Mathew Vallikappen was working as a baker in New Zealand and wished to settle down there with his wife Silu Joseph.

But the COVID pandemic provoked the couple to think about the bigger picture — a heritage home in India that needed their care.

Their home Vanilla County is a colonial-style bungalow with British and Dutch-style interiors that was built by Mathew’s grandfather V J Mathew Vallikappen in 1947.

Its walls are made of lime and rocks with no cement whatsoever. The furniture is 75 years old and the architecture dates back 100 years. All the furniture is made of teak and rosewood from the family estate.

When Mathew and Silu took charge of the reins of the homestay, they ensured that the heritage of the property was preserved.

Today, Vanilla County welcomes many tourists and travellers from across the world — from South India to the United Kingdom and Canada.

Mathew says that the family always wanted to create a homely vibe in Vanilla County. “Any guest who visits our home in Vagamon is treated like family,” says Silu.

“The place has a great nature quotient with its sprawling tea plantations and vanilla beans. Guests love hiking through these,” she adds.

After a day of hiking and long walks through the plantations of pepper, clove, and pineapples, Silu ensures there’s a table full of Kerala delicacies awaiting the guests.

They offer chicken stew made with coconut milk, Kerala fish curry, spice buns made of African coriander grown at the homestay, and more.

Other than this, there is so much to do here. For instance, learning about beekeeping, diving into a natural rock pool, and witnessing the journey of rubber right from the plantation to its final state.

The couple welcomes around 300 guests in peak season from November to February. Matthew conveys a simple message to his guests, “We’ll provide the setting and the required level of service. It’s up to you to make the memories.”