Once moneylenders to the Raj, the Chettiars made their fortunes ferrying Burmese teak, Italian marble, and Danish glass between Southeast Asia and southern India, using their wealth to build spectacular mansions across the red sands of Tamil Nadu. Although many of their houses have since been dismantled, one still standing is Visalam, today transformed into an Art Deco hotel on the outskirts of ghost-town Kanadukathan. Restored by the Kerala-based CGH Earth group, the 15- room property features traditional eggshell plaster walls, original 1930s furniture, and shimmering chandeliers imported from England. Although a living museum, the Visalam is decked out with modern amenities (including air-conditioning) and a swimming pool. At the restaurant, the region’s most famous dish- spicy Chettinad chicken- is generously portioned onto banana leaves.

Chettinad, Tamil Nadu; 91-484/301-1711; cghearth.com; doubles from US$237

This review appeared in the 2008 Luxe List in DestinAsian Magazine.