Away from the noise and pollution, the dust and grime, from the ‘city city bang bang’ and all its urban trappings, lies a land of happily ever after. Up in the hills, shrouded in the mist, resides a heritage home on the hills of Kotagiri, nestled between Wellington and Coonoor. La Maison is the home of Anne and Benoit from France. Well, not anymore!
Anne and Benoit first laid their feet on this ground three decades ago and they instantly knew they were at home. La Maison is their labour of love, which is a heritage home dating back to 1857. It is a homestay destination with French influence that doubles up as a boutique hotel. This homely place is open to visitors throughout the year. The couple cook, feed, entertain and most importantly show us how eco-living can be a part of our daily lives.
The view from the verandahs and lounges at La Maison is absolutely spectacular. The pristine white house on top of the Hadathorai hill overlooks the lush tea gardens of Kotagiri, spilling all the way to Wellington, Cunnoor in the Nilgiri Hills (Ooty district in Tamilnadu).
With just four bedrooms, the couple opted to run their show as a private affair with minimum fuss and fanfare. The bedrooms are well appointed and simple. What stands out is the combination of laid back South of France décor – flowy drapes and paintings with pastel colours tapestry and eye catching pieces of furniture taking centre stage – along with the Indian touch of brass pots and Urulis.
La Maison’s heart warming decor is a result of the art restoration work undertaken by Anne and Benoit. They have preserved old crockery, hats, paintings and even put up exhibitions for local artists. Their boutique includes hand-woven shawls procured from various parts of France and India, as well as beautiful drift wood pieces. Anne has even used a stand of umbrellas as showpieces by her treasured piano! But my favourite piece was the hat stand. An elaborate driftwood affair, it starts from the floor and skims the ceiling overhead. With pretty ornaments and hats to decorate it, this hat stand is the welcoming piece in the lobby.
A homestay is defined by its food quality and the homely food prepared for us was absolutely delicious. While Anne sat at her piano and played for us, we sat around the verandah to eat the beans and baked vegetables – grown right there in the garden.
Energy saving is another major focus for the La Maison couple. They have placed as many sky lights as the place could afford to catch sunlight throughout the day. Further, the open wooden jacuzzi at the edge of the hills, overlooking the tea gardens, is powered by water that flows from a slow heater atop a mud stove and firewood.
The surrounding nursery is shaded by Jacaranda trees with purple flowers that the couple have ‘rescued’ from rotting away on a highway where they had fallen after a harsh storm. The trees were replanted around the lawns for shade. Shade is also a major concern that made Anne and Benoit plan the plantation of trees all around the nursery. This prevents excess use of water since the plants in shade naturally retain water for a longer period. They have also maintained green house filled with used bottles from the pantry, to grow otherwise difficult to find spices and herbs such as rosemary and lavender.
The couple has an innovative way of fertilising plants with egg shells! Yes, they use egg shells as fertilisers. Vermiculture is also an important feature of their elaborate nursery and kitchen garden. Wooden floors have been used throughout the house so as to avoid heating.
A visit to La Maison is a day well spent. Not only do you get to sit in the Jacuzzi and sip wine, your children get hands on lessons in playing with ducks, rabbits and even pigeons. Anne and Benoit engage you throughout your stay and you actually feel like visiting your long lost friends.
To reach this place, you have to make prior booking and take a bus or a car ride from Ooty. The view as you drive along will take your breath away and your days will surely be well spent!