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    Pick a homestay and start your year in the hills with great views, organic meals and Victorian furniture for company

    There’s something about the slow-paced way of life in Coonoor, Kotagiri, and Ooty that keeps tourists coming back for more. So if you have sampled the homemade chocolates, biscuits, varkis and taken back kilos of flavoured tea, here’s why you should eschew the hotels and live like the locals this time around. Try cottages or homestays, eating non commercial food and finding hidden trails. This may be your last chance, given that the number of homestays is beginning to dwindle. “The Forest Department has come down heavily on places that infringe excessively upon natural habitats. Moreover, homestays do not need to pay taxes but the state government’s new guidelines require them to do so which inadvertently converts them into guest houses or lodging,” says Anna George, who oversees operations at Sunshine Bungalow. So if you want to begin your year with some peace and quiet, read on:

    El DivinoBonfires and barbeques
    El Divino is a 40-year-old building that sees honeymooners, families and impromptu backpackers stop by. Owner Franklin Sukumar started operating the homestay two years ago. “But now ours is more of a guesthouse and we pay our taxes,” he says. Each of his five rooms have individual entrances from the front lawn. “The entire town of Coonoor can be seen from our windows,” Sukumar promises. “Visitors often opt to indulge in an outdoor barbeque so we marinate the meats and provide them the equipment so they can do it themselves. This and the bonfire facility, is billed separately,” Sukumar clarifies. Rooms from Rs 1,111 plus tax onwards. Details: eldivinoholidayhome.weebly.com

    Eta Carinae Cottages for groups
    The seventh and latest property belonging to the SerendipityO group, is located at Halakarai, in the presence of the Catherine waterfalls, with the town of Mettupalayam in view. The 174-acre property is open to organising guided treks too. “The pace is generally rented out as a full cottage for groups,” says Anitha Davaram Mathais, manager, adding that all the three rooms have one common living room and dining space. On the feasting front, they offer Continental dishes for breakfast and Indian cuisine for lunch. They also arrange to set-up facilities for outdoor dining, which includes picnic lunches and barbeque dinners. Rs 10,500 plus tax per night. Details: serendipityo/etacarinae

    Wild Canopy Reserve Camp in the hills
    The Wild Canopy Reserve – Kallikudar, which is an ecologically restored area of 114 acres, is located in Kunjapane, near Nilgiris. At an altitude of around 3,300 feet, it is a landscape of hillocks, valleys, caves and streams. The private property is owned by Ramesh Yesuthasen and his wife Poornima Maduram, both residents of Nilgiris who have carried out sustained efforts to keep the vegetation and wildlife untouched. “Kallikudar was one of the first rubber plantations in the country and is now 125 years old. Fifty years ago we started the ecosystem here, and the result is for you to see,” Poornima beams. Visitors come and camp outdoors in the lap of nature, while having slow-cooked food made with hand-pounded spices and home-grown herbs. Entry from Rs 1,000 per head. Details: 9442526034

    La Maison French fusion food
    At La Maison, Benoit Sait and Anne welcome guests with French fusion food plus gourmet Indian, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian offerings too. Their bungalow was originally built by a Scottish family in 1897, and was later renovated. It now has four rooms and an organic garden. Like any homestay owner, Sait, who is an avid collector of hats, personally interacts with his guests and accompanies them on shopping trips to the nearby village too. Visitors can also spot embroidered shawls made by local craftsmen and women, besides trying out wild honey and homemade pickles and preserves. Special attention is given to wheelchair-bound and differently abled guests. Rs 6,500 plus tax onwards per night. Details: lamaison.in

    Others
    1. Marlborough House
    Marlborough House is a 100 plus year old home from the British era, with the yesteryear architecture and interiors still intact. Decked with Victorian furniture inside amidst a sea  of yellow walls and mild coloured cushions, the place also has three spacious lawns and gardens, plus play areas for children. Barley two kilometres away from Charing Cross Station, Ooty, it offers a great views of the surroundings. Rs 2,500 onwards per night. Details: 0423 2446411

    2. Acres Wild
    Mansoor Khan’s Acres Wild in popular for its organic farm and gourmet cheese. His visitors get the best of hospitality and he encourages them to help with the farming too. “We also conduct cheesemaking courses and take guests on birdwatching trips,” he adds. Rs 3,600 onwards (including breakfast) per night. Details: acres-wild.com

    — Karan Pillai

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