CGH Visalam is a mansion, that is strangely, home. Just like what it was for a father who built it for his daughter.
By: Bindu Gopal Rao
Posted on: February 24, 2023
LF Says: ★★★★.5
An hour and half drive from Trichy airport, through some beautiful green rural landscapes, I reached the doors of the ochre hued CGH Visalam in Kanadugathan, Chettinad, and the majestic façade instantly had my heart.
Stepping inside the mansion, that was built by a father for his daughter, there is a sepia-like feel to the reception area. My eyes took in the old brass artefacts, three dimensional Athangudi tiles on the floor, Burma teak furniture and more, as I sipped on the cool welcome drink that has honey, ginger, and lime.
Inside CGH Visalam, restored faithfully by the local community.
“This was a home that Ramanathan Chettiar built for his eldest daughter, Visalakshi, who unfortunately passed away before she could live here. Her father, however, built the home that was used by the family on some occasions. When CGH Earth took it over, we ensured that we did not make any major changes and just ensured it was suitable for guests by adding a pool and some partitions,” explained Sam John, General Manager, CGH Visalam.
The property has two levels and my room on the ground level is expansive with a twin bed, separate bathroom, and closet space as well as a veranda that overlooks the garden that is bursting with colourful bougainvillea. A true representation of local aesthetics and crafts, the flooring of the room is adorned with Athangudi tiles (handmade in Chettinad in distinct geometric, vibrant designs, using local soil) and walls are plastered with egg white that gives them a pearly smooth and white finish.
The 15-room boutique space is set around a courtyard that adds a nice airy feel to the interiors. Special mention must be made of the soft Chettinad pure cotton towels in the bathroom, which are also available for sale at the inhouse store.
Dine like a Chettiar
At Visalam, you can experience the best of what the famed Chettinad cuisine has to offer. Known for being a melange of different spices, the cuisine has influences from the travels of the Chettiars to Southeast Asia, and spices like star anise and stone flower lend a unique taste to the food.
A traditional banana leaf meal at CGH Visalam
A banana leaf meal at Visalam’s traditional kitchen, Sapadu Shala, is a great idea to sample local fare like Aiyer Meen Santhu, a vegetable curry simmered in tamarind sauce; Kadhamba Curry made from assorted vegetables and coconut; Kalaan Karuvepillai Roast made with curry flavoured mushroom; Paaladai Katti Khoruma made with cottage cheese and local spices; Chicken Therakkal - a trademark Chettinad chicken preparation; and Meen Kolambu, a day catch fish simmered in a tangy sauce. Wash it down with cool butter milk and finish it on a sweet note with a payasam made with the local black glutinous rice Kavuni Arisi. Guaranteed food coma.
The Terrace Grill offers an a-la-carte meal that is made fresh and has a selection of local delicacies. The food here is an ode to the local traditions which you can also sample at a thaali breakfast at the Garden Café. Their small Pool Café also offers thaali meals. Do not miss the fresh coffee and tea that is served on the lawns in the morning and afternoon with some local savouries and snacks.
A stay at CGH Visalam is all about experiencing the local sights and sounds. To encourage people to do this, the retreat has no televisions in the rooms. Instead, you have an inhouse guide - Shivashanker (Shiva) - who is a local in charge of the experiences and will give you a knowledgeable insight.
A must do is a guide ‘Village Walk’ in the streets of Kanadukathan which is largely deserted. Majestic villas and colonial-style bungalows stand tall as remains of a past era. Stop by at the temple tank (Oorani), a common fixture in all villages here, and soak in the village life. You can also cycle around these lanes using the cycles provided by the retreat. Or for a more relaxed tour, you can take a bullock cart ride that is complete with comfortable chairs - yes you read that right - to see the streets of the quaint village.
Cooking lessons at CGH Visalam.
Once you are back, sign up for a cooking session with Vasantha Akka from the local community, who will teach you how to make a local Chettinad dish. If a dip (or more) in the pool is not what you want to do, you must play Pallanguzhi, a traditional board game when you are here. Walking around the property, you will be thrilled to see several species of birds here. Learn how to make kolam or rangoli (an artistic design made at the entrance with colorful powder) when you are here. If you want to visit the clan temples or see the tile makers, do check with the front desk for recommendations.
Chettinad has stayed true to its roots, its people, sights, arts and cuisine. CGH Visalam does justice to the local culture, and in fact, enhances it through its property, which truly blends into the atmosphere. The staff at the retreat goes that extra mile to really make you feel ‘at home’. There is a simplicity that keeps you at ease. The attention to detail makes a difference, whether it is the amount of sugar in your coffee or the spice level in your food. The staff are friendly, interactive, and always ready to help with a smile. And this is why, this trip was truly immersive, and the perfect break that I needed.
LF Says: ★★★★.5Coordinates: 7/1, 143 Local Fund Road, Kanadukathan Karaikudi, Sivaganga Dist, Tamil Nadu, India