Sri Lanka is dotted with stunning buildings and hotels created by the visionary architect Geoffrey Bawa. He was a master in the way every one of his buildings blends beautifully into the local environment. Bawa has worked outside Sri Lanka too and in India, he created the Madurai Club. And when the old Madurai Club was to be renovated, with an extension added, the obvious choice for the project was his disciple Vinod Jayasinghe. And the result is the utterly charming and beautiful Heritage Madurai.
I stayed at Heritage last summer when I had gone researching for a story on Madurai cuisine. It has retained the original flavour of the Madurai Club, incorporating local temple architectural styles (the beautiful granite pillars, for instance). It sprawls over 17 acres of greenery and everywhere in the resort, the outdoors merges into the indoors seamlessly. The swimming pool is a highlight built in the form of a temple tank.
My room was a luxury villa, with rich overtones of wood and with little touches like brass lamps adding to the decor. And best of all was the outdoor verandah at the back, with my own small plunge pool. With a frangipani tree in the centre of the pool pouring flowers into it, this was a place I never wanted to leave.
Since I was there on food business, the chef took it upon himself to give me a cooking demo. So his team set up a mini kitchen in the garden one morning and for over two hours, I watched them cook, ate and then ate some more.
Everyone at Heritage smiles, from the women drawing the kolam to the security guard who waves you in. The overall feel is very earthy and rustic; for instance, these signposts everywhere in the premises. There is a small area created to look like a Chettinad village, complete with local experiences like a pottery shed and a flower stall.
The day I left, the chef made up a special vegetarian thali for me, with his signature dishes. And he said goodbye with a packed of milagai podi (chutney powder) and mango pickle. It felt a bit like leaving home.