The postcard-perfect view warmly lures you from the front door. There's a short track down to the Victorian style villas as soon as you enter the property. Welcoming smiles of the local village girls who work in the coffee shop at the front-end of the property greet you are hard to leave that sight of. Pure, passionate and truly warm is how their hospitality can be best described. Nalima has found that sweet spot between luxury and comfort.
Born in Coorg and raised in traditional plantation lifestyle, Nalima comes from a wealthy family of zameendars who owned large pockets of plantations. Her love for nature and organic cultivation is evident in the bond she shares with the many pepper, coffee and fruit trees she is surrounded by. Halli Berri is a dream she saw along with her Late husband and she marches on, in a bid to make it one of the world's most cocooned homestead with limited mobile connectivity, no television and yet keep you completely occupied in thought, creativity and comfort.
Chikamagalur which is a little over a two hour drive from Bengaluru is a quiet town surrounded by vast farm lands, estates and some quirky hotels. It ain't your classic boozer town like you'd expect. No award-winning bakeries but the grub around town is eclectic. It's also home to the world's most divine coffee, courtesy Halli Berri where the humble coffee bean is the pride and joy of all the local villagers who earn a good living from working on Nalima's farm.
“I love what we share with the local villagers. They are part of the Halli Berri family. My mother-in-law and I live in this beautiful plantation along with our three pets. My daughters who are now settled around the world visit me often. My husband and I loved the calm connect that plantations offer our soul and the joy we get from uplifting communities that surround us. Our idea behind this home stay was to give people the opportunity to experience nature in its purest form. We believe in today's fast paced world of jet-setting, multiple key relationships, responsibilities and the stress of cracking deals, we are losing ourselves to commerce and competition. Our small but important goal is to offer people the space to reflect, to rejuvenate and to relax surrounded by trees, birds and some sumptuous home-style healthy food,” says Nalima as she walks me through the plantation.
The federation-style homes on the property, are comfortable and airy. The nature engulfs you as the windows and the beautiful verandah take in views of the terraced landscape. Fresh white walls, glistening chettinad floors and a ridiculously comfortable bed give the small house a warm and cosy feel. The motley furnishings include vintage cabinets, an antique day bed and double French doors that open into the harvest garden of pepper trees, coffee trees and many other majestic trees.
There is so much love that one can feel at this getaway. The bedroom has caressing white sheets, a thick mattress and cashmere blankets that envelope you as you doze off to the gentle sound of winds and the tender rustle of leaves. Personal touches by Nalima are everywhere. A vase of fresh thyme bunched with local floral weeds, collection of old classic books and board games are a welcome change from an anonymous home stay that lacks soul. The walls are dotted with paintings and portraits from the family's personal collection. International magazines jostle for space with Rudyard Kipling and Salman Rushdie and even Shakespeare.
The meals are served in a sun-soaked conservatory that is surrounded by shrubs and one side a outdoor pavilion for those sunny days when you want to tuck into your grub outdoors. The cook who has worked with the family for nearly 5 decades is all-smiles when the guests enjoy his cooking. It's not very often that commercial hotels and home stays serve 'grandma's food' from her home town, where the veggies are organic, the spices are home-grown and ground and the meat is fresh and not frozen. No added colour, no preservatives and the servings are enough to lure you back to bed for a snooze.
Fresh and wild-caught pork ribs are a delicacy declares chandrasekhar who shares, “I have been cooking this pork-ribs recipe for over thirty odd years. Everyone who has eaten it will try and replicate it with their choice of meat and vegetables.” If you want to skip the pork on offer, have no regrets as the cook also makes fascinating corn and cheese bakes that are wonderful to mop up with any Indian breads. Over the weekend he also makes delectable Coorgi fare, lovingly overseen by Nalima.
Breakfasts included crispy dosas with crunchy coconut chutney and pickles, fluffy cheese omlettes and fruit platters.
Soon after breakfast there is so much to do around the property - treks, spotting wildlife, chatting to the plantation workers, strawberry picking, a visit to the local temple or waterfalls and visiting the broad bean farms around. Cycling is a great way to burn the calories too. And if you are one for wildlife you can check out the Bhadra Tiger Reserve close by.
Lunch is a elaborate affair with chunky chicken curry; tender meat filled with flavour served in a watery gravy with a touch of coconut milk, tangy tomatoes and sweet onions. The traditional Coorgi cucumber curry is flavorful and hits the right spot. It’s the endearing dagginess rather than dazzling theatrics that will win you over. Behold a crispy breast piece of chicken, slow-roasted and drizzled with home-made lemon garlic sauce, in all its crusty glory. It’s served on a little metal plate with a relish-esque tomato chutney, and served with potato wedges, yet not quite modern, but entirely right with the coarse and crispy chicken.
The best part is that no meal is complete without a generous dose of dessert. From vermicilli payasaam to melt-in-your-mouth gulab jamuns, Marie dishes up some great sweetmeats, including a nice and creamy chocolate soufflé.
Halli Berri is a peaceful, unpretentious retreat for the family who want to relax, interact and relive the good old times or just go ahead and make fresh, remarkable memories over food and family, in the lap of nature.