India's beautiful south

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Kerala's languid backwaters, misty hills and quiet beaches have been bolstered by exciting new openings, says Sarah Baxter

What's the attraction?

Put the brolly away now – India's south-west monsoon ends in October, leaving the southern state of Kerala largely dry and oh-so-green. It is also the start of tourist season: plantations open their shutters; riceboats prepare to float. The north-east rains might dampen proceedings a little until December, but that means there are deals to be found, not to mention some atmospheric mistiness over the newly Unesco-listed Western Ghats.

Barefoot boltholes

Chittoor Kottaram, near Cochin, was once the palace of Keralan nobles; last year it opened to commoners as a "single-key hotel" – those in your party (up to six) are the only guests. You arrive barefoot, by boat; eat vegetarian cuisine off banana leaves; enjoy Ayurveda massage and lounge in simple luxury. Real Holidays (020 7359 3938; realholidays.co.uk) arranges stays; seven nights start at £1,945pp, full board including flights from London.

To combine a range of newly discovered boltholes and classic retreats – including a 400-year-old lakehouse and a spice plantation homestay – try Kerala Connections' (01892 722440; keralaconnections.co.uk) Hidden Gems of South India trip; 15 days cost from £1,909pp, excluding flights.

Houseboat heaven

Keralan houseboats don't come more chic than Lotus (thelotuskerala.com). A contemporary take on the kettuvallam (traditional thatched, wooden boats), it has panoramic windows, two bedrooms with ensuite bathtubs, teak floors, iPod docks and a spacious sun deck. The onboard chef does cookery demos, too. Western & Oriental (020 7666 1234; westernoriental.com) offers overnight cruises from £305 per person, full board.

For a deeper dip into the region, try Village Ways' (01223 750049; villageways.com) 10-night Hills and Backwaters break, which costs from £888pp, excluding flights. As well as staying at Village Ways' new guesthouses in the Wayanad Hills, you'll spend four nights on the Goodearth houseboat, gliding between riverside communities, meeting fishermen, coconut harvesters and sari-clad ladies, who'll cook you delicious dinners.

Soulful surfing

Reopening in a new clifftop location in Varkala this October, Soul & Surf (soulandsurf.com; one week from £185pp) is a heritage house with a laid-back feel. Reckoning itself to be the region's first surf-and-yoga retreat, it has simply stylish rooms and offers two guided surfs a day; yoga is practised at sunrise and sunset on the roof, overlooking the sea.

New last year, the Vivanta by Taj in Bekal (00 91 467 661 6612 vivantabytaj.com; doubles from Rs8,000/£80) is a hideaway overlooking Kappil Beach, in the less-trodden north of Kerala. Its 71 rooms are inspired by the style of a kettuvallam, and dotted amid lush, landscaped gardens. The onsite Jiva Spa, Ayurvedic dining room and yoga pavilion add to the tranquil vibe.

Where the wild things are

Declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2012, the Western Ghats comprise one of the world's eight "hottest hotspots" of biological diversity. Kudu Travel's (01225 436115; kudutravel.com) 14-day Walks and Wildlife in the Western Ghats trip (from £3,490pp excluding flights) aims to locate that hotness – a top Indian naturalist leads walks to spot elephants, endemic birds and, maybe, tigers. Boutique lodges and palace hotels complete the premier package.

Naturetrek's (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) nine-day Kerala's National Parks & Backwaters trip – which costs from £1,995 including flights – ventures into a range of South Indian habitats. Visiting Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, Periyar Tiger Reserve and Eravikulam National Park, you'll track down an array of species, from nilgiri tahr to grizzled giant squirrel.

Adventure trails

Kerala isn't all languid beaches and backwaters. Exodus's (0845 287 3639; exodus.co.uk) 16-day Spice Trails of Kerala trip (from £1,999pp including flights) ticks off both, but also includes a five-day trek across the Western Ghats. Walks cross fragrant plantations where wild boar roam; for an extra challenge, summit Meesapulimala (2,630m), South India's second-highest peak.

Or take to two wheels. Explore's (0845 291 4541; explore.co.uk) 14-day Backroads of Kerala trip costs from £1,798 including flights and is a laid-back pedal – averaging 26km a day – via waterways, plantations and the Arabian coast. Best, at bike-speed it's easier to stop to chat with the fishermen and coir-weavers, to nip into snake temples, refuel at beach cafés, and delve fully into the backwaters' backwaters.

Bring the family

Sunshine, beaches, boat rides, big cats – and less frenetic than northern India: Kerala's a good choice for subcontinent-exploring families. KE Adventure (017687 73966; keadventure.com) offers a 12-day Southern Spice Family Holiday in Kerala from £995pp excluding flights, which covers the highlights at a leisurely pace, including beach time, hotels with pools, an elephant camp visit and options for (short) walks.

New holiday rental site Kid & Coe (001 212 905 6065; kidandcoe.com) – a sort of Airbnb for discerning families – suggests taking the brood to Hibiscus Cottage, Palm Villa or Orchid Cottage (from Rs7,500/£75 pn). As well as enviable locations on quiet Marari Beach, parents will appreciate their secure gardens, pools and personal chefs as well as City Scout, a guide to the best local things to do for families.

Learn from the locals

Help a mahout look after his elephant, as part of Indus Experiences' 11-day Kerala Odyssey trip (020 8901 7320; industours.co.uk; from £1,717pp including flights). Or learn to cook on a three-day residential Curry Magic course in the Maniyanthadam Hills (thepimenta.in; from Rs17,000pp/ £170). To experience local life, check in with a series of families on a Kerala Homestay Tour (01273 823700; responsibletravel.com; 15 days from £1,268pp, excluding flights).

Let a guide called Kence teach you to fish like a backwater expert (020 8144 0565; tripbod.com; from £57.50pp for half a day). And, for the ultimate life-cleanse, book an ashram yoga vacation in the Western Ghats (sivananda.org; from Rs500/£5 per night, full board).

Insider Information

"Kerala is a good choice for India first- timers. It's more laid-back and less crowded than the north, and the people are amazingly welcoming. There are few direct flights but a plane change in Delhi or Mumbai doesn't add much time; changing planes in the Gulf is no more time-consuming than travelling to the north." Derek Moore, Founder of Totally India (01992 579697; totallyindia.net)

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss