A week in Kerala: Varkala, the backwaters and Fort Cochin

02.08.17

Keen to escape to warmer climes - we headed out to Kerala for some sun, sea and serious exploration of the state's infamous backwaters. Whilst we only had just over a week, we left wishing we could stay longer - always a sign of a great holiday...


Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Varkala Beach Trio

Touching down into Trivandrum, we were immediately struck by the heat. Right down in India’s south, Kerala boasts a tropical climate with temperatures rarely dropping below 23°C year-round. We shipped straight out to Varkala for a few days of r&r – hopping in a taxi to take us the hour’s drive or so up the coast. With a ** km long swathe of golden sand and plenty of yoga and Ayurvedic centres – this is a place that knows how to chill and will have you unwinding in no time.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Varkala Villa Jacaranda

We stayed at the lovely Villa Jacaranda in one of 4 sweet and simple rooms surrounded by a lovingly tended garden and attentively hosted by the charming owner Ajay. Set in the quieter South Cliff we enjoyed the yoga at nearby Soul & Surf (along with their incredible fish tacos for lunch) heading down the hill to the cluster of restaurants on Varkala beach or further along at North Cliff for dinner. North Cliff is more of a tourist hub with plenty of hotels, restaurants and shops but we were pleased to just dip in and out, retreating to our hotel at the quieter end of the beach – enjoying our own hefty patch of sand each day and undisturbed by noise at night.

The Ayurvedic practice is strong in Varkala and it's well worth booking in for a treatment or indeed course of treatments whilst here. We headed to Ajay’s local pick, a no frills centre that offered well trained masseurs and very reasonably priced treatments and opted for a full body massage apiece. Despite some initial awkwardness, the 90-minutes passed in a flash and we returned to Jacaranda relaxed and restored, if a little greasy.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Varkala Theekans

Our favourite restaurants were Theekans down on Varkala beach for it’s festive lanterns and friendly service along with Café Del Mar at North Cliff where we had some of the best samosas we’d enjoyed in India. It’s worth noting that Kerala is a dry state and whilst many restaurants do serve alcohol, it’s done so surreptitiously with beer offered in funny tourist tankards and several alcohols not in ready supply.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Kollam Munroe Island Backwaters

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Kollam Munroe Island

Restored by a few days of the simple life, we hired a taxi to take us an hour and a half up the coast to Kollam to enjoy a morning on the backwaters of Munroe Island. Keen to experience Kerala’s infamous backwaters without swathes of other tourists, we left early in the morning and thanks to Ajay were met by a lovely man in a dug-out canoe narrow enough to take us into parts that the larger tourist vessels and houseboats could never reach.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Kollam Munroe Island Masala Chai

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Kollam Munroe Island Temple

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Munroe Islander

We stopped at a little village for breakfast enjoying the spiced creaminess of masala chai and some sort of spiced, fried deliciousness before continuing on our meanderings beneath the palms to the sound of Hindu prayer projected out to the surrounding villages from a tannoy at the local temple.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Ourland Rice Paddies

After a couple of hours we found ourselves back where we’d started and it was back into the taxi and on up to the backwaters just south of Allepey. Rather than a night on a houseboat we had opted for a sweet little spot right on the waters edge and were thrilled with our find. Ourland Backwaters Resort offer a handful of waterside cabins along with one set up in the trees tucked away on a little island on the stretch of water that runs between Kollam and Allepey. Having driven down a narrow, winding road with endless rice paddies to each side, we arrived in what felt like the middle of nowhere and were scooped up by another canoe that took us across to our home for the night.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Ourland Backwaters

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Ourland Backwaters Sunset Bird Watching

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Ourland Backwaters Sunset Trip

This is a special place indeed – after a fresh and delicious lunch of dahl, local rice and fish we whiled away the afternoon on the terrace of our sweet cabin swinging in the hammock to the sound of birds and watching the houseboats chugging by. As the sun began to fall, we were taken out on a sunset trip – the pretty clouds reflected in the glasslike water and the birds returning to nest for the night.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Ourland Backwaters Candlelit Supper

Dinner was served by candlelight to our terrace before we turned in for an early night.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Ourlands Backwater Resort Alleppey

We were up early and taken on a walking tour of the island’s villages by the hotel’s lovely manager Ratheesh whose wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm on the backwaters' endless birds was inspiring. We returned to Ourlands and, after a delicious, traditional Keralan breakfast it was with regret that we rejoined the mainland to continue our journey up to Fort Cochin for our final couple of days in Kerala.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Kochin Biennale

Set on a peninsula jutting out from Kerala’s mainland there’s an eclectic feel to Fort Cochin with its Dutch and Portuguese architecture, wonderful café culture and increasingly widespread art scene. Whilst we were there, their first Biennale was coming to an end and we enjoyed some of the associated exhibitions that were dotted across the city.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Fort Cochin Boutique Hotel Niyati

Our base for our stay was the lovely Niyati Boutique Homestay – a chic and simple spot right in the heart of town. Hotels tend to be more expensive here, so we were pleased with our find and couldn’t have been better placed to explore.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Kochin Kathakali

A Kathakali performance is a must-do whilst in Fort Cochin and we very much enjoyed the show at the Kerala Kathakali Centre that evening. With an hour’s worth of preamble as the actors make themselves up and the story is explained – don’t worry if you join a little late. The colours were wonderful and the use of facial expressions and hand movements to spin the tale were extraordinary.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Fort Cochin Kashi Art Cafe

With just one full day in Fort Cochin (for us, 1 or 2 days would be enough) – we awoke early and headed out for breakfast to the nearby Kashi Art Café. Whilst the service was abismal, the abundance of plants, good coffee and nice vibe more than made up for it and fuelled us for a busy day of exploring ahead.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Fort Cochin Mattancherry

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Fort Cochin Mattancherry

After breakfast, we headed west to begin our meanderings in Mattancherry and Jew Town a neighbourhood previously notable for trading spices and tea. After a quick tour of the Dutch Palace (which was inundated with tourists), we escaped to the quiet of the nearby antique shops packed full of treasures from the havellis of the rich. The Heritage Arts Antique Shop was particularly expansive and we enjoyed stopping for a lemon water and the adjoining Heritage Arts Antique Shop with its views out over the water.

We headed back to Fort Cochin for a late lunch at a little restaurant popular with locals - Oceanos. Whilst it didn't look much from the outside, we enjoyed one of our favourite meals taking the waiter's lead on what to order and rolling out an hour or so later well fed and in need of a snooze.

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Fort Cochin Chinese Fishing Nets

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Fort Cochin Chinese Fishing Nets

Doris and Dicky A Week In Kerala Blog Fort Cochin Ice Cream Seller

After a freshen up, we wandered out to see the infamous chinese fishing nets in action - the seafront teaming with fishermen working and selling their haul. Whilst we didn't wind up seeing much actual fishing per se, there were people watching opportunities aplenty and we strolled all the way along to the Bristow Hotel to enjoy a sunset drink and toast the end of a wonderful trip.

Whilst our itinerary was somewhat intense with just over a week to play with, you could easily while away 2 weeks or more - spending just a bit longer at the beach or on the magical backwaters and we will most certainly be heading back to explore further inland.

 

Best places to stay in Kerala

Villa Jacaranda, Varkala – a beautiful guesthouse with four rooms, set back from the clifftop in Varkala.

Blooming Bay, Varkala – simple rooms perched above the beach and set in lush gardens.

Ourland Island Backwater Resort, Alleppey – a magical paradise, set on an island in the Keralan backwaters. The perfect escape and also a great alternative if you choose not to go on a backwater boat trip.

Niyati Boutique Stay, Fort Cochin – great value rooms in a converted heritage building in the centre of Fort Cochin.

 

How to get to Kerala

There are two main airports in Kerala, Trivandrum/Thiruvananthapuram and Cochin which have both domestic and international flights.  If you are travelling by land Varkala, Fort Cochin and Alleppey are well connected by rail.

 

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