This summer, intrepid traveler Vidya Desphande suggests you head to one of the deluxe coffee estate bungalowsin Chikmagalur or Kodagu in Karnatakafor a refreshing stay.
The story of how coffee came to Karnataka is legendary. Seven coffee beans were smuggled out of Arabia in the late 8th century AD and planted in the hills near Mysuru by a local Muslim saint. Today, about 12 centuries later, it has turned us into sixth largest coffee producing nation in the world!
The legend goes that Baba Budan, while on a pilgrimage to Arabia, laid his hands on seven beans of coffee. The Arabs had very strict rules on coffee trading, as they did not want any other country to grow it. They made sure all beans were roasted before being taken out of their country, so that they could not be germinated. However, Baba Budan managed to bring these seven green coffee beans to Mysuru without being detected and he planted them in the Chandragiri hills in Chikmagalur area (now named as Babu Budan Giri , after him). And thereby hangs a tale! From there, we now produce about 349 tons of coffee annually, 71 per cent of which is grown in Chikmagalur and Kodagu districts!
Travelling to the hills of Kodagu and Chikmagalur is fascinating. The hillsare verdant, with misty rolling clouds sweeping over the coffee bushes and spice plantations. The local planters lived in sprawling colonial bungalows in the midst of their lush homesteads covering thousands of acres. The estates were largely family holdings and many of them remain so, although some large corporate trading houses have bought many of these estates and brought them under their holdings.
Being family operations, the estate bungalows were not accessible to regular tourists. However, many of them are opening their homes by converting them into estate home stays, as a means of extra income. The Tatas, who have large acreage of coffee plantations under them, too have converted some of their estate bungalows into homestays.
The experience of staying at one of these bungalows is very unique, compared withany of the resorts that dot Madikere or Chikmagalur. You get the pleasure of living in one of the planter’s bungalows that have bespoke interiors and you are right in the midst of the coffee estates. You can indulge in long walks through the private plantations, watch workers pick coffee berries as you hike, visit the factory and get first hand experience of how coffee is roasted and get a low down on the different varieties of coffee beans, giving you a connoisseur’s experience. Many of the estates are adjoining forest areas and you can enjoy spotting a variety of wildlife and birds as well.
Here’s our pick of some of the best luxury homestays in the Chikmagalur/ Kodgau:
Villa Urvinkhan, Niduvale, Mudigere
Shweta and Sunil Gowda converted their family home into this luxurious homestay. They have five deluxe cottages with private Jacuzzis and outdoor showers that overlook nature. And as if that is not enough indulgence, there’s an infinity pool that overlooks the estate! The rooms all have four-poster beds and antiques are all around you. They serve a mix of local south Indian cuisine and European food.
You can go for treks around the estate and spot some local wildlife or add a dash of adventure by grabbing one of their ATV bikes and driving on the dirt trails around the estate. Prices start at INR 5,500 per person, per night.
Flameback Villas, Billur, Mudigere
Another family holding now converted to an estate stay, Flameback has six villas and two suites. Run by KRS Private Ltd, this property also comes with the works: infinity pool, private Jacuzzis, ATV trails and more. You can do as little or as much as you want, is their tagline. Other than a host of activities on the property, they offer trips to Devarmane Valley, Mount Sisila and Pandava Hills and short trips to local waterfalls and streams. You can also take a short drive (of one and half hours) to Bhadra or Kudremukh Wildlife Parks. You have to payanything between 12,000 and 17,000 for a night’s stay here.
Primrose Villas, Mullyangiri:
If you live in a glass house, then enjoy the view! This 700-acre property has five glass-fronted villas, with private space around each one to give you plenty of privacy and a great view of nature and the coffee plantations around you. Like the other estate homes, they offer a range of cuisines as well the facilities to dine in the private area of the villa. A full range of activities from indoor board games to horseback riding through the estate are available. The indulgence of staying here will cost you INR 15,000 per night for one of these exclusive villas.
Tippanahalli, Babu Budan Giri:
This is a huge heritage mansion that belongs to the Araluguppe family. It has distinct red exteriors and has collection of rare paintings, artefacts, chandeliers, antiques and more. The mansion has also played host to royalty, like the late Maharaja of Mysore, Krishna Wodeyar, late Dewan of Mysore Ismail Mirza and other VIPs. Loacted 10 km away from Chikmagalur, this red mansion has 28 rooms in the mansion. However only one is open to tourists. It has two cottages with 2 bedrooms each built on the property that are open to visitors. A night’s stay here starts at INR 3500 per person.
Plantation Trails is a Tata brand and has six estate bungalows in Kodagu , one in Chikmagalur and one in Hassan. Each bungalow has its own in-house chef and staff, to provide you with a complete brown sahib experience. The bungalows and cottages are located on different estates owned by the Tatas, mainly in Polibetta in Kodagu. The Tatas are well known for their hospitality with their premier brand the Taj Group. Plantation Trails is their estate homestay brand. The prices start at INR 5000 per night for a cottage and go up nearly 12,000 a night for a bungalow.
Gowri Niwas, Madikere:
A lovely family bungalow that is located very close to Raja’s Seat in Madikere. It has one cottage with two rooms and one room in the main house. While it’s not on a coffee estate, the property has plenty of acreage around it, the advantage is that it is right in Madikere. Run by Bopanna andhis wife Muthu, third generation owners of the bungalow, its simple yet offers great Kodava hospitality. The tariff is between INR 4000 and 6000 per night here.
(Vidya Deshpande is a freelancer journalist and runs Soul Purpose Travel, an adventure travel company for women.)