The prime position of Villa Retreat, a 5–7-minute walk from Seven Roads Junction, speaks to its 150 years of history in Kodaikanal. Beginning as a colonial-era bungalow, the property has been expanded to accommodate 50 people across 18 rooms, a boutique dining room, and a lawn and barbecue area. During my stay in late January, the view was obscured by clouds, but apparently on a clear night you can even see the lights of Madurai’s Meenakshi Temple. If not quite this, what is guaranteed is the famous view of the plains from Coaker’s Walk, which is right next door.
This boutique hotel’s vision is ‘quintessentially Kodai, but with a twist’, and the rooms capture this sentiment. The fireplaces, antique furniture and misty view contrast nicely with the more colourful furnishings, kooky wall murals and limited edition prints by local artists. The addition of South Indian filter coffee and locally grown tea, a work-in-progress during my stay, will add to the local focus. The family suite, with two double bedrooms and two living rooms, comfortably fits six, and every room is spacious and has a bay window, balcony or inside sit-out area. There is a difference in quality between the Travellers and Travellers Plus and the more upmarket offerings of the Valley View, Signature and Family Suites, and Perumal Malai Room, most notably the lack of fireplace in the first two options, which otherwise seems to be a consistent and cosy trademark for the hotel. For a truly Kodaikanal experience, I’d recommend a crackling fire in the corner—do note, though, that firewood and heaters are both chargeable extras.
The room service menu reflects Villa Retreat’s local ethos, with a pared-down but well-curated selection of dishes. Choose from sambar, rasam and other South Indian dishes, with ingredients largely sourced from the hills (except for perhaps prawns, which feature more than twice). These are accompanied by dosa, parotta or rice, with a daily special for dessert. I would only add some salad; Kodai’s beautiful vegetables lend themselves to this. For guests craving typical fare—chicken butter masala, noodles, or fried rice—there is a separate on-demand menu to choose from. Breakfast is an occasion, served fresh to your table in the dining area and beginning with steaming idlis, dosas, poha, pongal and vadas. These are all delicious and have a bit of a twist—fresh herbs in the vadas and raisins in the poha.
The absence of WiFi in the rooms is purposeful, according to hotel manager, Anubhav. Visitors like me, with screen time through the roof, would easily buy into this concept if it were made more evident on walking through the doors of the hotel for the first time. Otherwise, the communication and service at Villa Retreat were punctual and professional, with food arriving to the room hot and other requests taken care of between five and ten minutes.
Beyond the property, what makes Villa Retreat stand out most is their customised tours outside the town limits, into Pethuparai, Prakashapuram and the Sholas. In partnership with the creative residents of the Palani Hills—those living by the wild, growing their own produce and crafting essential oils, treehouses and cheese—these tours connect the commercial urban centre with the rural local scene. Creating these experiences is part of redefining the meaning of ‘quintessentially Kodai’—creating space for a truly memorable experience in the mountains, whilst providing a quietly luxurious urban base from which to explore.
The Kodai Chronicle’s writer was hosted by this property.