For a real sense of a country and its inhabitants, it's always best to stay with the locals and meet as many residents as possible. The population of Kerala are particularly friendly and welcoming, and these experiences will leave you with a unique understanding of the Indian state.
Learn to cook Keralan style
© Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock
Whether it’s a masala dosa, idli or a fiery chutney, after a couple of days at The Pimenta on Haritha Farms, you’ll be amazed at how many new vegetarian dishes you have in your repertoire. The Mathew family runs the farm, and head honcho Jacob is also in charge of the kitchen; a calm, authoritative master of Keralan cuisine, he will help you get the most from the flavoursome spices and fruits that are grown on the estate. The Pimenta offers a variety of holiday packages, combining cooking lessons with unusual trips such as visiting a small factory that produces Bombay mix and a fascinating three-woman rubber band-making enterprise. A cooking holiday here ensures you take home more than just a few new recipes.
For directions, prices and packages see www.thepimenta.com.
Spice up your life at Vanilla County
A large spice plantation surrounds this 60-year-old former tea-estate bungalow in the hills of northern Kerala, so there’s little chance of you being bothered by the neighbours. And as the organically grown vanilla, pepper and cardamom are used to flavour the traditional Keralan dishes – served up here by Rani, who is head chef in the home she shares with her husband, Babi – you’ll be tucking into some delicious, aromatic food too. The estate is high enough in the hills to escape both the mosquitoes and the humidity, and after a long walk through the plantations, a swim in the nearby natural rock pools is a wonderful way to cool off.
For directions, prices and details of activities see www.vanillacounty.in.
Have Thottada beach to yourself
If all-night parties and banana boats are your thing, you’re on the wrong beach. Here, on little-known Thottada beach in northern Kerala, you’ll get a length of palm-fringed shoreline to yourself, bar a few fishermen hauling in their catch. Kannur Beach House, two minutes from the beach and next to a freshwater lagoon, is the place to stay: the comfortable rooms have wonderful views of the pristine sands, the friendly owners cook and dine with you, and will take you on various trips to hand-looming workshops and traditional Theyyam (dance) festivals – there’s even a boat you can borrow, but you’ll probably have to row that yourself.
For directions, rates and booking visit www.kannurbeachhouse.com.
Explore the hidden backwaters at Emerald Isle
One quick glance at your surroundings will confirm that Emerald Isle is a very aptly named place. Hidden among swaying coconut palms and ringed by a complex web of water canals is the beautiful 150-year-old Heritage Villa, the family home of your hosts for generations. Sunbathe, swim and swing in your hammock – or, if you’re tempted to join the river traffic drifting by, jump in a small wooden canoe with a guide and glide round some of the waterways. This way you’ll meet the local people up close, see workers tending the paddy fields, and visit nearby temples and churches; a rewarding and exhilarating insight into the secret backwaters of Kerala.
For directions, details of activities, prices and reservations see www.emeraldislekerala.com.
Beat stress the natural way at Philipkutty's Farm
Philipkutty’s farm, set on an island in the middle of Lake Vembanad, has been in the family since the 1950s, and the holidays they run here are very much a family concern; mum cooks, while the husband-and-wife team look after the guests. The warm hospitality will eliminate any stress you might still have with you, while daily activities can include fishing, a canal cruise, cooking classes or swimming in the backwaters. To really unwind, take the free 10min boat ride over to the neighbouring Ayurvedic centre. Whether you just pop over there for a massage or book in for anything up to a thirty-day course of pampering treatments, you’ll be benefiting from a system of health they’ve been honing in Kerala for over two millennia.
Prices on request. For directions, rates, reservations and details of activities visit www.philipkuttysfarm.com.
Fish for prawns in Cochin
Kerala’s prime tourist destination, and, for centuries, an important fishing harbour, Cochin is a fantastic city in which to spend a few days. Stay with Jos Byju and his wife in their converted coconut storehouse alongside the family’s home, set on a promontory overlooking the lake. In the morning, Jos will take you to meet a local prawn farmer who will teach you how to cast out a fisherman’s net; afterwards you’ll feast on the prawns you’ve just caught. Once you’ve had your fill, there’s plenty to see and do in Cochin: art galleries, boutiques, churches, boat trips and, of course, more fishing…there’s dinner to eat later.
For directions, accommodation details, prices and more information visit gramamhomestay.com; + 91 484 224 0278.
Top image by Britta Jaschinski/APA Publications