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Over half a century ago, and quite unusual at the time, Visalam was built for the daughter of a local merchant. The same love was taken in its restoration, allowing it to be opened as a hotel in 2007. Dispel thoughts of golden doors adorned with jewels, but rather local craftsmanship and original woodwork that stand at the heart of the Chettinad community.
Visalam boasts 15 simple en-suite guest rooms and, for a relatively unfrequented part of India, they are surprisingly well-equipped with mod cons and comfort. Each room has a private balcony and is in keeping with the rich culture of South India. Its use of traditional colours, locally crafted furniture and wall art all hint towards the hotel's philosophy of minimum intervention - also evident in the bathrooms which retain the original intricate floor tiles.
Authentic Chettinad cuisine is the plat du jour at Visalam, rumoured to be the most aromatic in the whole of India. Local flavours including dried flower pods, star aniseed and tamarind are at hand to spice up an array of fresh seafood and succulent meat recipes. And the decisions don't stop at the menu, with a choice of three dining spaces on offer: The poolside café is open for a cold drink and light snacks (try the homemade murukku); the alfresco grill bar serves dishes fresh out of the pan; while the dining hall offers a more formal setting. If you're dying to know the tricks of the trade in Chettinad cuisine, Visalam's interactive kitchen offers a two or three day culinary program.
If you'd rather leave the cooking to the expert chefs, there are plenty of other ways to while away your time at Visalam. Mornings here are spent paying homage to traditional Chettinad art forms so get creative with 'rangoli' designing colourful rice powder patterns through the hotel's corridors; try your hand at 'Poomalai' crafting flower garlands; or learn the fine art of saree dress. Guests - especially the not-so-rhythmically inclined - are encouraged to take part in 'Kolattam' (aka the stick dance) that may very well make you the evening entertainment.
This heritage hotel is a well-positioned base from which to investigate the surrounding area, which is, in true Indian fashion, jam-packed with culture, art and architecture throughout its bazaars, temples and artisan's workshops. Don't leave without a visit to the famous Thirumayam Fort, a significant relic of the Chettinad dynasty and only six miles from the hotel.
The eco-conscious among you can be rest assured that your Indian summer won't be detrimental to the environment as Visalam is a committed environmental hero. The hotel is fully equipped with six rainwater harvesting tanks, a solar water-heating system and an eco-friendly oxygenating treatment in the pool.
Why we love it
Visalam feels like a family home and its surroundings are like a frozen snapshot that allows you to get a real sense of its history.
Frances, Original Traveller