Review by Victoria
Why you’ll love the Old Harbour Hotel
Records show that this charming Dutch building was the first hotel to open in Kerala, way back in 1778. The 300-year-old building started life as a family home and later housed the employees of a British tea firm. It then lay derelict for years before it was transformed into this beautiful boutique hotel, easily one of Fort Cochin’s finest.
Much of the shape and structure of the original building remains, and its Dutch history and the Portuguese influences are still very much in evidence. Today there are thirteen rooms spread across two storeys with several housed in what were once the staff quarters.
The excellent restaurant on the ground floor overlooks the hotel’s enchanting garden with lanterns, fountains and winding stone paths bordered by banana plants and mango trees.
Why the kids will love the Old Harbour Hotel
Unless your children have an interest in interior design then it’s unlikely that the contemporary artwork, antiques and architecture will impress. Fortunately, however, this hotel has more to offer than simply good décor.
Firstly there’s the location, conveniently positioned near the Chinese Fishing Nets. Then there’s the raised infinity swimming pool that provides welcome relief after a day exploring the town. And then there’s the sleek, cream-coloured 1958 Morris Oxford that is available to guests for local tours. Your chauffeur for trips around town is Anthony, a charismatic character who knows seemingly everything there is to know about Cochin and its surrounds. He narrates with gusto and humour, which is sure to entertain even the most sightseeing-phobic of children.
The thirteen rooms in four different categories are named after old streets in Fort Cochin. All rooms are effortlessly stylish, filled with contemporary artwork and antiques, as well as the standard mod cons including safe, minibar, tea and coffee making facilities and A/C. The rooms also smell lovely; lemongrass oil is added to the water used to clean the floors.
Superior Rooms: The three Superior Rooms are charming but do not come with a view. The yellow-themed Peter Celli room is a twin bedroom on the first floor and is the only twin option in this category. It has a daybed, which can double-up as an extra bed. On the first floor is Ridsdale and on the ground floor is Napier; both are similar in layout and design.
Garden View Rooms: There are four Garden View Rooms, two on the first floor and two on the ground floor. All these enjoy views of the garden and pool. On the first floor are Burgher and Tower Room. On the ground floor is Rampart, another twin bedroom, and Ballard, which enjoys a private outdoor sitting area.
Garden Cottages: The three Garden Cottages, Rose, Lily and Tulip, are housed in the old servants quarters. These delightful rooms are marginally smaller than the other rooms but wonderfully private. All have low-lying double beds, open air showers and double doors that open onto the garden.
Suites: Located on the first floor are the three suites, Princess, Bastion and Palace, which were created from one long hall that once ran the length of the building.
The Princess Suite is the largest of the three suites with lofty ceilings, Dutch arches and beautiful wooden floors. It has a separate sitting area, a wooden four-poster bed and an old wooden writing desk complete with a working reproduction antique Roman Column phone. The next largest is Bastion, which enjoys a romantic swing seat for two. Palace shares a balcony with Princess and comes with a four-poster bed and a reproduction antique wooden writing desk.
Best rooms for families: Baby cots can be accommodated in all the rooms; however the only rooms that can accommodate an extra bed are the three Suites, the Peter Celli Room (Superior Room) and the Tower Room (Garden View Room). Parents with very young children should note that the Tower Room has a small balcony.
The ground floor Garden View Rooms are good for families with babies or little kids who can sleep in a travel cot. They’re also ideal for families with older children, as although they are not interconnecting they are located side by side. The Cottages can accommodate a baby cot so are good for families with infants. The Suites are the best option for families with older children and each can accommodate one extra bed. Families with more than one child requiring an extra bed will need to book two rooms.
Cots are available; babysitting is possible with advanced notice for an additional charge.
The breezy 1778 Restaurant sits on the ground floor near the reception and, weather permitting, overflows into the lantern-lit, tropical garden. The restaurant is open to guests from outside the hotel and it does get busy during the peak season. The innovative menu focuses on fresh, seasonal food; the vegetables are organically grown, the meats are of the highest quality and the seafood – not surprisingly – freshly caught.
The breakfast buffet spread offers guests Western and Keralan options, including fresh fruit juices (including cucumber and mint, and apple and banana with cinnamon) and a range of spiced tea. Eggs, cereals and toast are also offered.
When we visited starters on the lunch menu included tiger prawns with pineapple and beetroot chutney and batter fried cuttlefish with a green chilli sauce. Main dishes included a Keralan dish of semi ripe pumpkin lentils, rich dhal curry, spicy fish fillet crumble and spicy crab stir-fry with rice and buttermilk.
For dinner a special seafood menu is also offered with a barbeque in the garden nightly.
For Kids: There is no dedicated kids’ menu but there is an all-day dining menu that is handy for those children who require feeding outside set meal times. Options include sandwiches, pakoras, banana fritters and chocolate con churros. The kitchen is also happy to accommodate requests. There are no highchairs. There is an all day dining menu that features light bites, sweet and savoury snacks
Take part in the complimentary morning yoga sessions held in the gardens of the Old Harbour Hotel from 8am-9am daily (except Sunday).
Wander the delightful streets of Fort Cochin and enjoy the eclectic architecture and old colonial charm.
Visit the Chinese Fishing Nets and bargain for the catch of the day.
Hop into an auto-rickshaw and head to Mattancherry’s Jew Town district, once the centre of the spice trade and now the place for antique shopping.
Make sure to visit the Jewish Cemetery and Paradesi Synagogue; the synagogue dates back to 1568 making it the oldest in the Commonwealth.
Eat, eat and eat some more! Coconut-fuelled Keralan curries are absolutely delicious.
Swim in the Old Harbour Hotel’s aquamarine swimming pool.
Stroll along to the Chinese Fishing Nets and watch the fishermen manoeuvre these enormous cantilevered contraptions; you might even be able to join in.
Explore the crumbling but charming streets of Fort Cochin stopping by Teapot for cake en route.
Step all aboard for an evening sunset cruise along the waters looking out for dolphins along the way.
Visit the local Kathakali centre and watch the artists apply their colourful and detailed make-up before enjoying a performance of this highly stylised art form. Traditional martial arts demonstrations are also performed here.
Ask the Old Harbour Hotel to organise a trip to the Kodanad elephant training centre north of Cochin that looks after stranded baby elephants from the wild. Here you can watch the elephants have their daily baths and even enjoy an elephant safari.
A/C, babysitting by prior arrangement, common rooms, cots, doctor on call, nearest hospital is 19 km away, 1 extra bed permitted in the 3 suites, the Peter Celli Room and the Tower Room, laundry, swimming pool, travel desk, wheelchair access, WiFi.
When to go:
Tropical South India is hot year-round but the best time to visit is between October and March when it’s relatively dry and cool(er). During these months temperatures average around 30C. December and January are peak season and this is often reflected in hotel rates. From March the temperatures and humidity increases in the build up to the monsoon, which arrives in June.
Location & Travel:
The Old Harbour Hotel is located in Fort Cochin, Kerala, India.
Cochin International Airport is at Nedumbassery, 40km from the hotel. The drive from the airport to Fort Cochin can take 1 to 1.5 hours owing to the traffic, although this can drop to under an hour if you arrive at night. The hotel can arrange transfers from the airport for an additional charge. Air India, Jet Airways, Spice Jet, IndiGo and Go Air all fly to Cochin.
There are two train stations in Ernakulam, Ernakulam Town and Ernakulam Junction. Daily trains run to Trivandrum via either Alleppey or Kottayam and there are also services to Thrissur, Calicut and Kannur.
1) Book well in advance if travelling over peak periods, this is a hugely popular hotel.
2) Remember to look out our Family Guide to Cochin and I Spy Cochin for kids.
3) Make sure to pack Arundhati Roy’s beautiful Booker Prize-winning book The God of Small Things set on the backwaters of Kerala.