Charm of the Chola

With its resplendent architecture, regal hospitality and class drawn from the glory days of the 12th century royals of Southern India, the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai sits a standard apart

Grand is a bit of an understatement here. From the variety of rooms and restaurants to the opulence in nearly every facet of its hospitality, the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai is inspired by an ancient Indian dynasty that at the height of its power made luxury de rigueur.

The ITC Grand Chola, Chennai

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.

The ITC Grand Chola rises up across eight acres, expressing its ancient influence through carvings and décor employed quite cleverly in what the ITC Hotels Group calls ‘responsible luxury’. Every effort is taken to maintain the finest standards in environmental stewardship, earning the group the distinction of being the Greenest Luxury Hotel Chain in the world.

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.

The staircase at ITC Grand Chola, Chennai.

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 all this beautiful hotel has to offer, but with our cheery young butler Noreen on hand, we knew it was going to be a hell of a weekend.

There are 295 Executive Club rooms for the busy business traveller, 31 Eva rooms dedicated exclusively to the single lady traveller, 132 Tower rooms with exclusive entrances, 48 ITC One rooms offering the best business and luxury services in Chennai, 14 Chola Suites combining the grandeur of a contemporary space with understated elegance, the Karikalan Presidential Suite that takes you back to courtly grandeur and the Raja Raja Chola Grand Presidential Suite with its regal aesthetics, finest handcrafted fabrics and recherché luxury artefacts. The hotel also offers the ITC Grand Chola Residences, luxury serviced apartments that ensure privacy, comfort and enhanced security.

The service and amenities at the ITC Grand Chola are impeccably spot on, with the staff efficient and friendly, yet not overbearing in the least. Every guest is relaxed into regal surrender as they cater to your whim.

The hotel, though barely two years old, is a go-to destination for corporate houses and individuals alike, drawing on its grand Rajendra ballroom for a wide range of meetings and events. At 2,456 square metres, it is an architectural marvel that celebrates the grandeur of the Chola Kings to accommodate more than 3,000 guests with a private entrance for special guests and a sprawling pre-function area. Multiple events sometimes take place here, thanks to the soundproof partitions which allow for vibrant party music on one side and a serious conference on the other.

One of the outstanding features of its grand exhibition hall alongside is a special mobile elevator that can carry a luxury vehicle weighing up to 2,500 kgs directly to the event. The hotel also offers its high-tech Tanjore Boardroom out for meetings and conferences.

I was happy to soak in all of this as Noreen led us up to our room – one of the Chola Suites. The décor reflects the luxury living evident across the hotel with ornate furniture, exquisite cutlery and upholstery, plush beds and beautiful fixtures. The suites come with a host of privileges from in-room check-ins and iPad interface for controlling features to massage chairs, personal music systems and use of the exclusive lounge among others. Noreen was on call 24/7 should we have needed anything more.

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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. The ITC Grand Chola also features 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. Two more, the elegant Tranquebar offering a collection of international spirits and sumptuous appetisers, and the I Place, a relaxed pub, will open shortly.

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.

The Ottimo Cucina Italiana at the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai.

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 home made squid ink linguini in pomodori sauce.

The mains included a delicate English white cod done in celery, caper and cherry tomato sauce; and a 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.

Written by: Sinead McManus

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