Why you’ll love the Tea Bungalow
This sunny yellow bungalow was originally built in 1912 and run as the workshop and office of a British company that exported coir (a natural fibre extracted from the husk of coconut) and spices. It was bought by the Brooke Bond tea company in the 1950s and became a guesthouse and meeting place for visiting top brass. The property was sold again and fell into decline until its most recent incarnation, a small family-friendly heritage hotel.
It took two years to restore the mansion and today it’s a cheery spot with airy bedrooms, convivial communal spaces and a turquoise tiled swimming pool. There are 10 ensuite bedrooms; six located in the main bungalow and a further four housed within a newer annex built to mirror the original building.
The location, near the historic spice district, makes sightseeing easy. The Tea Bungalow also offers a number of ways to visit Fort Cochin including an auto-rickshaw tour of the city’s lesser-known sites led by a charismatic local guide.
Why the kids will love the Tea Bungalow
The family-friendly Tea Bungalow is an easy option for families. Although there are no dedicated kids’ activities and children are largely required to make their own fun, the layout, location and staff make it a very comfortable place to stay.
Little kids and big kids will enjoy playing in the walled lawn and green spaces set back from the main road. Although not extensive, they do offer space to rumble. The inviting swimming pool is perfect for post-sightseeing (or instead of sightseeing) and the large Travancore Lounge upstairs houses a TV.
For bigger kids and teens, bikes are available to borrow and the hotel can help arrange activities including boat tours around the harbour and auto-rickshaw rides.
The 10 ensuite bedrooms are named after spice and tea trading ports in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. There are three bedrooms on the ground floor of the main house, Mauritius, Goa and Zanzibar. These open onto the dining area. A further three bedrooms sit upstairs, Muscat, Galle and Cochin. A further four bedrooms are housed in the new two-storey annex, Malacca, Mombasa, Calicut and Cambray.
The rooms are all jolly and bright with at least one wall painted a lively colour (mustard yellow, tangerine orange, olive green etc). Wooden furniture, crisp white linens accented with brightly coloured silk pillows and bedspreads add to the boutique feel. The rooms all house paintings and curios related to the spice trade.
Most of the ground floor rooms have a small garden, terrace or access to the gardens. Upstairs in the main house, Cochin has a private veranda and in the annex, Calicut has a small balcony.
All rooms have flat-screen TVs (with international channels), tea and coffee making facilities and an electronic safe. In the bathrooms you’ll find cotton robes, slippers, hairdryers and Ayurvedic Biotique products plus handcrafted sandalwood soap from Pondicherry. Some of the bathrooms have rain showers.
Best rooms for families: The rooms in the main bungalow are larger than those in the annex, with high ceilings and either marble or wood floors. The three rooms on the ground floor, Mauritius, Goa (twin beds) and Zanzibar (twin beds) are ideal for families travelling with young children or infants as they are positioned off the dining room (no need for a baby monitor!) and close to the garden and pool.
For families requiring more than one room or families travelling together, the three rooms upstairs – Muscat, Galle and Cochin – would work well as you essentially have your own private floor. Of these rooms Muscat is the largest and has twin beds. The four rooms in the annex all have double beds. One to two-extra beds are allowed per room. Cots are available, babysitting is not. .
The ground floor central Café du Mahe is named after the 18th-century Governor of Mauritius Bertrand Francois Mahé de la Bourdonnais. It’s an airy, laidback, multi-cuisine dining space that feels more like a café than a formal restaurant. The food is a mix of Indian, Keralan, Asian and Continental.
Breakfast is served either in the restaurant or at tables around the swimming pool and consists of fresh fruit and juices, cereals, breads and pastries, or you can order eggs cooked to your liking. Traditional south Indian breakfasts are also on offer, including dosas and idlis.
When we visited, starters on the lunch and dinner menu included leek and potato soup, mixed sprout salad and prawn tempura with soya sauce. For mains there was grilled salmon with a caper sauce, Hakka noodles, and stuffed chicken breast with jacket potatoes and honey glazed carrots with mushroom sauce. The menu changes regularly and during the main tourist season there are themed evenings and a BBQ is set up on the outside terrace near the swimming pool.
There is a small coffee bar that serves very good coffee.
For Kids: There is no dedicated kids’ menu but there is usually plenty on the main menu to satisfy most globetotting juniors. If not, the kitchen staff are more than happy to accommodate requests. There are no highchairs. Snacks are available throughout the day.
Activities for Parents
Laze by the swimming pool and order an excellent South Indian coffee from mini the coffee bar.
Visit Vasco da Gama square and the cantilevered Chinese Fishing Nets in the morning, watch the catch of the day being hauled in and then sold at the local market.
Stroll the delightful streets of old Fort Cochin and enjoy the eclectic architecture and old colonial charm.
Hop into an auto-rickshaw for a tour of Cochin’s lesser-known sites led by a charismatic local guide. The half-day trip takes in a ginger factory, the dhobi (laundry) site and Jain temple, as well as some more famous attractions.
Borrow a bicycle and pedal along to Mattancherry’s Jew Town district, once the centre of the spice trade and now the place for antique shopping.
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.
Activities for Kids
Play in the Tea Bungalow’s aquamarine pool or watch a movie on the large plasma screen TV in the Travancore Lounge.
Visit 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 along the way.
Step all aboard for an evening sunset cruise along the waters and look out for dolphins.
Take an evening walk to 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 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, common room, cots, doctor on call, the nearest hospital is 19km away, 2 extra beds can be accommodated depending on the room size, laundry, swimming pool, travel desk, 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 Tea Bungalow 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) Like many places in Kerala, the Tea Bungalow hikes up its prices during the high season. Try to visit off-season (or shoulder season) if you can.
2) Definitely try the half-day auto-rickshaw tour of Cochin; it’s a great way to see a non-touristy side of town.
3) The rooms upstairs in the main house are my personal favourite.