This 15 day sojourn of beautiful South India let’s you indulge in luxury and stunning surrounds at some of the south’s finest properties.
Accommodation in unique and stylish hotels is a feature of our ‘In-Style’ South India itinerary. Each property has been selected with the aim of offering luxury and serenity in beautiful natural environments as well as in vibrant and colourful cities. An enchanting fifteen-day tour, it allows you to experience the varied landscapes, stunning scenery and rich cultural heritage that Tamil Nadu and Kerala have to offer.
Bookended by Pondicherry and Cochin – cities heavily influenced by long colonial histories – the itinerary includes stays at the famous temple cities of Tanjore and Madurai, as well as at secluded homestays – a cardamom and pepper plantation in the Western Ghats; a coconut grove on the shore of Vembanad Lake in the green backwaters; and renovated traditional fishermen’s cottages on a white sandy beach in Kerala.
Day 1 Chennai
You will be met on arrival at the airport and transferred to your hotel for an overnight stay.
Day 2 Pondicherry
Depart Chennai this morning for the 3.5-hour drive south to Pondicherry.
Although its ancient history dates from the Vedic era and it has been influenced by the Romans (who traded here 2 millennia ago), the Portuguese (who arrived in 1521) as well as the Dutch and Danish traders who followed – it was the French (who purchased the town in the late 17th century and relinquished it in 1954) who left the most enduring legacy. Today Pondicherry is one of India’s unique destinations – a seaside colony with a mix of French colonial heritage charm, Tamil warmth and culture and cosmopolitan flair.
Your accommodation here, Palais de Mahe, on Rue de Bussy in the quiet and charming French Quarter of the city is superbly located for exploring on foot.
Day 3 Pondicherry
Although there are various interesting sites to visit in Pondicherry (churches, temples, museums, Botanic gardens, etc) – a perfect day here for many is one of shopping and eating.
Pondicherry truly is a shoppers’ paradise with boutiques down almost every street, catering to a wide variety of tastes, offering textiles, leather, pottery, handicrafts, aromatics, fashion, antiques and more.
For a totally different sort of shopping experience and an exuberant slice of local life (also great for photos) head down to M.G. Road on a Sunday to explore the colourful market; packed with people and stalls, this is pure Tamil Pondy – and an intriguing contrast with the city’s sophisticated boutiques.
As for eating – given the Indian and French influences, it’s hardly surprising that visitors feel spoiled for choice in Pondicherry. Its thriving restaurant scene includes quite a few good Western options (in case you want to indulge in healthy salads, fresh coffee, crusty bread, cakes and pastries). La Maison Rose and La Pasta World do good Italian; Cafe Ole does decent sandwiches and is a good choice for lunch. The view and seafood platter at the rooftop restaurant at Palais de Mahe are hard to beat.
Day 4 Tanjore
After a leisurely breakfast, depart for the 4-hour drive to Tanjore. The ancient capital of the Chola kings, this small town is famous for its enormous Brihadeeswara Temple, built a thousand years ago. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this temple – possibly the finest Dravidian (South Indian) style temple – is regarded as the pinnacle of Chola architecture. It is noted particularly for the height of the central tower and the methods used to construct it.
Your hotel in Tanjore, Svatma, is a brand new luxury property located in a quiet lane in the heart of the city. Surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds, it provides a tranquil, yet convenient base being within easy walking distance of the bustling streets.
Day 5 Tanjore
Today is at leisure. There are a number of activities on offer here – all of which give you an opportunity to experience the richness of Tamil culture. For instance you may like to participate in a cooking class that focuses on local vegetarian cuisine and/or observe demonstrations of bronze casting, handloom weaving and Thanjavur painting – an interesting technique that uses gemstones inlay.
A visit to the city’s Brihadeeswara Temple with an academic expert who can explain the restoration, architecture and iconography of the site is a very rewarding experience.
Additionally, you can take yoga and meditation classes and indulge in rejuvenating body treatments in the resort’s luxury Spa.
Day 6 Madurai
Travel to Madurai today – a 3-hour drive. One of South India’s oldest cities, Madurai has been an important centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries, mainly due to its famous Meenakshi Temple. Afternoon at your leisure.
An early evening visit the remarkable Meenakshi Temple is an unforgettable experience. The temple, with twelve outer towers decorated with literally hundreds of thousands of deities, plays a central role in the life of Madurai. Situated in the heart of the old town, the complex covers six hectares and has 50-metre high towers and a 1,000-pillared hall. This is one of the largest and most awe-inspiring temples in the whole of India; it contains a multitude of shrines, halls and colonnades – all teeming with colour, noise and people. A late afternoon / early evening visit to the temple will give you an opportunity to witness the aarti ceremony.
Your hotel here is the charming Heritage Madurai.
Day 7 Thekkady
Before departing Madurai today, you may like to take an early morning walk through the streets and lanes around the Meenakshi temple. Here you will see the city coming to life – the fruit and flower markets being set up, holy water being carried to the temple, the first cups of chai (or Madurai coffee) being made for the day. In addition to being a photographer’s delight, a walk will enable you to experience something of the vibrant daily life of this temple town.
After breakfast begin the 4-hour drive to Thekkady in the Western Ghats and your accommodation here, Aanavilasam. An eco friendly boutique homestay, Aanavisalam is set on 2.83 hectares of private estate surrounded by a pristine cardamom and pepper plantation. Luxuriously appointed, yet casual and welcoming, this property is perfect for those in search of a personalized country retreat.
A stay here can be experienced as a serene retreat in a beautiful natural environment or it can be a convenient location from which to participate in some of the varied activities that the region has to offer. The choice is yours.
Day 8 Thekkady
Today is at leisure. There are a number of activities on offer here – both within Aanavilasam and slightly further afield.
For bird lovers, Aanavilasam is blessed with some of the most exotic and colourful birds to be found in the region. Many of the rarer species are regularly spotted around the plantation.
A short walk away is a small, friendly village, where you can see and visit typical Kerala-style homes. You can also visit the nearby farmlands in a bullock cart and get a feel for the slow pace of village life.
An early morning or late-afternoon tour of the famous Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is a rewarding experience. Located just fifteen minutes away from the estate, this is one of the oldest and most well known sanctuaries in Kerala and one of India’s 27 tiger reserves.
Day 9 Kumarakom
Depart Thekkady this morning for the 3-hour drive to your ‘home’ for the next two nights, Coconut Lagoon, located deep in the heart of Kerala’s green backwater country.
A 12 hectare eco-friendly property, Coconut Lagoon is set in a coconut grove on the shore of Vembanad Lake, surrounded by palms, fruit trees, flowering shrubs and organic rice paddies. A river resort, it is accessible only by boat.
Day 10 Kumarakom
Today is at leisure. An early morning yoga session is a wonderful way to begin a day here. (Yoga and meditation sessions are held daily at an open-air platform yoga centre).
There are a number of relaxing options on offer. You can explore the resort area with a naturalists who will explain the profusion of flora and fauna on display or take a stroll to the nearby village – the path to the village runs alongside paddy fields and waterways, providing glimpses of local life. You may like to spend some time in the enchanting butterfly garden, go canoeing or fishing with one of the local fishermen. If cooking is of interest, learn some of the secrets of traditional Kerala vegetarian and seafood cooking with one of the resort’s chefs. And, of course, there’s always the option to indulge in a rejuvenating Ayurvedic massage.
Day 11 Marari
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before departing for the short drive (30 minutes ) to Marari Beach, which lies, on a relatively undiscovered shore between the renowned backwaters of Alleppey and the cultural hub of Cochin.
Your accommodation for the next two nights, A Beach Symphony, is an intimate, luxury hideaway that offers a very personalised, friendly atmosphere – with a lot of privacy.
A small boutique property, it comprises just four traditional fishermen’s cottages, and is set in a lovely sandy garden dotted with plants, hammocks and tall palms, only metres from Marari’s stretch of unspoiled white beach.
Day 12 Marari
You may like to rise early this morning and take a stroll down to the beach to watch Mararikulam fishermen bringing in their catch, sometimes over powerful breakers. A picturesque scene – great for photographs – it has barely changed in a thousand years.
Most guests at this property spend their time on the beach or by the private swimming pool garden pavilion, lazing in a hammock, or reading books in the relaxing chairs on the verandas.
However, if you are after some activity you can take a bike ride in the neighbourhood or further afield. A personalised tour can be organised with an auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to visit some of the temples and churches in the area or to visit the local coir home industry. If you would like to explore the famous backwaters, Alleppey visits and boat tours on the Vembanad Lake and canals can also be arranged.
Another relaxing option is a rejuvenating Ayurvedic massage or treatment in the hotel’s recently opened ‘Ayur Kutiram’ Ayurvedic massage centre.
Day 13 Cochin
Depart Marari this morning for the 1.5-hour drive to Cochin. If Kerala is India’s most beautiful state, as many believe, then the lovely port of Cochin is its jewel. The Fort Kochi area of the city displays many signs of its history. Its first arrivals were the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs and the Chinese; it later became a much sought after, and often exchanged, prize in the colonial tussle that began with the arrival of the Portuguese in approximately 1503 and continued with the arrival of the Dutch, the French and the British.
Your accommodation here, Malabar House, is a documented part of Fort Kochi’s history. Purchased by Dutchman Jan Herman Clausing in 1755, the property was subsequently owned by spice traders, tea traders and bankers, until in 1996 it became a boutique heritage hotel.
Located on the old parade ground in the centre of the heritage zone, Malabar House is surrounded by historical buildings and faces St Francis Church. Set in a garden with large trees and tropical vegetation, it comprises just seventeen luxury rooms and suites furnished in a mix of distinctive contemporary and antique colonial pieces, art works and locally woven textiles. Original artefacts, including temple sculptures, and bold splashes of vivid colours create an eclectic ambience that reflects the rich cultural heritage of the Malabar coast.
Day 14 Cochin
Today is at leisure. You may choose to spend it exploring the fascinating historical area around the hotel – sights to be seen here include a Jewish Synagogue, Portuguese churches, Dutch architecture, mosques, temples and Chinese fishing nets …
Or, you can simply laze on your private terrace or by the plunge pool in the airy internal courtyard overhung with frangipani. You may like to indulge in a relaxing and rejuvenating massage in the Spa. The treatment offered here, known as Kalari, is part of one of the oldest schools of Ayurveda.
Day 15 Cochin
Transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
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