Kerala – a state so diverse and magical – you will find it difficult to leave! From beaches to backwaters, spice plantations to mountains, wildlife sanctuaries to cities, not too forget the unbelievable food, Kerala will completely captivate you. Kerala has a charm which is uniquely its own – from its art and culture, to its natural beauty and friendly people. Agriculture is a big part of everyday life – Coconut, tea, coffee, cashew and spices including cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg are core to the agriculture sector. There are numerous paddy fields everywhere, and not to forget abundant fish (Kerala is one of the leading producers of fish in the country) I spent 9 days in Kerala covering 4 places – but let me assure you, there is definitely more to see! ( Click here to see my photo blog on Kerala)
Stay at The Leela, Kovalam – such a fantastic magnificent property, built right on top of a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea. No matter what part of the hotel you are in, you will be close enough to see or hear the gushing waves of the ocean. We were staying in the garden villa at one end of the property which overlooks a huge green grass patch, full of coconut trees, and beyond that, the ocean -you can hear the ocean even while sitting inside the room (My most important task of the day was to open all the windows as I soon as I was up to let the ocean in – pure bliss!).The balcony is perfect for an evening cup of coffee or a glass of wine and idle conversation
The walk from the garden villa to the main hotel is nothing short of dramatic – A narrow winding path, oh so green, with the ocean on one side, it is picture postcard perfect. The main hotel houses The Terrace where you can have your breakfast, this overlooks the infinity pool. The lobby is beautiful with an arched wooden ceiling, a spectacular flower centerpiece and ever smiling and friendly staff. You can also eat at the seafood restaurant right on the beach called The Tides, built like a shack with soft lighting and cane furniture.
Traveler Tip #1: Try the Thai menu at The Tides
Nearest airport: Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (TRV)
Distance from the Airport to Leela, Kovalam: ~ 15 kms
How to reach: Take a cab from the airport to the hotel
Walking distance from Leela Kovalam is the Lighthouse beach – which is perfect if you want a change of scene not too far from the property. August isn’t great beach weather for Kerala – the tide was high and the water wasn’t great to get in, still there were many people in the water if one wanted to indulge. We chose to walk around and soak to flavor of the place in. Our first stop was The Coconut Grove, a shack type restaurant, overlooking the beach – started with juice, ice-tea and some sandwiches. After chilling for a few hours, alternating between clicking some pictures, reading, writing (me!) and doing nothing much, we ventured out again to look for Swiss Café as it had a lot of good reviews online. Unfortunately, it was closed due to construction, disappointed but not deterred, we moved around some more till we came across the German Bakery.
An orange colored building, overlooking the beach; it is actually a hotel with a restaurant on the first floor. Since it was early evening, we started with a couple of margaritas and a peanut salad. This place is absolutely spectacular if you want to the catch the sunset. You can easily spend a few hours here, with some drinks and books from their private library. For dinner, we ordered grilled fish and chicken curry. Dessert was a lime cake with vanilla ice-cream – all great.
Traveler tip #2 – German Bakery -Try local Kerala cuisine and skip the European items on the menu!
Traveler tip #3 – Definitely catch the sunset at the German Bakery
Kumarakom and Alleypey (aka Allappuzha)
Experiencing the Kerala backwaters is a must, no matter how many times you have been to the state. It’s amusing to see how the backwaters are still a way of life for many as a daily means of transport – from school going children to working people. Case in point is the numerous “bus stops” around the backwaters, and I saw many branded with Vodafone ads. There are houses, kirana stores, coffee shops, chemists etc surrounded by water, many times on all sides, on small patches of land in between the backwaters. If you are visiting in August, definitely try to see the Snakeboat race – held on the second Saturday of August every year, it is the most competitive and popular of the boat races in India (We missed it!)
First Stop – Philipkutty’s farm in Kumarakom We drove from Kovalam, across highways and narrow lanes to finally reach Kumarakom. We drove further to reach a seemingly remote part of town to find a sign board (our only one!) guiding us to Philipkutty’s Farm. And lo and behold, we landed up right in front of backwaters with nowhere to go. On calling up at the farm landline number, we were told that the farm is actually right in front of the backwaters on a small island, and the only way to reach it is to boat it(Quite an experience!)
A unique and picturesque homestay, Philipkutty’s will surely catch your fancy if you are keen on a local Kerala experience. You will stay in any of the 5 villas, facing the backwaters, styled in a traditional manner with antique wooden furniture and interesting paintings and other knick knacks. Our room had a separate study area and facilities including a mini fridge, tea-coffee maker. And, the best part is that the rooms smell like an Ayurveda spa, absolutely lovely! The Kutty family including Anu, her son Philip and daughter Anya, and mother in law Aniamma(who I called aunty) stay on the farm itself and are extremely caring and hospitable ,they go to great lengths to ensure every guests comfort and it is no wonder then that many people come and stay here for weeks and even months!
In the evening, we took the vallam (country boat) to cruise the backwaters, complete with a bottle of wine – an experience you must not miss! You will also see numerous houseboats parked at the sides – though they offer a great backwater experience and everyone on the internet will highly recommend it, we didn’t try it .The boats are not allowed to move after 6pm and are parked in a corner which didn’t seem like a very exciting proposition to me. My recommendation would be to get into a houseboat during the day and spend your lunch time there – avoid the overnight stay. If you are a foodie, try and take a cooking demo from Aunty on some great authentic home cooked Kerala food. I learnt to cook fish moilee, chicken stew, appam and more. And if you are really lucky, you might hear some great piano while you eat courtesy Philip.
Traveler tip#4 : Get on the vallam(country boat) to cruise the backwaters
Nearest Airport: Cochin International Airport (COK)
Distance from airport to Kumarakom: ~80 kms
How to reach: Take cab from Cochin airport OR if travelling from Trivandrum, hire a cab directly to Kumarakom (~ 160 kms)
Second stop – Lemon Tree, Vembanad Lake Resort
We checked into Lemon Tree, Vembanad Lake Resort– this time of the year is pretty lean and after my high at Philip kutty, this hotel seemed like a bit of a dampener. The rooms are decent but not extremely clean (I am a fanatic when it comes to cleanliness), the best thing about this hotel is the pool overlooking the lake, great place to sit and have a drink or coffee. Food was surprisingly good – we had a great meal of steamed rice, chicken stew, fish curry and appam. One of the interesting things to do is to take a bicycle from the hotel and venture out to explore the nearby village. Stop at any of the local shops to have a bit of tea – it’s a picturesque little end of town. Third and final stop – Lake Palace Resort
We moved into the actual town on our third day, Lake Palace Resort. The hotel is huge and you can reach it both by water or land. The rooms are decent, food is average and the property is pretty. You can get a bottle of wine from the hotel and sit outside your room overlooking the backwaters and sip away. We did the sunset cruise here, and toured the backwaters – even doing it again and again doesn’t take the fun away! You can try eating at Thaff, if you are closer to town. Huge variety of local cuisine and great recommendations online. We tried two types of fish – one steamed with heavy masalas and tomatoes in a banana leaf, the other a curry with coconut milk. Frankly, everywhere I went in Kerala I had such great food that Thaff presents nothing additional so you are not missing on anything if you don’t eat here (in spite of the great online reviews)
Nearest Airport: Cochin International Airport (COK)
Distance from airport to Alleypey: ~80 kms
How to reach: Take cab from Cochin airport OR if travelling from Trivandrum, you can hire a cab directly to Alleypey (~ 160 kms). If in Kumarakom, you can easily take a cab to Alleypey.
Cochin (Kochi, Ernakulum)
I was in two minds on Kochi right till the very end – and I am glad I made the decision to visit. Kochi Oh Kochi – so charming and so different from my Kerala experience so far! Kochi has such a strong colonial influence – from the giant Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi, to the famous Dutch Palace, Portuguese houses, churches, mosques, cafes and unique art galleries. Fort Kochi has been home to the Portuguese (for over 150 years), the Dutch (for over a hundred years) and then the British till India gained Independence, which is reflected strongly in the way the place looks and feels. Pretty streets lined up with restaurants and bars, shopping knick knacks, spices, graffiti on walls and more…. And everything is walking distance if you stay in Fort Kochi, so you can pack a lot in a day. Must do’s:
- An ayurvedic massage at any of the local spas around
- A meal at the Pepper House Cafe – The décor is simplistic but striking. You will get a variety of grills, pastas, sandwiches, salads and mains and some yum desserts. We tried iced-lemon tea, cucumber and mint lemonade, Chicken Escalope, Apple and Walnut Cake with Vanilla ice-cream
Have coffee and waffles at the quirky tea pot café – the shop is cute as a button and the menu is handwritten. You can get a wide variety of juices, shakes, tea, coffee and many things to eat as well! 4. DO NOT miss a meal at the Old Harbour hotel – better still; stay here if you manage to get a room! Pretty as a picture, with an awesome pool, this hotel should be a must do for you.We had dinner here – bread, spicy fish curry as well as a crab dish with rice, the ingredients are very high quality and the chef is a gem. He recommended a chocolate dessert to us (an ice cream like mousse), which we licked away till the last drop… I am still drooling thinking about it!
5. Shop for local spices Roam the streets of the Fort Kochi area in the daytime, checkout the Greenwich Village for a kathakali performance if you are in the mood, definitely get a massage, see the Chinese fishing nets and sample the great vibe. Also, if you are a potato chips freak, you must try these local street chips which you will find around Fort Kochi. They look exactly like potato chips and are fried right in front. Sprinkled with some fresh paprika, these are such a treat! The vegetable presumably is not potato, but they taste even better.And all along my journey, I was wondering why all local shops had only small bags of chips. Traveller tip #5 : All 5 must-do’s above – you won’t regret it!
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport (COK)
Distance from Airport to Fort Kochi: ~ 45 kms
How to reach – Take a cab from the airport
From Kochi, we made our way to Wayanad – right up in the north-east of Kerala. This forest region seems quite untouched – full of thick green mountains, paddy fields, and palm trees. If you fancy wildlife and greenery, Wayanad just might turn out to be what you are looking for. It is not easy to reach though, if you are travelling from Kochi. The nearest airport to Wayanad is Calicut and is about 100 kms away (but took us over 3 hours) so be prepared to spend a lot of time on the road. We stayed at the Banasura Hill resort which is an earth resort –it seems like you are living right in the middle of a jungle. Most people staying at the resort were young families who had come in from Bangalore for the weekend – there is nothing much to do around except go for a trek and see the waterfall around. Not the highlight on my trip – the resort is way overpriced and the food is very average – definitely not worth the effort! One piece of advice – if you have ever visited the Himalayas, the Wayanad Mountains might fail to impress.