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Charm of the Chola

Grand is a bit of an understatement here for the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai is inspired by an ancient Indian dynasty that at the height of its power made luxury de rigueur. One look at the resort and you find yourself swimming back through time to the 12th century reign of the Chola kings as they struck across the seas to take their rule and, importantly, cultural and architectural influences from Tamil Nadu to South East Asia.
Sprawled across eight acres, it expresses its ancient influence through carvings and décor. Throughout the hotel you will find yourself looking at time travels, with carvings of elephants, chakras, four leaf clovers and intricate jali or lattice work crafted using the finest stone, granite, marble and wood from around the world. Their neutral tones bring some of the most delicately sculpted motifs and carvings to life.
It’s hard to contain yourself as you are driven around the property to reach the appropriate entrance – there are four – depending on which room you are staying in. The main entrance, or Sangam as it’s called, features one of the grandest staircases I have seen and is a precursor to everything else that follows.
With 600 keys in total alongside a host of restaurants and other amenities, it’s a veritable maze, but one that’s wonderful to be lost in. Two days is really a short time to truly enjoy this beautiful hotel, but we knew it was going to be a hell of a weekend.
Even its wellness centre ‘Kaya Kalp – The Royal Spa’ reflects India’s rich cultural and spiritual traditions. With a wholesome range of luxurious high-end products, it offers an enviable package of beauty treatments designed to enhance, uplift and rejuvenate.
There isn’t much you could want when you stay at the ITC Grand Chola. Executive Chef Ajit Bangera has ensured that the cuisine too is taken to the next level, having visited towns and villages to rediscover the original recipes of traditional dishes from south India.
It begins and ends at the Café Mercara Express, the hotel’s signature coffee house that is open all hours, cosy yet fresh. They also feature the Cheroot Malt and Cigar Lounge, an ideal place to relax with friends or meet with business buddies after hours.
At the Madras Pavilion, lavish buffets feature the best and most favoured dishes from around the world, and a special extended lunch buffet on Sundays. The palates of the North West Frontier are tingled at the Peshawri, enhanced by the rustic ambience and traditional fare. With vegetarianism a prominent lifestyle in the country, the hotel puts an emphasis on it, featuring a fine collection of signature vegetarian dishes from across the sub-continent and beyond at Royal Vega.
It opens up the Far Eastern world with exquisite culinary experiences at Pan Asian, headed by the versatile chefs Vikram and Lambert Chiang.
I had a special evening at the Italian restaurant during our second evening at the hotel. The Ottimo Cucina Italiana literally serves up the delectable tastes of that beautiful Mediterranean country on a platter.
Led by Sous Chef Zubin Writer, we shared one of the most delicious meals I’ve savoured in ages. It started with a variety of anti pasti, including seared tuna with crema balsamico; chicken arancini; shrimp and smoked salmon stuffed squid; sea scallops with fresh green pepper and roasted garlic; pan seared prawns and crumb fried buffalo mozzarella doused with aragula pesto.
If that was not enough, we then marvelled over a light wild mushroom and black truffle soup, the exotic flavours of that prized culinary ingredient seeping through. The risotto for the day was the Italian abrorio rice with porcini mushrooms, while the pasta was a homemade squid ink linguini in pomodori sauce.
The mains included a delicate English white cod done in celery, caper and cherry tomato sauce; and succulent US tenderloin served with Barolo wine sauce, sautéed asparagus and roast potato.
To end that wonderful meal was a trio of tiramisu, panacotta with fresh berry sauce, and torta cioccolatto in olio di olivia, alongside engaging conversation and lovely wine.
My time at the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai was at an end but the wonderful experience has left an indelible mark on my map of luxury landscapes in India. Its days of glory are surely still to come.

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