You wouldn’t imagine from its almost monastic architecture, that this beautiful boutique hotel was resurrected from the remains of a Victorian ship building yard just under seventeen years ago. A resurrection that appears to have taken pains to recreate the Portuguese/ Dutch Colonial vibe so intrinsic to Fort Cochin.
Ironically, my daughter and I, here on a long overdue girls only getaway to celebrate her birthday, struggled to connect with that vibe outside of these walls. For precious little of the architectural heritage of this famed port city, once the hub of the spice trade that launched the voyages of discovery, has survived mass tourism and general apathy.
Brunton Boatyard is the only one of the handful of luxury properties in Fort Kochi to boast a prime waterfront location with grand views over the harbour, separated only by a beautiful pool and private jetty. The main door faces inland. A large sunlit internal courtyard is bordered by shady walkways that seem to me to replicate the feel of a medieval European cloister. The arcaded verandahs lead to dining and living spaces spread over four levels.
The foremost verandah serves as the reception and lobby, its stark, period re-interpretation, setting the mood for the rest of the property. Narrow arched openings on the outer wall are punctuated by rows of sepia portraits* of nearly every individual connected with the early history of Cochin. Rows of punkahs – indigenous hand operated ‘fans’ – above, underscore the Indo-Colonial theme. While the gold bordered pristine white saris of female staff create an elegant bridge to the traditional Kerala aesthetic.
My urban heart sank at the sight of all those open, non air-conditioned spaces! But cross ventilation afforded by the open plan design and the strategically suspended vintage fans, ensured we remained cool even while the rest of the city wilted under the mugginess of early summer.
The spacious rooms, with high antique beds (that need steps to climb on!) and wooden armoires, were of course, fully air conditioned. Our last minute reservation failed to garner us a sea facing room, so we missed the luxury of panoramic harbour views, not just from our windows and tiny terrace, but from our bathtub as well! The complimentary sunset cruise that departs from the jetty for an hour long round of the harbour every evening, made up for it somewhat.
It was evident from the variety of tea leaves and ground coffee on offer in-room, in lieu of the standard tea bags and instant coffee sachets in most hotels, that the people at Brunton Boatyard adhere to the core values of eco conservation and resource management that their parent company – CGH Earth Group* – is based on. Most impressive was the complimentary water in pretty re-usable glass bottles, that had been sterilised and date stamped in their conspicuously located rain water purifying plant in the ground floor!
My daughter, who is even more of a ‘Google Rani’ (her name for me!) than I am, had come armed with a long list of places to eat in Kochi. The restaurants at the ‘Boatyard’, however, trumped all those from her list that we did end up trying.
Varied set breakfasts were served in the airy Armoury: the coffee shop in the ground floor opening out into the harbour front. There was the option of waterside dining at breakfast as well as for romantic celebratory dinners.
History -the fine dining restaurant on the third floor – specialises in authentic Anglo Asian food. It’s menu drawing inspiration from the cuisines of some thirty odd communities that constituted the melting pot that was Colonial Cochin. Anglo Indian cutlets (we tried the duck) and First Class Railway Mutton Curry, Arabian Samak Bil Harder Asfu (grilled fish), Syrian Christian fish Moilee (a curried stew with coconut milk), Portuguese Vindaloo and Dutch Pudding were some of the highlights. Cooled down in this instance with spiced ice cream.
But it is the ambience of the open air rooftop Terrace Grill, with its exquisite seafood ‘experiences’, paired with a chilled crisp white and served to the background score of fog horns, that won us over completely. We vowed not to wait for milestones to celebrate more such birthdays.
Disclaimer: Our two night stay was generously discounted by CGH Earth.
*Mr. Brunton is sadly missing from that hall of fame for want of an authenticated portrait.
* Visalam, a traditional mansion hotel in Chettinad is also a part of the CGH Earth Group.