Just off a tree-lined winding country road in Kerala’s Kottayam district is the little-known Teekoy village. Traditionally a rubber plantation hub, it now has become world-famous for Vanilla County, the dramatic two-storey heritage home of the Vallikappen family. This family of four – Baby Vallikappen, Rani Vallikappen, Matthew Vallikappen and Silu Vallikappen – accommodate visitors at their 75-year-old home set amidst plantations, spice gardens, beehives and a flock of opinionated birds. The emphasis throughout their home is on antique artefacts, natural materials and low-key luxury.
The home, one end of which is occupied by the family, has heritage rooms that host visitors from around the world and two separate cottages with open-to-sky garden bathrooms. It is a loving marriage of a sprawling country home and warm, deep wood-toned Kerala design. The striking al fresco courtyard where meals are served and the large windows through which one can see lush foliage surrounding the home make it a hard place to leave. Thoughtful touches include hammocks under shade trees, comfortable garden seating for leisurely reading, and space for dog walking in the evenings with Kofi, the family's adorable Labrador.
Teekoy with its untouched rural charm explodes with natural colour, with wild flowers and large torch ginger leaves forming a carpet of gorgeous green along the meandering walkways leading to the mountains and rock pools that invite you in for a dip as you walk past lazy goats, happy cows and friendly villagers.
Produce locally-sourced or home-grown by the Vallikappen family is served up as sumptuous meals by a battery of professional staff headed by housekeeper Maju, the local lad who loves to talk in English and is there to make your stay a happy one. His spice garden tour is a must, with great nuggets of history and health benefits of spices thrown in for good measure.
Meal times are a true carnival of local cuisine. From boisterous beef cutlets laden with hand-pounded spices to delicious vegetable stews served with flaky parottas or snow-white appams, Rani and Silu along with their team deliver on taste and service.
For some, travel is through the tastebuds, and Vanilla County takes you on quite the culinary journey with unadulterated local cuisine. Desserts are a strong point at the Vallikappen dining table. From moist teacakes and chocolate breads to shortbread cookies, Silu delivers a statement for dessert meal after meal. And after all the indulgence, if you just want to go light, then please ask for Rani's Pumpkin Soup.
Matthew, the heir to the Vallikappen legacy, is a bright and eager to please 29-year-old who doubles up as the property's General Manager. He says, "My father began this homestay nearly two decades ago. Initially, he had only one guest or so a year, but slowly things picked up and we started having guests from around the world. There are some who come back every year and stay with us for one or two months at a stretch.”
Talking about how he got involved in the venture, he says, “As my parents got older and plantation life became too stressful, I came back from New Zealand to help them with the hospitality business because my heart and soul belong to this village. My wife Silu is the talkative one and loves to meet with guests, serve them their meals and take them on treks. I look after the overall running of the property and my parents join in for conversations with guests. My mother even takes a cooking class for those who are interested. We are a no-fuss low-key luxury homestay amidst nature."
The best part is, Vanilla County’s spacious heritage accommodation and high quality food set amidst unadulterated nature won't give your bank balance a hefty whack.
Getting There: 2 hours from Kochi Airport
Tariff: Rs 5500-9000
Take a trip to Vagamon and Marmara Waterfalls
Take a dip in the rock pools around the property
Try the local spicy mini sausages at breakfast
Sample Silu’s African Coriander-topped spicy cheese buns
Cycle along the Teekoy village roads
If you're there for a long stay, catch a movie at the plush Eratuwada Theatre
Cooking class with Rani Amma
Jeep Rides with Matthew...