Exploring Munnar and Neriamangalam, Kerala with Windermere Retreats
I visited Munnar as part of the Kerala Blog Express project and its beauty totally blew my mind. The cooler climate also helped, as it was a bit more comfortable for me than the heat and humidity of the lower lands of Kerala. I liked the landscapes shaped by tea plantations so much that I wanted to explore more, so I went back to stay in one of the best resorts in Munnar.
Munnar is one of those places that everyone who visits Kerala falls in love with, and it’s no surprise really. But as we know, where you stay can have a big impact on your experience. And this is something that I confirmed when I went back for the second time, when I stayed at Windermere Estate, part of Windermere Retreats.
About Windermere Retreats
Windermere Retreats is a group of two family-owned and run hotels, Windermere Estate in Munnar, and Windermere River House in Neryamangalam. Dr Simon, the father of the current owner, John, fell in love with the view from Windermere back in the 80s, but against friends and family advice, he decided to go ahead and purchase the Estate with its coffee and cardamom plantations.
Over the years, Dr Simon began spending more time at Windermere, where he built an annexe to the main house to accommodate all the friends and relatives who loved visiting him there. These friends and family started referring other friends, curious tourists dropped in and slowly, Windermere Estate grew into one of the best Munnar resorts and without a doubt my favourite.
Then came Windermere River House, in Neriamangalam, which grew from the family’s desire to have a home by the river. After years of taking detours from their weekly commute between Munnar and Kochi, they found the perfect combination – a dramatic drive through dense forests that led to a little rubber plantation with a lovely view. The plantation was repurposed for the River House, which began hosting guests in late 2017.
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The Windermere Way
The settings of both the Munnar resort and the River House are spectacular and a good reason in its own right to visit them both. But what stands out the most is the motto of Windermere Retreats – guests arrive as strangers and leave as friends. They try to give guests an honest, refreshing experience of both the mountains and the foothills by choosing to stay small and intimate and by being mindful of the impact they have on the land and the community they live in.
Staying at Windermere Estate, Munnar
The original plantation owner built his bungalow, which still stands, on the best spot on the Estate, with sweeping views of the tea valleys on one side and the majestic high ranges on the other. The guest rooms were built much later, in a chalet style, inspired by the architecture of the original bungalow.
Each of the Estate’s eighteen rooms is different, but they all have a farmhouse charm and rustic feel, they are very spacious and have lots of natural light, making the most of the nature and views around.
The Windermere Estate Rooms
There are three types of rooms. The Garden Rooms are spacious and are located in the ground-floor of the chalets and open onto a veranda or garden.
I stayed in an Estate Room, on the upper floor of the chalet. Twice the size of the Garden Rooms, they are really big and even with a day bed and large furniture, there was a lot of space. They all have a large balcony with a sitting area from where you can admire the breathtaking view of the mountains and valley around.
The Planter’s Rooms are the largest rooms and have the best views of the mountains, and are perfectly positioned to soak up the sunrise through the window as you lay in bed.
Experiencing Windermere Estate and Munnar
The Estate is set in one of the oldest cardamom plantations in the area, dating from the early 1900s, and there is also a coffee plantation within the property. Munnar is famous for its tea plantations, but don’t worry about missing out. Windermere Estate is one of the few resorts in Munnar that has views over the neighbouring tea plantations, and in particular from the gorgeous infinity pool.
But it’s not just about the views. You can experience Windermere Estate a variety of different ways.
Every evening, the Estate will conduct plantation walks, where you can get up close and personal with cardamom and other spices grown in the property. This is also a great opportunity to see local birds and butterflies, which are attracted by plants purposely grown to encourage wildlife. During this walk you will learn about the local flora and fauna.
Right in the middle of the Estate amongst the chalets, is the highest point in the property, which you can climb via some steps. At the top there is a viewpoint with a view that will take your breath away. Getting up early to catch the sunrise from the top of The Boulder is something that will stay with you forever!
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Right at the feet of the The Boulder you have a wooded area carpeted with moss and wild flowers, with hammocks where you can just relax and while the time away with a good book.
Every Thursday, Windermere Estate’s chef puts on a cooking demonstration where you can learn how to make your own vegetable pakhoras and Keralan fish curry. The Chef will talk you through all the spices used and the cooking process. And best of all, you get to sample the results after and I can tell you that they are delicious!
Day Trips from Windermere Estate
Lockhart Tea Plantation and Factory
Only half an hour drive away, visiting the Lockhart Tea Plantation and Factory with Route49 Adventures is one of the must places to visit in Munnar. Here you will learn about tea tree (that’s right, it’s a tree not a bush), the harvest and the different kinds of tea, and if you are lucky, you will get to meet some of the tea pickers. In the Tea Factory you will learn about the tea making process and the different grades of tea.
Visiting the market in Munnar is the perfect way to observe and get involved in local life. As well as shops that sell fresh produce and traditional clothing, you will find shops with local chocolate, sweets and also stalls where they make and sell flower garlands. It’s great to watch how they make them!
Jacaranda Trees at Vagavurai Plantation
If you are in Munnar during spring, make sure you visit the Vagavurai Estate, but not for the tea in particular, but for the jacaranda trees, which will be in full bloom. The bluey purple of their flowers really stands out against the green of the tea plantations so it’s a real spectacle that must not be missed. You will find them along the Munnar-Marayur road. It’s a bit of a drive from Windermere Estate but definitely worth the effort!
Between the Vagavurai Estate and Windermere Estate you will find the Eravikulam Hills, where a natural phenomenon occurs every 12 years and is a must see for anyone in the area if it’s happening at the time. I’m talking about the mass flowering of neelakuirinji, when all the hills turn purple with flowers. The last bloom was in 2006 and the next one will occur between July and October 2018, so if you find yourself in the area, make sure you are able to witness such beauty.
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Getting to Munnar and Windermere Estate
Getting to Munnar by public transport is not an easy task, so I would recommend you take a taxi or a car with a private driver. We rented a car with a private driver with Suburban Travels & Holidays from Kochi, which cost approximately 3,750 INR (~ $55 USD). This was really good value, as the journey was almost 4 hours, with plenty of stops for tea and comfort breaks along the way. Our driver Vishnu was great, which was a real relief, as the road gets really windy and twisty as soon as you hit the mountains. Vishnu drove very safely and made sure we arrived to our destination comfortably.
Suburban Travels & Holidays are a tour operator in Kochi recognized by the Government of India’s Ministry of Tourism. They have been in business since 1991, and they really know what the customer needs. In addition to cars with private drivers, they offer all sorts of holiday packages in Kerala, as well as tailor-made itineraries. And in addition to this, they offer services that include ticketing service for both train and air travel, taxi service, car rentals and booking accommodation in resort, hotel, houseboat, etc.
You can contact C. P. Ajith Kumar or Vishnu Shankar on email@example.com and they can help you with any of your travel needs, both in Kerala and the rest of India.
Staying at Windermere River House, Neriamangalam
Located 15 minutes from the village of Neriamangalam, Windermere River House is en-route to Munnar from Kochi, Alleppy and Kummarakom. It is surrounded by rubber plantations, with Periyar River at one end of the property, and the jungle at the other, making it a haven of peace that you don’t want to miss while exploring Kerala.
The Windermere River House Rooms
The River House was built just like a large family home – there are only five rooms, and they’re each in their own corner, ensuring maximum space and privacy, with a lovely sitting room for when you feel like some company.
All the rooms are large, airy and bright. To add to the earthy feeling, they’re finished in traditional terracotta tiles and they each have their own balcony overlooking the garden and the river. You can also enjoy these fabulous views from your bed through the glass door, if you’re feeling lazy.
In keeping with the spirit of Windermere Retreats, you’ll find that every piece of furniture here is handcrafted and every piece of fabric is natural.
Four of the rooms are nearly identical, with lovely views of the garden and the mountains. The fifth room is a little different – it’s a duplex, with a little sit-out on the lower level overlooking the rubber plantation.
Dining at Windermere River House
The River House sources their produce fresh from farmers from around the village and supplement it with the catch of the day and their own kitchen garden. You couldn’t really get any fresher than that.
The kitchen is very flexible – given a little notice, the chef can whip up anything you want. And the dining space is quite unique – large, open and set right on the banks of the river. It’s designed to be minimalist, letting the view and the food be the stars of the evening.
Experiencing Windermere River House
The River House may be located in a little known destination, but there are plenty of things to do here.
Activities at River House
The property has a beautiful infinity pool with views over the river, giving you the impression that you are overhanging and swimming in Periyar River. You can also arrange to go fishing from the banks of the river without leaving the property. And when I stayed there last April, the resort was getting ready to start hosting yoga classes.
Activities in Neriamangalam
You can hire a canoe from a local man and set off from the riverbank within the property to explore Periyar River and the surrounding jungle. You could also arrange for a forest walk, where there is always the possibility of coming across a wild elephant.
One of my favourite things to do was to visit the Inchathotty Hanging Bridge at sunset. A lot of villagers came down to enjoy the river for a swim or just for a walk over the bridge. You can also visit the local Toddy Shop, which not only sells toddy (palm wine) but they serve delicious local food. Just a word of warning… toddy shops are known for serving very spicy food!
Getting to Neriamangalam and Windermere River House
Windermere River House is two hours’ drive from Windermere Estate, and John, the owner of the retreat, will help you arrange transport. The ideal situation is that you get to stay in both properties and experience the different ways to relax – on the hill station and by the river. I would recommend starting with at least a couple of days at Windermere Estate and then, on your way to Kochi, stop for one or two days at Windermere River House. It will be a nice way to break the four-hour journey and I promise you you’ll be glad you’ve done it by the end of it.
Are you planning a trip to Kerala? What other places you have in your plans?
Let me know in the comments!
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Disclosure: A big thank you to Windermere Retreats and Suburban Travels & Holidays who hosted me during my trip. As always, all views are my own. This post may contain affiliate links, that earn me a small commission but come at no extra cost to you. Thanks as always for your support!