Bespoke dinners, sea-themed spa treatments – the InterContinental Chennai seems well worth the wait
You know your resort means business when, instead of rose petals or chocolate on your pillow, the nightly turndown ritual involves a note from the weatherman. Fortunately for us (my first-grader is with me and she has her sights on the lounge pool), we are promised clear skies the next day, with nary a cloud in sight. The layout of the hotel – 14 acres of which only half is built-up and the rest landscaped – is designed for star-gazing – at the Gatsby lounge with its Mediterranean-style performance space, dinner outdoors in the hotel’s quadrangle, midnight chocolate on the beach, the spa that comes with open-air showers and, when we turn in for the night, at our suite with its own little courtyard. No wonder then, that we sleep right through the yoga hour the next morning. But the InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort, which officially launches today, has other shorcuts to bliss. The freestanding wooden bathtub at the far end of the suite reimagines a coracle and with delicious L’Occitane toiletries from the Mer line (discreet nods to the sea continue across the property), we’re good to go exploring.
Take the tour
There are references to the UNESCO World Heritage site’s temples and carvings from the reception onwards – expansive, with a seven metre long stone counter, timber ceiling and a bas-relief of an Indian city settlement, Nandyavarta. Athangudi tiles go on for miles, and there’s delightful restraint when it comes to the furniture – just enough seating to be functional without sacrificing the impact of large, open spaces. The long walkway that overlooks the lotus pond on one side and the pool on the other is a great setting for celebratory events – tonight’s launch party, for instance. And the path to the beach, seemingly a hop and a skip away, includes a sculpture of the sun god. It appears the city’s favourite art expert, Sharan Apparao, has been busy here as well. When not making food or spa appointments, guests can plan a quick trip to Pondicherry, two hours way. Vijay Kumar Singh, the well-travelled general manager of the hotel and resident expert on the Maldives – therefore an authority on luxe, tranquil, sandy refuges as well – points out that the advantages of a resort over a city hotel is that guests are mentally prepared to unwind. “I have guests who spend all their days here following the pool-meals-pool routine and it’s great,” he says. But if you want more, the hotel’s director of marketing, Karuna Amarnath, has already set up a network of activities that range from surfing and temple walks to, soon, brunch with theatre. All that’s required are sunny days ahead. And that is why, given how meteorological norms were turned upside down last month, the weather update on your pillow is a nice touch, indeed.
Therapists here admit that there have had days packed with 30 or more guests waiting to try out the Amritam spa by Escenza at the hotel. And this is even before the launch date. While other luxury properties along the East Coast have their share of spas, this centre has treatments by international brands like Aroma Associates and Thalion. Sign up for Swedish, Deep tissue, Thai and Ayurveda therapies. The rooms are well-appointed, with couple suites and private steam rooms. Treatments begin at Rs 4,000 ++ for a full body massage, and there are options for little divas as well. I tried a foot massage that was quick, thorough and well-scented. But then again, at a beach resort like this, digging your toes into the sand as the reef lights twinkle, is just as therapeutic.
The hotel’s best kept secret is executive chef Ashis Kumar, who used to be at the wellness retreat, Ananda In The Himalayas. Kumar promises handcrafted food and bespoke experiences across the property. We dined on fresh sea bass with crispy skin, linguine and scallops, and different textures of chocolate for dessert. But he insists we return to try his signatures – the Tasting of Lamb, featuring pistachio-crusted lamb chops and an 8-hour lamb confit; and the NH203 Highway Mutton Curry, a recipe borrowed from dhabas near Puri, his hometown. The latter, a rustic gravy of chilli and mustard oil, is cooked in an earthen pot on charcoal and the vessel is destroyed the next day (as its earthy flavour would have disappeared). Besides Melting pot, the all-day diner, Tao of Peng, the Hunan and Cantonese restaurant, is opening soon, followed by a grills restaurant by the bay. Breakfast buffet at Rs 899++, lunch at Rs 1,499 ++, dinner Rs 1,799++
Need to know The Madras
Crocodile Bank is right next door, with a popular night safari on weekends. At 7 pm, but book a day earlier with Vineet at 8489514463.
InterContinental Chennai’s tariff is from Rs 12,000 ++ onwards for standard rooms and Rs 20,000 ++ for the suites. Details: 71720101
— Rosella Stephen