Family Hotel Review: Philipkutty’s Farm, The Backwaters, Kerala, India
For a true homestay experience come to this palm-fringed farm-island in the beautiful backwaters where you’ll be looked after by one of the friendliest families in Kerala.
Best For: Families wanting an authentic Keralan experience; big kids and teens (although all ages welcome)
Reviewed by: Katja Gaskell
Why You’ll Love It
Located on a small palm-fringed farm-island in the backwaters is this wonderful homestay owned and run by one of the friendliest families in Kerala. Here you’ll enjoy a true Keralan experience; stay in charming waterfront villas, feast on delicious Keralan cuisine and spend your days exploring the beautiful waterways and canals.
The Mathew family (wife Anu, her mother-in-law Aniamma and son Philip) run the tropical farm and are simply delightful. They will happily show you around the property (all 35 acres if you like) where mango, nutmeg, banana and coconut trees grow alongside cocoa, pepper and toddy. Aniamma (‘mummy’) does all the cooking, using produce from the farm, and the communal meals here are often a highlight for guests.
Accommodation is provided in the form of six private, waterfront villas. Each of the cottages has a veranda and frangipani and palm-filled gardens where you can sit and watch life on the waters drift by. It’s a magical spot and a superb addition to any Keralan itinerary.
Why The Kids Will Love It
Getting there really is half the fun at Philipkutty’s Farm where you’re picked up from the boat jetty and transported across the river in a vallam, a traditional wooden canoe. But the fun doesn’t stop once you arrive either and a stay here is sure to please children of all ages.
For starters, this family-friendly homestay is a wonderful introduction for children to experience another way of life. Tours are given around the property and kids can learn about farming below lake level (the farm lies two metres below the water level), the difference between male and female nutmeg trees and all about the rare – and quite cute – Vechor cow.
Anu has two children herself and there are swings in the garden and a basketball hoop for impromptu games. Children can paddle the backwaters in a wooden canoe, pedal around the island on a bicycle, cast a fishing rod for dinner and go to sleep at night serenaded by sound of croaking frogs and the light of dozens of fireflies.
One word of caution, while children of all ages are warmly welcomed here, there is an awful lot of water around so parents will need to keep a very close eye on young, adventurous globetotters.
The six villas all face the backwaters and are named after local flowers, plants, trees and birds; the names are inscribed on tiles on the side of each cottage. The first to open was designed by Swiss architect Karl Damscen and is open-plan. Local architect Thomas Dominic designed the remaining cottages and these enjoy a separate living room and bedroom. The spacious villas all have a private veranda finished in traditional red oxide overlooking the lake.
The breezy villas are furnished with two large single beds, a wardrobe, cupboard, writing table and chair, settees and chairs in the ‘sit-out’. Extra beds are available if necessary. Each room has a refrigerator and an electric kettle and the bathrooms are large and modern.
Each cottage is decorated with watercolours and antiques, including some beautifully carved and crafted doors and windows. There is no air-conditioning (you’ll enjoy the breeze from the 18 windows and 8 doors that each villas has instead), no telephone and no TV in any of the villas. TVs and telephones are available in the main house should you need to make contact with the outside world.
Best Rooms For Families: There is a spacious family villa designed along the lines of a typical village home with a central courtyard, two bedrooms at each end (each with a double bed) with both opening out on to the lake, and separate living and dining area in the centre. All rooms open out to the sandy courtyard that doubles as a great playground for kids!
The other villas are very similar in layout although marginally smaller. Each can accommodate one extra bed. Villas Mandharam, Ashokam, Chempakam are located closest to the dining area and monitors may work from here. However, Anu is also happy to organise someone to sit outside your cottage while you eat in the evenings if you are travelling with young children.
All meals are included in the price and are served either in the family dining room or outside. Aniamma is the cook and she whips up delicious Keralan creations using fresh fruit, vegetables and spices grown on the farm. The menus feature a lot of fish (karimeen or pearl spot) and king prawns fished from the farm canals. Duck and chicken are occasionally served supplemented with rice and rice-based local breads such as appam, and string hoppers. We particularly loved the banana flower cutlets when we visited. Toddy, the fermented sap of the coconut tree, is the local liquor and served to those who dare – it’s very potent! The whole family, or at least some of them, will join you for meals and these are often the highlight of the day.
For Kids: There is no dedicated children’s menu however special requests (from dietary requirements to fussy children) can be catered for with advance notice. Please be aware, however, that this is a small hotel (with no supermarket nearby!) so while they will try to accommodate all requests, it might not always be possible. Meal timings are also flexible.
Activities for Parents
Cruise the open backwaters at sunset on a vallam (wooden country boat) and watch life unfold on the waters.
Take a day trip through the winding canals on a motor boat and witness traditional life in the villages dotted along the banks of the backwaters.
Birders should bring their binoculars; kingfishers, woodpeckers, egrets, cormorants, herons and more call this area home.
Learn to cook with Aniamma and chat with her about anything and everything while you learn the art of traditional Keralan cooking (off-season only).
Learn all about farming below lake level (the fields are 2m lower than the lake) and the numerous crops that are cultivated with a tour of the property – make sure you try ‘toddy-tapping’ along the way.
Ask Anu to arrange a massage for you with a local Ayurvedic practitioner.
Take a ride back to the Kudavechoor Jetty and from here walk or cycle to the Syrian Christian St Mary’s Church, built in 1463 followed by the Sri Kandeshwaram Mahadevak Shetra temple dedicated to Shiva.
Activities for Kids
Little kids can swing on the swings and play hide-and-seek in the gardens; older children might enjoy a game of basketball with Philip and Anya, Anu’s two children.
Big kids can pedal their way around the countryside through coconut groves, paddy fields, canals and villages on a bicycle tour of the island.
Grab a rod and go fishing or – if you’re a serious swimmer – take a dip in the backwaters in front of the property.
Jump in a traditional wooden canoe and roam around the canals and waterways and see what life on the backwaters is like – you might even spot kids heading to school by boat.
Spot the geese, ducks, hens and rare Vechor cow by day and then watch the hundreds of fireflies that come out at night.
Wander the farm and learn how to spot the difference between male and female nutmeg trees as well as other farming tips and titbits.
Nearest hospital is 9km away, laundry, Ayurvedic treatments, travel desk, WiFi.
Please contact the hotel directly for an exact quote based on your family’s requirements.
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:
Philipkutty’s Farm is located in the Backwaters, Kerala, India.
Kochi (Cochin) International Airport is the closest airport, 75 km away (1.5 hr). Trivandrum International Airport is about 180 km away. From Kochi there are regular daily flights to domestic destinations including Delhi, Goa, Mumbai and Chennai. IInternational destinations include Dubai, Muscat, Colombo and Singapore. Philipkutty’s Farm can arrange transfers to and from the airport for an additional cost or contact info@globetotting for recommended car and driver hire.
The closest railway station is at Kottayam, 24 km away. The nearest main railhead is at Ernakulam. From here daily trains run to Trivandrum via either Alleppey or Kottayam and there are also services to Thrissur, Calicut and Kannur.
Contact The Hotel
For more information or to make a booking enquiry, visit the hotel’s own website by following the link below:
Reviewer’s Top Tips!
1) The food here is excellent but it’s worth bringing some snacks with you if you have ‘particular’ kids!
2) There really is a lot of water here, be aware if travelling with little 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.
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