Thanjavur or Tanjore (as the British called it) has been on our bucket list for long. Across time, whenever we passed by Trichy, Madurai or even Salem, the thought always crossed our mind that we take a detour to Thanjavur on our way back to Chennai. Never did that across the last 5+ years, but last month, when we got an opportunity to associate with the wonderful folks at Svatma Heritage, we were more than ready to grab it with both hands.
A quick description about Thanjavur for those who aren’t familiar with this temple town: Thanjavur was the capital city of the great Chola Dynasty and still is famous for music, art and architecture. The Brihadeeshwara Temple, built by Raja Raja Chola, the greatest of Chola Kings stands right in the centre of this beautiful city and is considered to be one of the best examples of South Indian temple architecture.
Travel Trivia: Those who have been to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur will understand this better. Both the temples have a very similar style of construction and layout. It is said that one of Raja Raja Chola’s descendants built the Angkor Wat.
A little about Svatma Heritage, Tanjore
We were pleasantly surprised to find a luxury heritage hotel like the Svatma in Thanjavur of all places. The photos we saw online was enticing enough for us to consider this property for our stay during our trip. Svatma is right in the middle of Thanjavur, two minutes away from Thanjavur Railway Station, under ten minutes to the Brihadeeshwara Temple, also known as the Big Temple, and if you must fly in, you’ll have to fly to Trichy and then take a 60 km car journey to reach here.
We took a train to Thanjavur from Chennai, and that took about seven hours to reach.
The train we took on a Friday evening ended up leaving three plus hours late. This basically meant that instead of reaching Thanjavur at 11pm, we were now scheduled to reach early morning around 2am. When we communicated this to the hotel, they rescheduled our station pickup and even enquired if we’d want something to eat when we got there. That, coming from a property in Tier 2 or a Tier 3 city in India, was a big, pleasant surprise. This is perhaps something that is to be expected from a 5-star hotel and little did we realise then that Svatma Heritage was a property that was out of the ordinary, and distinctly different from any hotel in the vicinity (including Trichy, or perhaps even Madurai).
Located near the Thanjavur palace and the Big Temple, Svatma calls itself a luxurious heritage hotel, and in our opinion, that would be an apt categorization. The heart of the property is the heritage structure which is over a hundred years old and the new wing which has been constructed keeping the same design aesthetics in mind.
As we went around the property, everything we found there had either an art, architecture or a music connect to it. There are common areas on every floor, well spaced out, which makes you feel at home. A lot of thought has gone into everything that’s present in this hotel and here is an example.
They keep water and short eats (thattai and uppu cheedai (or seedai)) at all these common areas, the perfect accompaniment when we are relaxing on those sofas playing a game or reading a book. Now, it would be easy for them to sell these short eats to us, and the fact that they don’t give us insights into their thought process.
Svatma has 38 rooms in all, and 7 of those are in the heritage building. Each of these 38 is unique (in other words, no two rooms are the same) and are booked well in advance, so if you are planning a stay, do plan ahead.
We got to stay in the heritage building and were absolutely floored by the room we stayed in. A huge bedroom, with furniture that appears to have stood the test of time, and a bathroom that almost as big as the bedroom in most hotels, this was luxury to the core.
Now, we’ve stayed at many luxury properties in the past, including the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, but here’s something we found unique (and something I loved), there was an air-conditioner in the bathroom as well 🙂
Food & Drink
Now, this is where Svatma is completely different, even in comparison to Shahpura House in Jaipur, the other luxury heritage hotel we stayed in recently. For starters, Svatma serves only vegetarian food. Yes, you read that right, no non-veg. But let that not stop you in any way, since the food is simply out of the world.
Trivia: Did you know that sambar isn’t a Tamil dish or even a South Indian dish for that matter?
Most of us who have been devouring sambar for so many years now have taken it for granted that sambar belongs to Tamil Nadu. When we were having a chat with the General Manager of Svatma, Mr. Sridhar, who is also a Chef let us in on a secret. The story goes back to the time when the Marathas were ruling over Thanjavur and other parts of Tamil Nadu. Legend has it that Maratha ruler Shivaji’s son Sambhaji tried making dal for himself and ended up adding a little tamarind to the mix. No one dared correct him and he ended up liking what he came up with, and the final product was called sambar, obviously named after him.
Food is a big part of our culture and so is the case in Svatma as well. Svatma has two restaurants, Aaharam and Palaharam. The former is indoor and doubles up for breakfast (Indian and continental) and lunch (only Indian) while the latter is an outdoor setting and caters to the European crowd with continental cuisine.
Their entire cuisine (except for the continental fare of course) has the local Thanjavur connect, something we don’t get to experience in Chennai at all. The breakfast consists of a good spread of Indian (read that as South Indian) and continental cuisine. And if you thought the food is different and awesome, wait until lunch!
We had the Thanjavur South Indian Thali on day one and the Thanjavur Maratha Thali on day two and it is but obvious that each part of those two thalis have been painstakingly curated by the team, especially when they come and explain each and every dish, how it came to be and why it has featured in the meal. We also came to know that they have 30 different menus for the Thanjavur South Indian Thali that they mix and match so that customers don’t find it repetitive. The customer is surely a king here.
It goes without saying, we thoroughly loved our lunches on both the days.
For dinner, they have a curated seven-course meal based on the local Thanjavur cuisine that’s absolutely yummy. We were so stuffed by then that we asked them to serve half their regular quantities, and still struggled to finish.
If you fancy a drink, you can head over to their rooftop bar called Nila which gives you a good view of this beautiful temple town. The drinks are priced reasonably and while there is a menu card for short eats, they do serve you quite a bit of short eats on the house. And even before you start thinking about what they would serve as short eats, all we can say is be ready to be pleasantly surprised 🙂
- Learn how to cook some of the Thanjavur delicacies from the Chef.
- Go ahead with your morning workout at the gym or begin your day with yoga. If not both, you can just meditate in their meditation rooms. How cool is that?
- Go for a relaxing swim in their beautiful swimming pool or just get an oil leg massage done here. The sound of the flowing water will surely calm your senses. The area by the swimming pool was by far our most favourite place to sit and relax during our stay there.
- The spa at Svatma is perhaps the only place (as far as we know) which offers a musical therapy.Their spa services are top notch. While I went in for a full body massage, which ended with me dipping myself in a really huge bathtub filled with hot water, neem leaves, jasmine flowers, and rock salt. Trust me, it was quite difficult for me to get out of that awesome tub! Preethika in the meanwhile requested for a session of foot reflexology since her feet were sore.
Further, if you’d like to head out to the Brihadeeshwara Temple, the Thanjavur Palace, or go see artisans making veena (a stringed Indian instrument) or Tanjore paintings, or even artefacts made of Chola bronze, that’s something the nice folks at Swatma can help you out with as well.
Hotel: Svatma, Thanjavur (click to book)
Address: No. 4/1116, Blake Hr Sec School Road, M. Chavadi, Thanjavur – 613001.
Phone: +91 4362 273 222
As you might have guessed, Svatma is like no other property we’ve stayed in and it was a pleasant surprise that there’s such a hotel in Thanjavur, of all places. If you are looking for a couple of days of relaxation and peace, if you are in the mood to rejuvenate your body and senses before you go back to your daily routine, Svatma is definitely the place for you.
Trust us and head there. And you are welcome 😀