Top 3 places to discover classic Kerala

Surrounded by the vast Indian Ocean and the spice growing Cardamom Hills, Kerala is a beautiful and flourishing paradise. The state is well known for its serene backwaters, tempting local cuisine and leisurely pace. The backwaters are situated between the hills and the coast, a network of waterways providing a communication route for villagers, along with fish for food and water for farming. The result is a tropical land populated by warm and friendly people, who make sure that even the weariest of travellers relax, unwind and slip into the gentle pace of life. Here are our top 3 places to discover classic Kerala:

Cochin (Kochi)

Cochin is the main port for south-western India, and has been for centuries. The British, Dutch and Portuguese influences remain evident.

Cochin

The city is a series of islands, but it is the Mattancherry Palace with its detailed frescos, the old spice warehouses, the Jewish synagogue and the churches in Fort Cochin that will occupy most of your time.

Fort Cochin retains a colonial charm, with wide tree lined streets and a large central parade ground surrounded by grand colonial buildings.

The enormous Chinese fishing nets that cantilever over the shore are the indelible image of Cochin. The nets are still in daily use by the dedicated fishermen, and their catch can be tried in the numerous food stalls lining the shores, or in the comfortable surroundings of your hotel restaurant.

Where to stay in Kochi: The Brunton Boatyard

Positioned on the site of an historic boat building yard, the Brunton Boatyard is inspired by a fusion of 17th century Dutch and Portuguese architectural styles. Built around a garden courtyard, all rooms have a sea view. Each room is tastefully furnished in teak with an antique four poster bed, terracotta tiles and a private terrace overlooking the sea. The Brunton Boatyard is a delightful and characterful property, with an historical ambience and colonial charm.

Munnar

Munnar’s cool and pleasant climate provides a welcome relief from the scorching heat of the plains, and is surrounded by some of the world’s highest tea plantations.

The hills are covered in a dense carpet of tea, for as far as the eye can see. A short guided stroll through the plantations allows you to observe the local tea pickers at work, and to enjoy the hill scenery. Munnar was a popular colonial retreat for the British, and it’s not hard to see why. The views are simply breath-taking, and the drive through the winding roads to get to Munnar is a treat in itself. The air is perfumed by the captivating smell of tea and spices gently wafting through the cool breeze.

Where to stay in Kochi: Windermere Estate

Windermere Estate is a beautiful haven amidst magnificent scenery, arguably having the best view in town.

On the outskirts of the town, the plantation bungalow at Windermere Estate was previously the home of Captain Matthew, who served as Cochin’s Harbour Master for over 25 years.

Over the last decade, his son has expanded and renovated the property to provide a greater range of facilities, by adding cottages which resemble Swiss chalets, a new restaurant and a tea hut.

The viewpoint is a highlight of Windermere, commanding a panoramic view of the estate’s 70 acre plantation of cardamom, fruit and tea.

The Windermere organise evening guided walks through the plantations every day, with their resident naturalist, for a close look at how cardamom is grown and processed in Munnar.

The Backwaters

A huge part of Kerala’s charm lies in the Backwaters, a network of canals and waterways that lead off from Lake Vembanad.

Whether your spending time in one of the luxury palm-shaded resorts, or drifting along the calm waters in a traditional boat, it is easy to be captivated by the local way of life. You’ll realise how integral this network is to the life of the region as you spot fishermen netting their daily catch, village ladies washing their pots in the shallows and local children travelling to school on a narrow snake-boat.

The sides of the banks are decorated with villages, temples and churches. The Backwaters flourish with wildlife, such as wading birds, kingfishers and fish eagles.

An overnight stay on a traditional rice boat is a wonderful way to experience the backwaters. These boats are locally known as ‘kettuvallam’, and are crafted by tying jackwood planks together with rope, before coating them in a black resin formed from boiled cashew nut shells. Originally used to transport rice through the lush backwaters, they have since found a new lease of life; peacefully exploring timeless scenes of palm trees, rice paddies, temples and villages. These sizeable boats are now lavishly furnished with en-suite bedrooms, an open lounge and dining area, a deck and kitchen. Your personal crew comprises of a captain and chef.

A day on a rice boat is an unforgettable experience, but staying overnight on board gives the chance to relish the romance of sunrise and sunset on the still and reflective waters.

Typically, you would board your houseboat at noon and then depart the following morning after breakfast, at around 9:30am.

Madeleine Hann is CEO and Co-Founder of Indian Excursions Co.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Renuka says:

    Kerala is truly a paradise! I have been to Cochin and the backwaters once and it was an amazing experience! I am yet to visit Munnar – I have heard a lot about it from my friends that it’s incredibly gorgeous.

  2. Madeleine says:

    Hi Renuka, thank you for your comment. Yes, Munnar is absolutely beautiful! It reminded me slightly of Shimla, with the misty mountain tops, as you wind through the narrow mountain roads to get there.

  3. Wendy Rains says:

    One of the most memorable experiences of my life was spending 3 days cruising the backwaters of Kerala in one of the beautiful traditional boats…with a guide, captain and chef. I asked him to take me places he would not normally take a tourist, and so we docked and walked through remote villages, always surrounded by children following us… some of whom had never seen a “white” woman before. We even visited a pygmy community, that very few people know exists. The food was incredible, too. The pressure in the shower was the strongest I had in all of India. I am not a good sleeper, but as we drifted in circles all night I never felt more relaxed in my life and slept like a baby. I would do this again in a heartbeat, only next time hopefully not alone, but with someone special since it is also incredibly romantic and something to share. This was 11 years ago, and I still dream about going back someday.

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