Off-beat experiences to explore in Kodaikanal

Kodai Kanal is a hill station in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India. Since the time of the English era, this place, at a 2000+ metres above the sea level. lush green forests, a star shaped man-made lake, and winter holidays, has been known to the travel-loving tourists from India and abroad. But, when I asked my friends about Kodai, the first few thoughts that I could hear were – tourists, shrooms, boating, ghats etc. So on my second trip to Kodai in the monsoons, I was genuinely keen to know about this place beyond the popular understanding.

Riddhi Debh | Beautiful sunrise, as experienced from the balcony of Villa Retreat, Kodaikanal
Here are what my recommendations are to rediscover Kodaikanal, an overnight train journey to the nearest station Kodai Road, from Bangalore.

I stayed at Villa Retreat in Kodaikanal, one of the heritage properties boasting a great view from the balcony and super-friendly service. The team at Villa Retreat hosted me here for the beautiful stay, as well as the off-beat excursions to most of these places. Some of the tours like visiting the homes of the people of Kodai, visit to the farmhouse and sunset at Palangir Hills are exclusively managed by them in Kodaikanal. The team conceptualises cultural immersions to portray Kodaikanal as a cultural destination as well as a place for unique experiences.

Riddhi Debh | The beautiful lawn of Villa Retreat where I spent most of my time

1. People of Kodaikanal : The spirit of Kodai

Kodai Kanal means ‘The gift of the forest’. People from the southern India, and abroad, including America, England, Netherlands, France, Israel did understand the value of this place. When you look at a place, the vibe of the place is created by who live there and how they connect with it. Kodai is no different. I got the opportunity to experience and interact with a wide variety of people during my stay here.

1.1 Visit a Pottery shed

After we drove for almost half an hour from the main city, we entered the gravel roads and reached a corner of a place. There stood an isolated place, defined more by its width than its length. On entering the place, the sense of hard-work and beautiful art – both were strong. We met Prabhu, the last representative of the generation who had come to Kodai and called this place their home. He is of Tamil descent, a humble man, who learnt the art of pottery that was passed on to him through generations. He patiently takes you through the entire process of pottery, makes you do it, and it felt good to create something that looked so simple, but was so hard to master.

Riddhi Debh | Pottery shed in Kodaikanal

1.2 Understand the life of a French entrepreneur

In the village of Pethupurai, 40 min away from the Kodai city, lives a French family, who came and settled in India 23 years back. I entered a quiet, green and wild forest, full of various kinds of trees. Each tree had fruits which were used to produce jam within the same premises. The local shops and some of the other ones outside the city bought these. I refrained from taking pictures to respect their privacy. But, I interacted with them to understand their philosophy to make a choice of this kind. Once I entered the house, the calm atmosphere with some chanting music going on in the background, gave me a glimpse of how peaceful this life could be. Saw a treehouse that the family had built, and spent time at, with a bonfire at the bottom. In the days of preservatives and added flavours, the jam and marmalade are devoid of any such additions, supporting natural ingredients and giving livelihood to the local people.

Riddhi Debh | What a cute treehouse in Kodaikanal

1.3 Get surprised with natural cheese making married with a spiritual life

A bunch of ladies from Netherlands and America came in the 1980’s to explore the spiritual side of India. They met the holy mother and decided to leave behind their own countries to follow the spiritual path in Kodaikanal. Most of us were not even born then. Slowly they found their way, and created a sustainable way of living here, working with the women in the villages, and produced the best quality of cheese in Palani hills. I met one of them who welcomed me warmly, chatted with me, and made me taste cheese. My favourite was pepper gouda and Montasio cheese.

Riddhi Debh | Village woman associated with the cheese production in Kodaikanal

1.4 Meet and wonder about an unconventional ‘Captain fantastic’ family in India

Along with traveling, I love watching movies from across the world. Some of the movies are unconventional and make us wonder about life. Don’t they? I remember watching ‘Captain Fantastic’, a movie with Viggo Mortensen and Matt Ross, running an unconventional family including their children, living deep in the wilderness. Away from the society, the couple devotes their existence to raising their kids – educating them to think critically, training them to be physically fit and athletic, guiding them in the wild without technology and demonstrating the beauty of co-existing with nature. Until I met a dutch couple in the forest of Ganeshapuram with their twin daughters, the movie was just a story in my head. They run the family by creating organic soaps and singing in the cafes. Very private, but thoughtful, this family will open up your minds towards having a lateral thinking about education and life in general.

Riddhi Debh | A chameleon playing in the forest in front of the house of the Dutch family

2. Go on a nature walk and get lost in the past of Kodaikanal

While I understand that a vacation is about relaxation, but if you could, getting up in the early morning, will cleanse your heart here. The path from the centre of the city to Vattakanal falls and the loop back to the origin will take a couple of hours. During the way, I saw beautiful churches. Among them, was a beautiful blue-white church called La Salette Shrine. It was the very first church that was built by the French missionaries here. I specifically found the stairs so pretty and serene.

If you continue to walk, you will see the thermometer factory which was closed down years back after a mercury metal mishandling affecting the lives of hundreds of workers. No place is devoid of its tragedy, and Kodai despite is amazing beauty, is no exception. The walk is full of a wide variety of flowers, including Hybrid Rose, Fuchsia, Chrysanthemum and so many more. And you will eventually reach the Vattakanal falls, known as the ‘Lyril’ falls due to the ad showing the model taking a bath in a waterfall. The trek to Vattakanal is widely known and is a recommended activity to do.

Riddhi Debh | La Salette Church, Koidaikanal

3. Experience the mesmerising Shola forest, while understanding its ecological significance

One of the most important learnings for me from this trip was to understand the significance of existence of Shola forest in Kodai Kanal. Sholas are the local name for tropical mountain forest found in only western ghats alongside the grassland in the South India. These are usually the short plants having amazing medicinal qualities. While you are likely to see the tall eucalyptus or the pine trees easily, Shola forest releases water into the atmosphere, thereby becoming the source of the only water reservoir in Kodai, that supplies water to the city. I went on a drive to discover existence of these plants, easily overlooked, having Ayurvedic importance for various diseases, of skin, lungs, mind and even cancer. Even if you are of the kind who does not want to understand the scientific significance, the greens of trees and the calmness inside the forest is going to soothe your soul without any doubt.

Riddhi Debh | Shola forest amidst the Eucalyptus trees in Kodaikanal

4. Discover the undiscovered Kookal lake, your best bet for soul searching

There is something really deep about visiting a quiet and vast lake. And if the clouds gather around them during the monsoon days, it just adds to the vibe. Kookal lake is one such place. It almost feels like that nobody knew about it, even the locals. but you are meant to be here. On your excursion to the Shola forest, insist the driver to move farther to reach here, There is a plenty of places where you can sit and ponder about life. There is no boating, no crowd, and you will wonder where this place was for all these days. While coming back from the lake, you can also visit the beautiful Meenakshi Amman temple, one of the most respected places of the Hindus here. Do not wear shorts or mini skirt if you decide to visit here.

Riddhi Debh | Monsoon clouds around Kokkal lake in Kodaikanal

5. Visit a farm house, or a waterfall, pluck some fruits

You can soak in a place only when you do a few things that the locals do. I had the opportunity to visit a private farmhouse away from the Kodai city. While initially I wondered what I could do there, I am so glad that I did. Local families usually take care of these places, whether the modest house or the green plush forest surrounding the same. I carried some sandwich with me and had a peaceful lunch sitting there. I also plucked some berries and rosewater apple, played with the dogs and caught up on a quick nap. From there, visited a waterfall not known to the world, and pretty much spent time by myself there. It’s a tall waterfall with a small pond around. Carry your bathing suit if you want to take a dip. An afternoon well spent, and you will feel re-energised to get on with your next excursion.

Riddhi Debh | Soaking in the sound of the gushing waterfalls in Kodaikanal

6. Find out spots to witness the best of the sunsets and do an off-roading to reach there

If you are easily swayed by the hues of sunsets or sunrise, you are in for several heartfelt moments in Kodaikanal. Just half an hour drive away from the city, you will reach Poombarai village, with colourful houses and terrace farming of beetroot, carrots and garlic, creating a dreamy scene when the sun sets. If it’s one of those days during the week, the atmosphere will be filled with the chants from the village temple.

You can also do an off-roading to reach the top of Palangir hills to experience a burst of clouds and sunset together. For a person like me, who has seen the best of the sunsets across the world, you need to trust me when I say this is the most heavenly sunset I have ever seen in my life.

Riddhi Debh | Beautiful sunset in Kodaikanal

During my stay at Kodaikanal, Villa Retreat team hosted me for my accommodation and the excursions.

A weekend to remember at Wunderhaus

The crowds, the heat, the dust – everything that is wrong with city living, Mumbai has in spades. It was obvious that my wife and I needed a change of scenery; the greener and colder, the better. Kodaikanal was the obvious choice, and we roped in another couple of friends to join us for the trip.

But where do we stay in Kodaikanal? After a lot of research, Wunderhaus Artist Getaway and Homestay was the answer. It looked cozy and inviting in the pictures, and all of us were really excited about our stay. But little did we know that the pictures of the location and of the house itself do no justice to the actual experience that awaits as you drive up the rocky path towards house.

As our little car chugged up the path and the house appeared on the right, I was torn. Torn between the picturesque house with its fresh, green lawn and the awe-inspiring valley view that seemed to stretch forever. The valley won, for now, mostly because I wanted to take my time exploring the house itself, the pictures of which had piqued my curiosity.

When I was finally able to tear myself away from the view (there was plenty more time for that), I joined the rest of the group through the front door.

Shoes off (I approve), and you walk into the sitting area that is cosy, yet open. And no matter where you choose to sit, you have a view of a magnificent branch snaking down from the roof, artistically decorated with lights. An idea I’m definitely going to steal, there’s a lot more to this room. Old cassette tapes line the walls on one side, while the biggest wall is dominated by an oil painting that melds and morphs the longer you look at it. Quirky pictures and ads for obscure brands dot the house, sometimes at the most unexpected places, putting a smile on your face when you stumble into one. There’s even an old shop hoarding from a textile trader that time has forgotten. The two bedrooms we occupied were decorated in the same vein, with cozy blankets to keep you warm through the cold nights.

While the inside is great, what really made our Wunderhaus experience one to remember is the outside. Especially in the morning. Sitting on one of the chairs, looking out into the valley and the hills in the distance as the sun shines down, the peace and quiet just washes over you. The lawn is also sprinkled with curios, with two sinks repurposed to form tiny ponds, as well as wooden trunks arranged together to create a comfy area to sit and sip your tea as you take in the hundreds of eucalyptus trees that cover the hills right opposite. What makes it even better (even though we thought it couldn’t) is Pandi Amma’s home-cooked breakfast of dosas and chutneys, that sets the tone for the rest of the day. A day spent soaking in the beautiful vista and basking in the sun.

As night approached, however, we all scrambled for our jackets. Without the sun, the cold creeps up on you. And while it is invigorating, especially after the humidity of Mumbai, soon it will force you indoors. But that’s where the fireplace comes in handy., I didn’t mention the fireplace? I saved the best for last then. Once the sun sets, Pandi Amma brings in firewood and starts the fireplace. As the room heats up, it gets incredibly cozy and warm, almost like the perfect hug. I would suggest sitting around the fireplace playing one of the many board games available there like we did, curling up with a good book right or just taking a little nap (like we also did).

If you can tear yourself away from Wunderhaus, which we barely managed, Anto is there to help you with everything you need to know about the surrounding area. Be it a seldom-used path into the forest, out-of-the-way points of interest, or just places you can order food from, he made sure we had the best trip possible. He’s also great company if you want to just talk, and definitely added to our experience at Wunderhaus.

As we packed up the third day, it was obvious that none of us were ready to make the journey back to reality. Wunderhaus, with its decor and location, feels like a slice of peace, calm and beauty, served up just for you. Your experience changes along with the day, the rising and setting of the sun revealing everything the house has to offer.

So if you ever ask yourself the question – “where should I stay in Kodaikanal?”, I would suggest you give Wunderhaus a visit. But if you’re looking for a hotel experience rather than a home stay, give Villa Retreat a try. A sister concern of Wunderhaus, Villa Retreat offers the same experience, similar awe-inspiring views and hospitality you will love, all set within walking distance of Kodaikanal’s most beautiful and famous tourist spots.

7 Things to Love about Villa Retreat Resort Kodaikanal

Within the context of the verdant landscape, Villa Retreat Resort is a place for Holidays with peace and Seclusion. A place where I spent my days with undisturbed tranquility. The Resort wrap around the tropical hillside dotting the landscape with elegance. A paradise in the true sense in the heart of Kodaikanal.

The resort villas weave together green garden, elegant architecture, and spectacular views from every angle. Villa Retreat Resort welcomes you to stay in one of those impressive old buildings of Kodaikanal.

Villa Retreat Resort, Kodaikanal

It features a series of one-, two-story traditional wooden structures perched on the hillside. I stayed in their Signature Suite with Valley View. It’s in the Heritage Block offering a great valley view. There was a fireplace in the living room with an artistic wooden furniture setup. A fusion of traditional and modern design creating a sense of balance that’s appealing and inviting.

There are a lot of things to explore when you are here. Here are the Seven things that I enjoyed the most during my stay.

Witness the Sunrise

We need an extra dose of Sleep when it comes to a relaxed Holidays at Villa Retreat Resort. But trust me this is the thing you should not miss here. I praised myself for taking the effort waking up early in the morning and capturing the golden sky in my camera.

The experience of witnessing the gorgeous daybreak as the Sun rises over the Mountain is beyond words. You feel a spree of Joy watching this magical moment. The sky bursts with vivid oranges, reds, and blue, a colourful excursion.

Breakfast with View

What better way to start your day than having a delicious breakfast overlooking a stunning view. Not every day you are blessed to have such experience. This beautiful Villa Retreat Resort has its own natural cliff. That place is just perfect to enjoy a king size Breakfast soaking up the sun.

And you guessed it right. That cone on the breakfast table was super crispy Ghee-Roast Dosa. That was the best! And there was a variety of freshly made chutneys to accompany. I should not miss talking about star-fruit juice I had. A sweet refreshing drink straight from their own Organic farm.

Tour to Cheese Making Farm

This was my first kind of visit to a Cheesemaking farm in India. An hour drive from the Resort will take you this farm in the mountainous backyard. The uphill drive through Pethuparai village in the Jeep proved to be an adventurous one.

‘Caroselle’ is known for their genuine artisanal farmhouse cheeses. They follow the old-school method allowing their cheese to mature naturally. They have a stone cave to age cheese until they are ready to emerge fully formed.

In 2007, Kroon came to Kodaikanal full of inspiration to stand this brand. Cheesemaking is an art, an exercise in self-sufficiency. The cheese curd which is made freshly from the milk is transferred to moulds imported from the Netherlands.

During the Cheese tasting session, I tasted around 9 types of cheese. Loved the Montasio (Mountain Cheese) among all. On my way back I visited the Horse stable in that Cheesemaking Farm. How could I have missed a photo session with them!


Before the Cheese Tasting session, I went another Organic farm in Pethuparai village where a foreign lady makes some delicious Jams. I got to taste homemade Tree Tomato wine too. Along with some delicious Jams like Blueberry, Yellow raspberry, She sells organic Coffee powder which is grown in her own farm at the backyard.

Nature Walk by the Lakeside

The star-shaped Kodai lake is just a five minutes walk from the Resort. The Kodaikanal Boat and Rowing Club, as well as the Tamil Nadu Tourist Development Corporation, offer similar boat services there. You can spend some time opting a pedal boat or a Kashmiri shikara.

But for me, the optimum experience was walking 4.5 km around the lake. While the Sun was playing a hide-seek game with those floating clouds, I was busy in capturing those frames in my camera.

Tea at Wunderhaus Getaway

Wunderhaus is a beautiful Artist Retreat, a shared living space concept of Villa Retreat Resort. 20 minutes drive from the Resort will take you to this stone cottage.

This place offers you stunning view of Kodai city. And the crispy chilled air will tempt you to grab a cup of tea as soon as you reach the place. I enjoyed my evening chai appreciating all those detailing of art-works done there. An exceptional fusion of warmth, comfort and artistry- closer to nature.

secluded places like this encourage artists to work peacefully connecting with nature.

Nightdrive Palani

Resort guy can arrange a night drive to Palani Valley View Point. If you are lucky enough you may get sight of wild elephants or feathery friends through the forest. I didn’t have any luck!

In a foggy night, it’s difficult to get a clear view of stunning Palani valleys. Better to avoid.

Coakers Walk

Villa Retreat Resort is located next to Coaker’s Walk. One can clearly get the view while sipping a cup of tea at the Resort.

The Coakers Walk was constructed in 1872, by Lieutenant Coaker. The walk begins near Van Allen Hospital and joins the main road above St. Peter’s Church. A walkaway on the edge of the mountain offering the best valley views of the queen of Hill stations, Kodaikanal. You can’t get over those exceptional panoramic views of blue hills. Totally breathtaking it was!

There are direct Buses from Bangalore to Kodaikanal.

You can also opt for the train to Koda-road station. From Kodairoad to Kodaikanal is 1.5-hour (80 km) journey by road.

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Nestled in the Palani hills, shrouded in mist and cotton clouds, Kodaikanal is referred to as The Princess Of Hill stations and rightfully so. You can’t fully appreciate the meaning of the word surreal until you find yourself in this little colonial town watching the sky change form in the most beautiful ways.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at first because in Bangalore, Kodaikanal was almost synonymous with ‘magic shrooms’.

But with the help of a culturally-packed 3-day itinerary by the lovely folks at Villa Retreat, I was able to explore a lot more of Kodai than what I had expected.

Driving down from Bangalore to Kodaikanal was quite an arduous journey as we had to cover roughly 465 kilometres on road. Little did I know that there was a pot of gold at the end of the tunnel! We reached Villa Retreat (which was easy to locate as it was right at the entrance of the famous Coaker’s Walk) past midnight and all I did was cosy up to my bed and got lost in a long deep sleep.

Day 1

It took me a while to take everything in as I woke up. I drew out the curtain to allow the 10 AM light to set my room aglow. I spent the first half of the day sitting by my window eating muesli for breakfast and sipping on some chai- engulfed with the most wholesome sight of cotton candy clouds, lush green grass, beautiful flowers peeking at me from the window.

My suite at Villa Retreat was everything my sweet little imagination had expected- a little lounge area with a fireplace and a warm and cosy fluffy bed underneath a wooden ceiling. I went on to check out the rest of the rooms the Villa had to offer- a Deluxe room (reserved only for couples) with spectacular views of the valley and a Family suite- consisting of a master bedroom, a regular bedroom and an additional room just to indulge in some family time. (Monopoly anyone?)

I went on to learn that Villa Retreat was nearly 150 years old! It was an abode for the then British governors and it felt incredible knowing that I was staying in such a heritage property. The stone walls with creepers, a beautifully manicured garden, the stone pathways, the fencing and the overall design- all stood testimony to the very same fact.

Lunch time cometh and I was excited to dine at their private dining space (which is open only for the guests- no outsiders allowed) and more importantly because all their dishes were prepared using fresh and locally sourced fruits, vegetables and poultry.

My meal consisted of some delicious chicken 65, pineapple & tomato salad and roast chicken with home-made sauce finished off gloriously with a poached pear + ice cream dessert. A wholesome meal and a lot of praises for the chef later, it was time for a brief afternoon siesta.

I woke up close to sunset time, tied my shoe laces and hurried along to take a sunset stroll at Coaker’s Walk as the entrance was attached right to the entrance of Villa Retreat. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was turning into a purplish-orange, undulating its colours on the Kurinji flowers splattered along the slope.. a beautiful lavender flower that only blooms once in 12 years! I considered myself lucky enough to have gotten a glimpse of it.

Back to the villa and I spent the rest of the evening just listening to jazz tunes, sipping on some wine, warming myself up by the fireplace in the restaurant while relishing on Malabar chicken stew with baturas. Life was good.

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A foodie’s guide to Kodaikanal

What makes a visit to the ‘princess of hill stations’ an experience to remember? The hospitality at Kodaikanal’s Villa Retreat! Warm cozy rooms, home-like service, and of course delicious food — we have just the recipe to an unforgettable holiday. Enjoy sumptuous breakfast in our beautiful lawns, or sip on some soothing lemon tea on a cold Kodai evening. And if you’re looking for some old-world charm, try our grilled chicken with green pepper sauce in our heritage restaurant, with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong for company.

What’s more, we are located close to some of Kodai’s most revered restaurants! So whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a dessert junkie, your fix is never too far from Villa Retreat! Let’s take a look at some of the delicacies on offer:

Steaming momos and thukpas at D. Tashi Namgyal’s Tibetan joint make for the perfect accompaniment to chilly Kodaikanal weather! This little place boasts a menu full of wallet-friendly prices, but don’t be fooled — you won’t have to compromise on either quality or quantity. Their egg noodles and garlic chicken can satisfy the most ravenous appetite — but if you’re still peckish, try their beef wontons with a generous helping of hot garlic sauce, and you’ll know why the place is always packed.

Right next to this momo paradise is a cozy little cafe that evokes an inexplicable sense of nostalgia. Checkerboard floors and wood-panelled walls create just the right atmosphere to sip on steaming cups of coffee for hours on end. Add their signature belgian waffles to the mix and you’ve got yourself a breakfast to die for. Driven by owner Kishore Cariappa’s dream to grow organic coffee en masse, his cafe serves coffee that is freshly roasted and ground in-house. You’ll be spoilt for choice, but make sure you try their sandwiches which are always bursting with the goodness of locally-produced cheese!

Don’t fill yourself up just yet — this gastronomical journey is only just getting started.

If you’re starving after a long day of trekking, a multi-cuisine cafe on PT road serves up delightful fusion food. Be it paninis or parottas, there’s something to satisfy even the pickiest customer. Chef Anand also whips up the much-acclaimed crab prawn tempura, tossed in wasabi-infused mayonnaise and a splash of honey. And if you fall in the ‘health conscious’ bracket, fear not! This ambient little place serves a whole range of fresh juices to keep your diet intact.

Creamy cakes and pastries from a celebrated bakery on Anna Salai road make for the perfect culmination to this culinary sojourn. Nothing feels better than sinking your teeth into their warm cinnamon rolls and tea cakes on a cool, crisp day. But if you’re more of an ice cream fan, don’t worry, you’re still in luck; the bakery serves luscious homemade ice creams made from fresh milk and local, seasonal fruits. Proprietor Prasanna and his sister have been running this place since 1985. Back then, the humble bakery offered just breads, rolls, and buns. Fast forward thirty years, and its menu ranges from croissants and rolls to pizzas and burgers; it is today one of the most popular eateries in Kodaikanal!

Whether on a quick weekend getaway or an extended holiday, Kodaikanal has plenty to offer. Take a night safari, go trekking, or walk through the picturesque locales — but above all, don’t forget to treat your taste buds at these must-visit cafes. After all, there’s no better way to experience a place than by immersing yourself in its culinary culture!

So what are you waiting for? Get packing and head over to the hills — we at Villa Retreat look forward to having you.

Zeena Nazar — The Queen of Kodai’s Villa Retreat

With a dream of starting something of their own, Zeena and Abdul, accompanied by 6-month old Zoheb, arrived in the picturesque town of Kodaikanal nearly 30 years ago. The young couple then took over Taj Lodge — a homestay that was meant to be a cozy retreat for travelers. Back then, Zeena handled the kitchen, and Abdul, the reception. Little did this duo know that their modest homestay would one day turn into the flourishing Villa Retreat.

The journey from Taj Lodge to Villa Retreat wasn’t all smooth, though. The property was first taken on lease, and the couple only managed to buy the place in 2005 after a fair bit of financial struggle. Zeena initially ran the kitchen all by herself, it was only after nearly three years that she hired help. Even so, life only got slightly easier.

But the ever-enterprising Zeena didn’t back down from the challenge — taking Zoheb to school, picking him up, looking after her youngest, Taslina, all while managing Villa’s kitchen. What helped was that Zoheb was a perceptive child who understood what his parents were going through, giving them next to no trouble. He now manages Villa Retreat, as he had a front-row seat to the inner workings of the business.

Nonetheless, Zeena’s imprint on the kitchen is firmly in place. Her chicken curry is still a force to be reckoned with, and her biryani is famous all over Kodaikanal! These recipes continue to be a part of Villa’s menu, and loyal guests are a testament to this culinary skill.

George, a guest from Ireland, is a fine example of this. He first came to Villa Retreat in its initial years to spend no more than a couple of days. But things worked out a little differently — the home-like hospitality and delicious fare won his heart, and incredibly, he stayed on till he breathed his last. In those eight years, he became not just a fan of Zeena’s culinary prowess, but also an adored member of the family.

And it’s not just guests who choose to stay on — employees do too. In fact, some have remained in Villa’s kitchen since they were first hired, while others have gone on to become executive chefs in five-star kitchens.

Now, almost three decades on, Villa Retreat has become one of the best-known hotels in Kodaikanal. And this is in no small part due to Zeena’s tenacity. From having never left Pathnapuram in Kollam, Kerala, she came to a town completely unknown to her — and not only set up a successful business, but also raised a family that now runs it. Now that’s what you call a woman of grit!