for up to two guests in a Toyota Innova AC for INR6,600.
If you’re trekking around India, you can catch a train from Bangalore or Cochin to Neeleshwar Railway Station, a 20-minute drive from the boat’s mooring points. A one-way transfer can be arranged for INR1,800.
If you’re skilled in stunt driving, or you’ve logged many hours in GTA, you’ll be prepared for an Indian road trip, but the uninitiated should reconsider or prep for spontaneous lane changes, wayward cows and goats, mind-bending cargo loads and other surprises. There’s nowhere to park near the port either, so taxis, tuk-tuks and hotel transfers are your best options.
Worth getting out of bed for
Drifitng through Kerala’s green expanses of paddy fields and sentry-like palms linign the lagoons of the backwaters, with the Western ghats in the distance is an enriching journey in itself. On board, if you have a successful fishing session, the chef can teach you how to make a fabulous fish curry. However, beyond peeking through your binoculars to sight a kingfisher taking wing or meditating as the sun rises, you can disembark to explore the Keralan countryside, villages and places of worship (depending on the length of your stay). The first port of call is the Snake Temple dedicated to the Goddess Bhadrakali, filled with livid carvings of the deity’s exploits. Head to the coffee plantations and tea estates in the Coorg Hills for a tour topped off with a fruity and fragrant cuppa. Mingle with the locals in Vallyaparamba Village while watching them make coir twine from coconuts. Make friends with the cheeky primate inhabitants of Monkey island, stopping by the Naga snake shrine at its heart. A hike on Ezhimala Hill, and from Kotti Jetty, guests ride a rickshaw to intricately decorated, Shiva-dedicated Perunna Sree Subramanya Swami Temple, which dates from 800 BC; a quick chai stop and you’ll be back on your floating sanctuary for some eleventh-hour R ’n’ R.
With an accomplished chef and a generously stocked bar on board you won’t need to forage for your food. Unless you want to try your hand at fishing – the river’s plentiful red snappers make a tasty meal after the chef’s grilled them to perfection.
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 high-end houseboat stay in the Malabar and unpacked their bags of Coorg Hill coffee and handful of carved deities, a full account of their floating jungle break will be with you. In the meantime, all aboard the Lotus hotel in Kerala…
Try your hardest not to hum ‘I am sailing’ as you board the Lotus houseboat for your adventure through the tropical lagoons and palm- and pandanus-lined canals of Kerala’s backwaters. Otters and turtles play in the water, and kingfishers and cormorants dart from the trees: add a heady heat and the thick scent of sari-silk-hued blooms, and you have a space to inspire magical realists. Guests can watch this living natural tableaux from a private veranda, with a mug of rich chicory or iced fruit juice. With just two suites on board, a team of kurta-clad staff to spoil you and an ambience that’s as relaxed as the river current, this really feels like a warm and welcoming home.