The vista of mop-topped palm trees standing sentinel over coruscating glimpses of water is a familiar one. At least to those who make a habit of touching down at Kolkata Airport. Leave the airport behind and come into Kolkata proper, though, and you can forget that view. No matter how grand the hotel, regardless of how verdant the IT growth chart and the outlook on local sustainable agriculture, the truth about the city of joy is that green has not been its best colour for a long time now.
Even the fresh foliage of the city’s hotels takes its leaves out of English gardens (hence the ubiquitous fern-lined corridors) and Southeast Asian scenes (think golden bamboo screens). Which is why this same view from theSwissôtel Kolkata Neotia Vista’s infinity pool — instead of your airplane window — is so startling. Because backed by transplanted palms, perched on the rooftop, you sit in water that seems to chain into the distance, merging with the small ponds shimmering in the sun through the fringed leaves marking greater Kolkata’s semi-rural reaches.
It may be a pidgin visual dialect, scrambled by a quick glance in the opposite direction at a mall that meant to suggest Manhattan to residents of Madhyam-gram. But inside the precise European façade of the country’s first Swissôtel property, vernacular design stays sharply in view. Shuvaprasanna’s ten-armed metal goddess presides over the dining and entertainment spaces on the sixth floor. Room doors along the corridors are punctuated by frames of textiles from across India. Inside, the work of homegrown artists pops local colour into the neutral base scheme of the rooms, their anywhere-beige and Swiss chocolate tones managing to be more reassuring than bland with the quality of furniture and the spaciousness of the rooms. Outside the suites, private pools overhang the weekend crowds in the mall.
Indeed, the Swissôtel is one of India’s few hotels — and Kolkata’s first — to actually share entryway with a mall. Though, it’s perhaps a logical city to try out this economics-led architectural quirk —the older, more established city-centre hotels (like the Oberoi Grand or the Park) have always greeted guests coming in through the shopping arcades fronting them. The Swissôtel, then, adopts the best of both worlds: a walk-in entry through the new City Centre New Town mall and a main drive-in entrance with a security portal that effortlessly outclasses the creaky international Airport’s.
Actually, but for its distance of three kilometres from the airport, Swissôtel could lay comfortable claim to being the city’s premier airport hotel. And in many ways, it is just that. The first on the new expressway wending downtown past the techie-seeking towers of New Town, the hotel hopes to attract international business clients to make base in its big meeting rooms — Basel, Geneva and Zurich, and Berne, which claims to be the city’s largest pillarless hall. Going into the city centre is for sightseeing; immediate entertainment needs should be met on the premises, including City Centre’s multiplex, restaurants, bookstore, fast food chains and homegrown branded shops. Not that too many guests seem to graze beyond the 24-hour Café Swiss.
Honestly, there isn’t good reason to. Why would you pick a paltry pizza over a summer salad with quail’s egg, honeydew melon, cranberry confit, roast chicken and pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette, at a comparable price? Who cares for the crush and cacophony of Indian food courts when they can sit in the serene, sunwashed Café Swiss — cool as an English conservatory, belying the tropical sun that other hotels tend to firmly shut out. The sofas make for cushy sitting, not merely chic décor, and the bountiful buffets are value-for-money. They typically feature half a dozen cold cuts; over a dozen salads; Indian curries and rotis; biryanis as well as European baked dishes; Asian noodles and stir-fries; a bench of cheeses and a whole bank of desserts. Surprisingly for its Swiss heritage, sweets are the weakest link in the menu. But they are the last link, so it hardly matters when you’re stuffed with excellent Bündner barley soup, fried Gruyère fritters with a chutney-style fruit relish, pan-roasted salmon or big, bursting bratwursts, or Luzernechuggelipastelli.
And all this at just the one signature dining venue. Though the majority of the Café’s menu is available for in-room dining too and there is also the Maaya club-lounge just taking off and the poolside F&B of Splash, which is now serving sips but hopes to add contemporary cuisine before the year’s out. Also on the menu cards is a speciality Indian restaurant, Durbari (opening date: to be declared).
But the real Swiss selling point at the Swissôtel is the efficiency and precision, made to seem as effortless as the ticking of the signature Hublot clock in the lobby. From speedy in-room check-in that eschews the longwinded obsequiousness that is much too common in Indian hospitality, to the promptness of room service, the singlehanded and superfast room cleaning, the casual grace of waitstaff who can smile and joke without breaking a sweat over a stiff upper lip, and the singular absence of this country’s hovering managers, it’s more relaxing than many a spa hotel. (Though it will soon be that too, with its Pürovel spa being tricked out now.) Which is a quality prized by both business travellers trying to make sense of Kolkata’s cultural double-boiler in a day and holidayers who’ve just braved a humid day’s sightseeing in crawling car jams.
Where: City Centre New Town, Rajarhat, Kolkata
Accommodation: 147 rooms and suites: 59 classic rooms, 40 advantage rooms, 38 executive rooms, 5 junior suites and 5 executive suites
Tariff: Rs 8,000 (classic), Rs 8,500 (advantage), Rs 9,500 (executive), Rs 10,000 (executive with jacuzzi), Rs 16,000 (junior suite) Rs 18,000 (junior suite with jacuzzi), Rs 20,000 (executive suite) and Rs 22,000 (executive suite with jacuzzi)
Contact: 033-66266666, swissotel.com