When David and Rebekah Benjamin checked in at the Malabar House hotel at Fort Kochi recently, the latter was unwell. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was diagnosed with dengue. While Rebekah was in hospital, the staff from Malabar House would change the pillows and sheets of her bed every morning and provide all meals.
After Rebekah recovered, David mailed its German owner Joerg Drechsel, saying, “We have never experienced such care and hospitality anywhere in the world.”
Drechsel has a reason to extend such help. “When you travel to a foreign country, you take along everything you need, but leave behind your social networks,” he says. “You have to depend on the people you interact with, like taxi drivers, tourist guides and hotel staff. And we want to do our best.”
It’s no surprise that with this attitude, Malabar House has won many awards—the recent Lonely Planet’s Heritage Hotel of The Year Award, the World Travel Award for best boutique hotel in Asia in 2014, and became the first Indian member of Relais and Chateaux (a global group of individually-owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants).
About the 17-room hotel-bungalow, the hotel’s CEO Saji Joseph says, “People come not for a good night’s sleep but to have an experience; the ambience, the tropical weather, the cuisine based on local flavours (you can have the seasonal catch of the day: fish with tempered tapioca and coconut milk gravy). Then there is the art collection, a blend of contemporary and collectible old art. We also offer Ayurveda treatment and yoga lessons.”
Guests are encouraged to visit the famed backwaters of Allapuzha, participate in a beach picnic, and see how coir mats and carpets are made.
What adds to the charm is the people-to-people experience. “The Malayali is a born host,” says Drechsel. “He is friendly, kind, warm, cordial and intelligent. There was a waiter who studied philosophy and was happy to discuss French existentialism with a client. For the guests, it is an unique experience.”
But the staff turnover is very high. “In Kerala, everybody has a passport,” smiles Drechsel. “I have people knocking on my door at 7 pm and saying, ‘Sir, it was wonderful working with you, thank you. My flight to Dubai is at 3 am, so I’m leaving’.”
Despite the hiccups, it is clear that loves Fort Kochi. In the 70s, Drechsel came to Fort Kochi for a night and ended up spending two weeks. He kept returning every two years. In 1994, when he saw the shuttered Malabar House for sale, he bought it and stayed on. And as the hotel’s website says, “Country of Birth: Germany. Motherland: India”.