It’s been a dream of mine ever since I became a mum of two to travel bi-annually to India with my girls, once they were old enough. Enjoying adventures, creating memories and discovering new regions on each visit. Being born and raised in the UK, it was important for both Mr S and I to show them their roots and heritage.
Places to visit in Kerala
Along with (hopefully) instilling the confidence to travel India independently and create their own travel moments in time!
Now that all sounds very idyllic and rosy, but I can’t deny the prospect of taking my girls was slightly daunting for many reasons. The noise. The dirt. The chaos. The insects. No pasta on tap! So, not the easiest place to travel to with little ones. However, with proper planning and preparation it’s possible for the whole family to enjoy India.
For this reason we chose to book our ten day trip with Original Travel, who from the word go make the whole experience as hassle free as possible. All itineraries are tailor-made, accommodating your wants and needs as a solo traveller, couple or family.
When you book through Original Travel, as standard you receive UK departure assistance with a meet and greet, fast-track check-in, lounge access even if you’re flying economy, pre-booked seats plus the added bonus of local concierges with insider knowledge in every destination. I was sold on this alone!
Kerala is quite a large state with lots to see, but we decided from the start that we didn’t want to cram in too much into our ten day trip itinerary. With a a trip dedicated to the beaches and backwaters of Kerala. We wanted to return relaxed not harassed and with a desire to come back for more.
Our trip focused on three different areas Mararikulam for the beach element, Kottayam for the serene backwaters and Kochi for some city action. For our first family holiday I wanted to immerse ourselves into the Keralan way of life. So we mixed up our stays with a multitude of accommodations from eco-friendly hotels, a homestay and a houseboat.
Here’s our ten day family friendly itinerary:
Day 1 – 3: Mararikulam
After an 8 hour flight to Mumbai and a connection to Kochi which is additional two hours. We finally arrived at Kochi airport to a warm welcome from our contact Sanju and headed onwards in a two hour private transfer to Maraikulam.
Shattered with the travel and time difference, the Marari Beach Resort by CGH Earth was a welcome sight.
This eco-friendly luxury hotel located on Marari beach is the ultimate Indian coastal hideaway.
Marari Beach Resort Mararikulam
The thatched Malayalam villas all come with mod cons and beautiful outside bathrooms, which is a traditional way to bathe in Kerala.
It proved to be the perfect place for 10th birthday celebrations too. The hotel organised balloons in the bedroom (went down a treat) and a birthday cake in the evening.
Life, definitely dropped down a gear or two with days lazing on a hammock in the coconut grove with cocktail in hand, strolling on the palm-fringed beach watching local fisherman go about their day and indulging in the most epic Ayurvedic massages.
The latter being a must, as Kerala is known as the paradise for Ayurveda. It’s one of the world’s oldest holistic ‘whole-body’ healing treatments, developed more than 3,000 years ago in India. Watch out for a post soon on the blog of our incredible stay at the resort.
Day 4 – 5: Kottayam
Our next stop was Philipkutty’s Farm located on an island on the backwaters of Kottayam. Our amazing driver Rahul, who kept us in constant supply of Magic Masala crisps (we were slightly addicted), drove an hour and a half to reach this sustainable, organic working farm.
On route we did stop at the local government approved alcohol store. Philipkutty is not licensed to sell alcohol, but it’s fine to BYO. Since we would be celebrating New Years here, Mr S had a surreal experience purchasing some bubbles at extortionate prices
This would be our first family homestay so I was slightly nervous on what to expect. On arrival we were transported by a traditional canoe to the island where guests are hosted in beautifully decorated waterfront villas.
A world away from all the hustle bustle of normal life it has to be one of the most peaceful places I’ve stayed.
The recents floods of August 2018 devastated the man-made island, with most of the crop destroyed and the villas in need of severe repair. Sheer hard work and determination by Anu, her mother-in-law Aniamma, son Philip, daughter Anya and the tireless workers means the farm is now back up and running.
Our two days were spent relaxing, enjoying communal home-cooked meals by Anu’s mother-in-law under the mango tree and taking sunset cruises every evening.
It was as idyllic as it sounds. The girls not once asked for their ipad or uttered the dreaded words ‘I’m bored!’.
Constantly busy, playing with the house dog Sugar, on the swings or making things from coconut shells, husks and flowers. An utter dream to watch them explore all day without a care in the world.
We spent News Years Eve on the farm. After a wonderful meal surrounded by beautifully lit diyas (lit clay pots) and later serenaded by pianist Philip, Anu’s eldest son. We retired to our rooms and celebrated a unique and quiet evening bringing in the New Year on the backwaters.
Day 6: Alleppey
Saddened to leave the small oasis of paradise behind on New Year’s Day. We bid a reluctant farewell to the other houseguests whom we shared many a meal, laugh and chatter with. We met some fascinating people and a family from Highgate, London (practically neighbours!). Meeting fellow travellers with like-minded interests is another plus for homestays in my eyes.
With our final delicious breakfast of masala dosa and sambhar still tantalising our lips, we boarded the canoe to meet Rahul on the other side of the river.
Our third and most exciting accommodation of our trip was up next – The houseboat! Before we arrived on our Lakes and Lagoons deluxe two bedroom cabin Alleppey houseboat, we stopped en route for a walk around the hub of the backwaters.
The guide showed how the old city of Alleppey is being preserved to retain it’s charm and heritage character. Interestingly, we also discovered that Gujarati’s (which is our heritage) migrated to the city a long time ago for spice trading, in order to establish a direct link with the spice growers in Kerala.
We explored the old Gujarati quarters, spice warehouses and visited a coir factory.
Alleppey was a major trading centre for coir and still produces the largest coir products in India. In 2007, the World Trade Organisation granted Geographical Indication status to ‘Alleppey Coir’.
It’s amazing to see how from these almost crumbling factories and warehouses, some of the most beautiful products are produced. The one we visited, actually manufactured gorgeous Ralph Lauren mats. Now you know where all your coir carpets, mats and bag come from.
The girls were fascinated to drove diwn the busy main commercial street of Alleppey with the cacophony of everyday life – Real India! The incessant beeping of horns, cows wandering aimlessly and lots of people with umbrellas. What with the monsoons and searing sunshine they are used all the time in Kerala. In fact, so much so that they are the leading innovative manufacturers – from the world’s smallest umbrella to a Wi-fi one!
Day 6 – Lake Vembanad
We finally arrived for the Keralan experience we’d all been waiting for and it did not disappoint. No. 22 was our home for the night. Holding onto a ticket with the number, we boarded a wooden speed boat to cross the river to our moored abode.
Completely wowed as we boarded our kettuvallam, which is essentially a converted rice boat. Used once to transport goods from isolated villages to towns in the days before roads and cars. Nowadays, they carry tourists, providing a slice of Keralan paradise.
The rest of the day was spent gently traversing the languid and beautiful backwaters, whilst relaxing and soaking up the surrounding nature. An incredible way to spend New Year’s Day and and start 2019!
We were all impressed with the comfort and service provided on these wooden boats by the crew. They come in a variety of sizes and styles from basic, deluxe to full-on floating palaces.
Our boat featured two ensuite bedrooms, air conditioning, western bathrooms with toiletries, dining and relaxing areas. There is not much on board in regards to entertainment, but it’s not needed when you have the most incredible scenery floating by.
We did however find a carrom board – Bingo! It’s akin to cue sport-based tabletop game of South Asian origin, similar to billiards.
Players use a strike and try to pot the carroms with a flick of the finger into pockets on the board’s corners. The girls were converts as we played the night away teaching them the rules loosely remembered from our own childhood.
For our one night stay, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and copious amounts of masala chai were served. I was one happy lady!
The cuisine is typical Keralan – plenty of fish, vegetable curries, rice and tropical fruit. The chef even whipped up some tasty chips for Asha.
Late afternoon we stopped at the village of Champakulam and walked around with a member of the crew, stopping at St Mary’s Basilica, established in 427 AD! An ancient church rebuilt many times and is believed to have been founded by St Thomas the Apostle himself.
And at the most magical time of golden hour and sunset we boarded a wooden canoe and watched the majestic red sun set peacefully.
Once the dark descends the mosquitos come out in full force (in the 1000s). Don’t forget your mozzie repellant! We retreated indoors for another delicious meal, followed by a game of carrom before heading to cool AC bedrooms.
We awoke to a simple breakfast of toast, tea, coffee and fruit. Spending our final couple of hours gliding through the glassy waters in the early morning mist, listening to the chorus of birds and watching morning routines happen alongside the bankside.
A real highlight of our trip, neither of us wanted to leave the tranquil backwaters as we disembarked.
Day 7 – 10: Fort Kochi
On our final leg of our trip Rahul drove us an hour to Kochi, still referred to as Cochin. Described as the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’, the busy port city, draws its rich heritage from Arabic, British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese influences.
We spent our first day enjoying our hotel Xandari Harbour in Fort Kochi. With a pool day for the kids we lazed around watching the big ships glide in and out of port and the fishermen bring in their haul.
For the remainder of our days we explored and wandered around Fort Kochi and soaked up the city’s unique colonial charm.
It can only be described as a melting pot of different cultures all coming together in a uniquely Indian style.
The temples we visited in Kerala differ hugely from the grand ones you see in the North of India. Architecturally basic and simple in form they are also much smaller in size.
Something else we discovered, is for a man to enter the inner sanctum of the temple in Kerala, their upper garments must be removed. Mr S refrained from offending the worshippers (and instagram) with his Adonis torso and waited outside whilst the girls and I entered. Our shoes and hats removed, once inside no photos were allowed. After offering our prayers, we walked around the enclosed deity clockwise and back out to our awaiting Adonis!
There are a myriad of Portuguese churches in Kochi too. St Francis Church is amongst one of the oldest churches is India. Originally built in 1503 it’s also where the legendary explorer Vasco da Gama was once buried.
Then there India’s oldest active 17th century Jewish Synagogue, running for the last remaining five Jewish residents. And the 16th century Portuguese built Mattancherry Palace with it’s stunning murals.
From the many different communities and cultures who have traveled through and lived in Kerala. Today’s society has evolved to integrate and see religions coexisting peacefully.
The tempting markets, with exotic spices, enticing scents, incense sticks and a plethora of Aladdin’s cave goodies will have you bartering away your rupees. Travelling with my little ladies temptation was never too far away.
One not to miss is the antiques shops in the ‘Jew Town’. The old spice warehouses are a delight to wander around, packed with incredible Keralan artefacts.
And let’s not forget the incredible cantilevered chinese fishing nets and tantalisingly tasty food on offer. More on that in a another foodie post.
Luckily we timed our trip to Kochi at the same time as the largest international art exhibition in India and the biggest contemporary art festival in Asia – The Biennale.
Shows are held in existing galleries, halls and site-specific installations in public spaces, heritage buildings and disused structures.
Basically it’s everywhere and it’s such an exciting time to be in the city.
A daily ticket allows you three entries into the main building plus one other. Our wanders took us through some fascinating buildings, past some interesting art pieces and immersed in some fun, interactive installations. The perfect way to spend our final day.
We ended our last evening in true Keralan style with a Kathakali performance.
The 400 year old classical dance form of Kerala combines the facets of ballet, opera and pantomime. The dancers re-enact stories from the great Hindu Epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The laid-back charm of Kerala definitely worked its magic on us. A place with it’s own distinct identity. From colonial Fort Kochi, the lush fertile landscapes, gorgeous white sandy beaches backed by swaying palms, the slow and relaxed pace of life, there really is so much to love.
Also completely unique to the rest of India. A state with the highest level of literary, begging banned and a region which began its roots with a matriarchal society, means women today hold a more visible role in society.
We found it to be a great family friendly destination to introduce the kids to India. Exotic and culturally rich but not as overwhelming as the North. And so begins our family love affair with India. Already looking forward to where our next Indian adventure takes us.
Watch the highlights video from our Keralan adventures
Have you been to India? Where would you love to visit? Let me know in the comments box below.
Here are some experiences we enjoyed in our itinerary, which you can easily book.
Where would we be without our Lonely Planet Guide!
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