Kerala is right at the tip of India and is a state of lush trees, stunning beaches, tea, spices and of course seafood. Gemma had a week to explore, basing herself in Munnar, Varkala and Alleppey and completely fell in love.
Munnar is a hill station in Kerala, famed for being the summer haunt of the British elite in previous years. It is surrounded by hills of tea plantations, which were established in the 19th Century. We did a tea plantation walk around the town which is one of my highlights of the whole trip, and a chance to stock up on tea to bring back to London. So green!
We stayed in a treehouse at the Kaivalyam Retreat just outside Munnar, which was a haven of peace and quiet. Our room had floor to ceiling glass looking out on the jungle and we sat for hours just looking at all the beautiful birds just outside. The retreat itself was vegetarian only, so no seafood here, but the food was delicious, well priced and I got lots of cooking inspiration. They had a cold pineapple curry, which sounds not so great, but was beautiful. As part of the room rate activities such as meditation, yoga, tea tasting and cooking classes are all free – unfortunately our schedule didn’t match up with the cooking class times.
From Munnar we headed down to Alleppey to board a houseboat for a day/night. I truly don’t think I have seen a more beautiful and serene place than the Keralan backwaters. The boat, we booked through Panoramic Routes, had two members of staff on board who sailed the boat and waited on us with non stop food – it was seriously good. For lunch we had crispy black karimeen (a fish popular in the area) along with salads, rice and curries. Just a light lunch.
The afternoon was spent exploring the backwaters further, and even pulling up to a fishmongers on the side of the water. All the fish was as fresh as you can imagine and we selected some crabs and huge tiger prawns to have for our dinner. In the evening we tucked into crab curry, grilled spicy prawns and all the sides. In the morning we went for a cruise for around an hour, when hardly any other boat was on the water. Taking into the surroundings whilst tucking into steamed coconut pancakes (puttu) was a perfect breakfast. If you visit Kerala I really recommend some time on a houseboat – truly one of my favourite places in the world.
I really wasn’t expecting to like Varkala as much as I did. In my books the area was described as a backpacker destination and being packed with people. Not really what I was looking for on this holiday! However, going at the end of the season meant it was totally different to that. Varkala beach is huge and it was easy to find a spot to relax in. Locals did walk up and down the beach looking at the westerners in their swimwear which felt a bit uncomfortable. The lifeguards did do everything they can to stop this and I didn’t feel unsafe at all.
For lunch we took a pitstop at ABBA (swedish bakery, get it? and tucked into a delicious halloumi salad (more like paneer) and a watermelon juice, whilst overlooking the beach. And all for about 3 quid! In the evening we went to Clafoutis which was a minutes walk from our hotel (Palan Beach Resort) and selected our seafood for dinner from the fish counter at the front of the restaurant. This was one of my favourite meals of the entire Indian trip. We tucked into grilled black snapper with garlic, ginger and coriander butter, alongside a plate of spicy shrimps! The seafood was cooked to perfection with simple flavours to complement but not overwhelm. I have to try and replicate this dish at home. Just not sure it will taste quite as good not overlooking the sea and sitting outside in the warm!
For breakfast our favourite was Coffee Temple, such great value breakfasts, proper chai and friendly service. The below fried eggs with refried beans, hot sauce and tortillas came to the equivalent of about £1.80!
Kerala is a place you have to visit if in India, it is just a magical part of the world.