I came to stay at Soma Kerala Palace purely by chance. My partner and I had roughed it out in the mountains of Spiti earlier that month, so we felt we’d earned a luxurious break in south India. But after about ten decadent days, I wanted to tap through the shell of comfort that appealed to the indulgent tourist, and sniff out a slightly more authentic Ayurveda experience. That’s when a friend recommended the Soma Kerala Palace, a lovely getaway on a small island on Vembanad Lake, off the village of Chempu near Kochi.
The resort is part of the Somatheeram Ayurveda group, and can only be approached by boat. After nearly three hours of driving from Thattekad, we bypassed Kochi to reach Chempu and drove straight to the jetty. The hotel’s courteous boatswain picked us up and soon we were skimming the surface of the vast waters. As we left the shores of India’s longest lake behind, I floated across a soothing vision of coconut trees. Cormorants dived in and out of the waters, agile like fishermen. I snapped out of my reverie only when we arrived at the property.
I wandered around the green gardens lined with swaying palms, and savoured the silence. Two guests passed by, and their green gowns caught my attention: Their “treatment dress” alerted me to some of the Ayurvedic treatments offered at Soma Kerala Palace. It was time to get a massage.
The open-air treatment room doesn’t provide you with the ambience of a spa, with trilling music, incense, or herbal tea. But guests can expect a rejuvenating experience provided by an amazing pair of hands that uses Ayurveda as a science to heal any kind of affliction. I came away feeling renewed.
Appeared in the January 2014 issue as “Lake Placid”.
Soma Kerala Palace is sprawled across a tiny private island off the coast of Chempu village, 40 km southeast of Kochi. The closest airport is Cochin International Airport, where taxis are easily available (60 km/2 hours). The nearest railhead is Ernakulam Junction in Kochi. The hotel can arrange pickups from Kochi (04829-271350/ 0471-2266111; www.somakeralapalace.com).
The accommodation at Soma Kerala Palace includes 25 rooms (prices vary per season, starting from doubles for ₹5,317 for the Palace Room from April to September) ensconced in traditional cottages representing different schools of Kerala architecture. The houses include the Tharavadu and Naalukkettu types of structures that have been “disbanded” from their original sites and rebuilt on the island. Several older buildings in Kerala, like the ones here, are marked by the use of sumptuous teak. The interior spaces are spacious and employ the typical red sandstone flooring used in traditional homes. The antique look of the exteriors extends to every decor element, from the fans to the furniture. The bathrooms could use a little touch-up, but at a location like this you barely spend any time indoors.
The only restaurant is a typical thottayam, laid out around a central courtyard. Skip the continental fare, and go for the Kerala cuisine. If you love fish, it would be a mistake not to order the karimeen preparation.