With its signature Kaya Kalp Spa, nine award-winning Italian, Pan-Asian and Indian restaurants, a cigar bar, and banquets accommodating 4000 guests, Chennai’s grandest LEED-platinum certified hotel is a marble-clad ode to the Chola dynasty – perfect for travellers wanting luxury and proximity to the airport.
The Chola is a great choice if you are flying in an out of Chennai, as it is 20 minutes away from the airport. Phoenix Market City mall with its mix of traditional silk shops and global brands is also 20 minutes away. Public transport is available, but most tourists avoid the crush of people on Chennai buses and trains. The hip suburb of Adayar, where the verdant Theosophical Society and the Indian Institute of Technology are 10 minutes away by car early in the morning when birdwatchers and nature lovers throng the area. The beaches off the East Coast Road are half an hour away. The hotel’s Audi cars ferry guests back and forth.
The Chola spreads its 600 rooms are over four towers, including 78 long-term residences. In the middle lie the soaring lobby, public areas, and swimming pool, open to the sky. The public areas mimic the sprawling scale and proportion of South Indian temples. Décor is minimal, with a few well chosen sculptures made by the traditional lost wax casting method, all created by local sculptors. You really feel like a prince or princess when you enter the lobby and see the giant floral arrangements and a brocade shawl is draped around your shoulders by the welcoming committee.
The service is anything but indifferent, particularly at the restaurants. Waiters and sommeliers make knowledgeable recommendations about dishes and drinks, and even know the best places to take selfies from. The chefs are passionate about their jobs, a hallmark of this Indian chain.
The purple-hued Kaya Kalp spa uses local spices – cardamom, saffron, tamarind and mint, as well as aromatics such as the seductive Mysore sandalwood, rose, and jasmine – for its treatments. The ‘Essence of Chola’ includes body brushing and ayurvedic scrubs is particularly enjoyable. The outdoor swimming pools overlook the greenery of the race course. Each residential tower has a fitness centre.
I love Chennai. The ITC Grand Chola is a magnificent hotel. I spent a wonderful two days there, getting to know my hometown in a totally new way.
What you don’t see is equally, if not more, impressive. This LEED platinum rated hotel is a pillar (quite literally) of sustainability: all electricity is generated by windmills, and it recycles its water and composts solid waste.
The standard rooms are bright, thanks to Chennai’s abundant sunshine; an oasis after Chennai’s bustle and heat. They are bereft of paintings, leaving the walls either restful or bare depending on your point of view. Beds are supremely comfortable with iPad docking stations that let you close the blinds or lights with a tap. The fabrics for the bathrobes, beds and curtains are a mix of sumptuous silks and fine cotton. Standard accoutrements include a safe, ironing board, a coffee and tea maker, minibar, and computer ports. The marble bathrooms are a good size and have separate shower cubicles and bathtubs in the higher grades. Guests can splash about secure in the knowledge that the water goes to the plants.
Club rooms and suites have lots of extras including a butler who remains the point of contact and takes care of every need. The Eva floor, patrolled by female security staff, is exclusively for female travellers. The toiletries on this floor are tailored to women guests with nail polish remover, a tweezer and hair clips.
Chef Varun Mohan makes magic at Royal Vega, which serves amazing vegetarian food in a setting fit for a Maharajah. Try the unusual pinched breads, the saffron-laced potatoes, and the varieties of curries and dals made using ancient and sacred techniques. The chefs and waiters at the restaurant are all vegetarian so they describe the virtues of Indian vegetarian cuisine.
The hotel’s other offerings include a 10-course Italian tasting menu, paired with robust wines for homesick Europeans; Northwest frontier foods, and succulent grilled meats and chicken, with flavourful marinades from Peshwari, and Sichuan, Cantonese, Japanese and Thai cuisine from Pan Asian. Madras Pavilion serves what is arguably the best South Indian breakfast in the city with fluffy idli-dumplings, crispy dosa-crepes laced with a potato-onion filling and a variety of chutneys.
Shoba Narayan is an author, journalist and columnist. Besides writing, she is interested in nature, wine, gadgets and Sanskrit. Her lifelong mission is to get fit without exercising and lose weight without dieting.