Privacy at Sanctuary Bay

Privacy at Sanctuary Bay
The interiors of the bungalow,
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Beautiful seclusion in a wooden bungalow on the shores of the Vembanad Lake in Kerala

Hari Menon
July 08 , 2014
04 Min Read

For one perfect second, in the afterglow of a sunset not long gone, the velvet night sky over the lake is exactly the shade of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes. Soon the violet will deepen, bringing with it further pleasures. Perhaps the sapphire in the gaze of the lovely Emmanuelle Beart? On a night like this, with little more than quiet solitude, fresh calamari and the idle contemplation of the irises of beautiful women, nothing seems too much to ask.

I’m sitting on the veranda of an old shell warehouse, reborn in minimalist luxury as one half of Privacy at Sanctuary Bay, a little enclave of peace on the shore of the Vembanad Lake. A late evening westerly blows gently across the water as a night bird calls querulously to its mate. In the middle distance, tiny lights flicker: fishermen luring some of the lake’s stock of prawn with their lamps.

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It’s hard to imagine that this lakeshore is one of the most densely populated and commercially active parts of a state that can be something of a sensual storm even at its quietest. A resort’s ability to create an oasis of calm is important, because travel can be stressful. Good service and great location aren’t enough to make a resort valued, though. The trick, and it’s not an easy one to pull off in a highly competitive market, is often about creatively using light, colour, accessories and space in ways that stamp individuality on a place without that individuality turning into a pretentious statement. Too many overly affected boutique hotels have ritually — and expensively — impaled themselves on such sharp-edged conceits.

Joerg Drechsel knows that well. He runs several properties in Kerala in his ten-year incarnation as a boutique hotelier. “I was a designer before that,” he says, and it’s clear that he still is, not just from Privacy’s efficient tranquillity but also from the workman’s pleasure he derives from details. These span the South Indian art he and his wife Txuku have installed here; the efficiency of the water recycling on Discovery, the houseboat moored at Privacy; the best bio-friendly way to get rid of that scourge of the backwaters, water hyacinth. It’s a wide-ranging list, but of such concerns are memorable stays made. And, of course, the food.

The classic test of a kitchen is how well it can seduce you into eating the things you ordinarily will not touch. When I was asked if I was vegetarian I airily announced that if it flew, walked, ran, crawled, swam or held on for dear life I would eat it with relish. Unfortunately I forgot to mention that my catholicism applied only to fauna — for me most vegetables are like unavoidable medication. Exceptionably egregious plant products like okra and aubergine were swill fit only for sworn enemies. And I was simply appalled at the Kerala custom of incorporating fruits in its curries; only a culinary philistine would sentence something as wonderful as a mango to the ign­o­miny of searing heat, cooking oil and the company of sundry fibrous green things.

I was so very wrong. In a spectacular trifecta of overturned conceptions, Privacy’s kitchen has me backing off on my bigotry. First up is a variation on a prawn and mango moilee, the fruit’s subtle flavour ensuring that these crustaceans made a final appointment with their maker — and not incidentally, their consumer — in a very good cause indeed. This is followed up with squid in tomato and diced aubergine, the Mediterranean sensibility given a delightful local tweak with the addition of turmeric. Dish number three, however, lands the knockout punch. It’s a grilled seer fish in a bed of wonderfully crunchy crab sauce. The green vegetable strips sprinkled on top of the fish harmonise the feast in some inexplicably essential way. Bigotry begone; the realisation that this is finely cut okra interferes with my enjoyment not one bit.

Later, I walk from the waterfront bungalow where I’m staying to Privacy’s second (and arguably, even better) half, the Heri­tage Bungalow. It’s a two-bedroom house in traditional Kerala wooden architecture. The massive doors open to a light touch. I run my fingers idly over the support beams sloping down over the verandah, enjoying the faint warmth of the wood. Underfoot, a classic South Indian floor of polished lime mortar feels cool. Lights on the far shore of the lake limn the outline of Discovery.

Quiet Kerala. It isn’t easy to find, but it’s really rather good when you do. Tariff Rs 14,144, including breakfast Contact 0478-2582794, malabarhouse.com


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