Back in the 1990s, Surya Samudra was one of the hippest, and priciest, resorts in Kerala.
Scattered across a cliff in Chowara, south of Kovalam, near Kerala’s capital Trivandrum, Surya Samudra was a little enclave of down-to-earth luxury that offered an amazing view of the Arabian Sea. The resort’s dozen or so ‘cottages’ were mostly traditional Kerala houses built primarily of wood, bought from across the State, painstakingly dismantled and then reassembled in the resort with some modern conveniences thrown in. The romantic twist to the tale of these old buildings, most with exquisite woodwork, was that they were saved from demolition or being sold as scrap.
A swimming pool of granite and a couple of semi-private coves with only local fisher folk for company added to Surya Samudra’s coolness quotient. What really pushed its coolness quotient up though was that the cottages did not have frills such as television or in-room music. It was just the sand, the sea and the sky.
In some ways, stepping into Surya Samudra back then was like entering a private home; a very snooty, art-filled home with personalised service. Which, in a way, was what it was.
For Surya Samudra actually started life as Klaus Schleusener’s private retreat; his own slice of paradise. He moved to Kovalam from Chennai in the mid-1980s and built the first house. Schleusener’s early guests were mostly friends from Europe, but seeing how much they loved to visit and stay with him, reportedly sparked the idea of the resort. Over the next few years, additional cottages and facilities were added to cater to the constant flow of tourists, mostly from Europe. Schleusener also bought up most of the land around Surya Samudra to ensure it retained its ‘private atmosphere’.
However, by the early 2000s, Surya Samudra hit a bump of sorts. Schleusener sold the resort and moved away to develop another private hideaway on an island near Alappuzha. This was followed by a period of obscurity till the property was bought a couple of years ago by Jupiter Capital. Surya Samudra’s new owners then shut it for renovation.
Rechristened Surya Samudra Private Retreats - Kovalam, the resort has just re-opened its doors to guests. It is the first of several Surya Samudra Private Retreats that are to be built across India — in Kumarakom, Waynad, Puducherry, Chikmagalur and Goa.
What I am looking forward to seeing is whether Surya Samudra Kovalam has regained that fascinating bouquet of uber-coolness, down-to-earth luxury, snootiness and personalised service that the original Surya Samudra exuded.