A palatial mansion turned hotel in Tamil Nadu’s Chettinad

CGH Earth’s Visalam is a grand and sweeping introduction to Chettinad, a land as steeped in legend as in history.

Chettinad is a land of flat plains that is known for its starkness and sweltering heat. But the Chettiars of this region were pioneering merchants who crossed the far seas centuries ago when others wouldn’t. They came back with riches and to advertise this great wealth built grand many layered mansions in the 19th century that tower over the surrounding landscape. The interiors were grander still filled with Burmese teak furniture, hand painted Aathangudi tiles and other materials like marble, stained glass and chandeliers imported from Europe or South East Asia. Thousands of these mansions still stand, though many are empty, as the owners have left for greener pastures. A few have been converted into hotels. One such is Visalam.

Located in Kanadukathan village, one of the over 70 villages that make up Chettinad, Visalam was built by a doting father for his eldest daughter over a century ago.

When CGH Earth took over they restored the grand structure but ensured the restoration remained faithful to the original structure. So, no sweeping changes were made to the building’s interiors except to partition its massive halls into comfortable guest rooms. The structure is characterised by its high wood supported ceilings, gleaming Aathangudy tile floors, finest Burma teak furniture and a vast many-pillared courtyard. One of the unique features of the Chettinad mansions, and one which Visalam retains, is the pearly lustre of the plastering of the walls and pillars of the homes. This is thanks to a distinctive mixture consisting of eggshells, lime, palm jaggery and seashells hand ground to make the base for plastering. The final polishing is done with the white of eggs!

The Chettinad region is also famous for its deliciously fiery cuisine and vibrant culture. Visalam’s kitchen ensures guests get an authentic taste of this cuisine cuisine that has been influenced by the tastes the much-travelled Chettiars encountered on their voyages. Though quite spicy at first taste, the speciality of this cuisine is the mix of spices that is used in the predominantly non-vegetarian dishes. Guests can also take part in interactive cookery sessions to learn from one of the expert home cooks from the village . Considering most of the Chettinad cooks never leave the region, eating in the area is the only way to eat authentic Chettinad food.

The region is great for exploring. The many mansions in the Chettinad villages are worth a day tour. These villages are also the sites of many unique and beautiful temples. During pleasant weather guests can go on cycling tours or bullock cart rides organised by the hotel. Two excursions should be on the itinerary of any traveller to this region. The Aathangudy village is just 10km from Visalam and here travellers can see first hand how the beautiful and colourful tiles are still made by hand. Another is to visit the textile units that create the beautiful handloom cotton sarees and textiles that the region is known for.

After these day trips, it might be best to spend a restful hour at the hotel’s Ayurveda Centre. 

Price: From 16,400

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<h3>Slow Travel</h3>

Slow Travel

CGH Earth has restored Visalam to its original glory and has used local materials and traditional practices in the restoration. Local tile makers, stone workers, carpenters and weavers were part of the restoration process. Visalam manages its waste efficiently, uses renewable energy and practices rainwater harvesting. Most of the staff, guides and vendors are local. The hotel showcases local culture, heritage, arts & crafts and cuisine. For instance, the bed runners, cushions and uniform of the staff are all made out of the handloom cotton that the region is known for.