This 13-day itinerary takes you on a journey which allows you to experience the landscape and unique culture of Kerala. Your stay on this sojourn will be at spectacular locales and hotels including two Relais and Châteaux retreats, an exclusive tropical retreat nestled in a cardamom plantation and a waterfront retreat on the backwaters of Kerala.
Your journey weaves together breathtaking panoramas; sensory experiences that rejuvenate and uplift the mind, body and soul; Kerala's culinary trail with quintessential regional flavours and signature cuisines and antiquities from Kerala's rich history. All along, immerse yourself in traditional folk art forms and soak in local vibes.
Your itinerary starts at an exotic beach resort at Kovalam. Stay in a luxurious retreat located in a spectacular coconut grove overlooking the Arabian Sea. After some Sun, Sand & Sea, head to the verdant Western Ghats and stay in a Cardamom Plantation amidst exotic wildlife. Enjoy Kerala backwaters; your stay offers art, design and gorgeous views of Lake Vembanad at its widest point. Ride the palm-lined backwaters on a houseboat and end this unforgettable journey with a cultural immersion at the harbor at Fort Kochi.
Day 1 - Arrival at Thiruvananthapuram Airport
On your arrival at the airport, meet and greet, and transfer to Kovalam. You will be welcomed in traditional Indian custom at the Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra – a member of Relais and Châteaux and Travellers' Choice - 2014 winner. Our spectacular Kovalam beach resort has a stunning location perched at the edge of a serene coconut grove overlooking the Arabian Sea. The exclusive location exudes exclusivity while the vibes are romantic and tranquil.
After check-in, proceed to Café Samsara where you can enjoy delicious views of the Arabian Sea while you tuck into a scrumptious lunch. Enjoy your time at leisure until evening. In the evening, treat your senses to 60-minutes of Abhyanga Snana - a blissfully rhythmic body massage with warm medicated oils that facilitates circulation and relieves fatigue and body aches.
At 6 PM, enjoy an entertaining performance of Indian classical Carnatic music. This will be followed by an authentic Kerala dinner tweaked to the sensibilities of your palate.
Day 2 - Introduction to the glorious heritage of Kovalam
Tea will be served at Niraamaya's pristine secluded beach – an exhilarating pre-dawn experience. Watch the spectacular Kovalam sunrise and the play of colours over the majestic Arabian Sea. Later, visit the local fish market at 6 AM with our celebrity Chef. Located at the harbour where the boats come to unload, the fish market is buzzing with energy. You will see men and women offering the catch of the day. Wander around the open air-market to soak in the local vibe and for some great clicks. The view across the harbour looks past the big Old Catholic church right on the beach and two distant mosques at the far end. Back at the retreat, your breakfast awaits post which we will take a trip around Kovalam for some interesting glimpses of heritage and culture. We first take you for a look around the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. This ancient temple is the most dominating feature of Thiruvananthapuram. The temple is devoted to Lord Vishnu who is depicted reclining on Sri Anantha, the hooded snake from which the city derives its name. It has been in the news for one of the richest treasure troves ever found – supposedly known to be even richer than the Vatican. After that, we walk down an amazing bazaar street. This colourful market is Kerala's hidden treasure and a prime shopping destination for the 'daring' buyer only. At the end of the bazaar we reach Ganapathy temple with a chance to enter. Please note photography is not allowed at this divine place of worship.
Today's lunch is an amazing Sadhya meal. Sadhya means 'banquet' in the local language and is an assortment of vegetarian dishes served on a banana leaf. Lunch will be at one of Thiruvananthapuram's famous"Mother's Veg Plaza" restaurant. After lunch, we head on to Kuthiramalika Palace Museum, where you will get a glimpse of classic Kerala Architecture. The palace, with its excellent carvings and amazing architectural designs, is by itself a slice of heritage. The museum has a wide range of exhibits representing the erstwhile state of Travancore.
Post your return you are at leisure. Join us at the Madira bar for a spectacular sunset over a cocktail. Dinner will be served at our cliff-top specialty restaurant, Essence where our chef will introduce you to subtle herbs and fiery spices.
Day 3 - Backwaters, Sun, Sand & Sea
Today, start your day with Sunrise Yoga on the exclusive pavilion on the edge of a cliff overlooking the majestic Arabian Sea for 30 mins. This light workout will be followed by breakfast at Cafe Samsara.
After breakfast, we will head south of Niraamaya retreats to the Poovar estuary, a short 20-minute drive. Poovar was named by the erstwhile king Marthanda Varma of Travancore, which was the conjunction of the two Malayalam words poo and var meaning 'flower' and 'river' respectively. Poovar was the epicenter of trade in sandalwood, spice and ivory. Here you will be transferred to a motorboat that cruises through pristine coconut groves on either side of the river leading you to the Golden Sand beach. Experience an enchanting sight – a point where you can see the backwaters merge with the Arabian Sea. Here you can enjoy a special picnic hamper that our chef has prepared over a glass of chilled wine. On your return, the boat will take you through a pristine mangrove forest, before you transfer back to retreat.
Back at the retreat enjoy a classic high tea on your porch while your pre-booked spa therapy awaits - the Niraamaya Signature Spa therapy (60 mins). This deeply relaxing massage is the ideal antidote to ease all stress.
Finish the wonderful day with a special chef-designed dinner.
Day 4 - A day of divine wellness at Kovalam
Today, start your day with Sunrise Yoga on the exclusive pavilion at the edge of a cliff overlooking the majestic Arabian Sea for 30 mins. This light workout will be followed by breakfast at Cafe Samsara.
At Niraamaya, guests return home not just rejuvenated but with an empowered inner self. Your wellness program continues with Shirodhara (30mins) at Spa Niraamaya. Shirodhara is a relaxing therapy with lukewarm medicated oils gently poured in a stream over the forehead. Shirodhara is known for diffusing mental tension and easing headaches, improving sleep and strengthening hair roots. This will be followed by Abhyanga Snana Classic (60 mins). This is a traditional massage with warm medicated oils administered by two therapists with synchronized movements. This ancient therapy perfected over 5000 years improves blood circulation, relaxation and enhancing energy flow. Lunch will follow post your therapies. Follow this with a retreat walkthrough accompanied by our naturalist (optional). He will introduce you to the flora and fauna at the retreat and also take you through our homegrown organic garden. You will also learn of all the environmental friendly initiatives at Niraamaya. Hi-tea will be organized at the ancient wishing well during your walk around or at your porch if you wish to skip the walkthrough.
This evening during Dinner we present a traditional Kerala cultural show.
Day 5 - Depart to Thekkady
After breakfast, check-out from Niraamaya Surya Samudra Kovalam and transfer to Thekkady. This is India's largest wildlife sanctuary and a dream destination for all tourists.
Along this 4-hour drive, you will experience the panoramic Western Ghats - from small quaint towns to rubber plantations and lush green tea plantations to scenic valleys up a winding road.
Check-in at Niraamaya Retreats Cardamom Club -Travellers' Choice - 2014 winner, and give yourself up to the Niraamaya Experience. Our ayurvedic resort in Kerala is perched amidst acres of cardamom plantations. The cottages entail a blend of traditional charm, contemporary luxury and old-fashioned hospitality while its windows serve as a gateway to exotic wildlife of Thekkady. Explore acres of verdant groves and enjoy a guided spice plantation tour. Experience how spices such as cardamom, pepper, vanilla, nutmeg and cloves are grown. These exotic and fresh spices make for a great takeaway.
You are at leisure for the evening. Dinner will be served at the retreat.
Day 6 - Introduction to Periyar
Today, after breakfast, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to adventure in the outdoors! We have three options:
Choose between a 4-km trek from within the retreat to Mount Miracle at dawn - a great opportunity to catch the local wildlife such as the Gaur or 'Indian Bison' and various species of deer and the beautiful Periyar sunrise. For the less adventurous we have a secret (cheat) pathway to the top.
Or, look out for one of the rarest animals on earth. The Periyar Tiger Sanctuary is one of the few places where these big cats can prowl freely. Elusive as they may sound, even if you can manage to catch a flash of yellow and black; you will return awe-inspired.
Or, experience an elephant back ride - an absolute must-do. Our elephant trainers will accompany you to the jungle camp where you can ride and bathe these gentle giants. End this amazing tour by feeding elephants by hand.
For lunch today our Chef will organise a handy backpack which offers delectable gourmet delights.
Post your return to the retreat, your evening is at leisure. Enjoy the calls of exotic birds that surround you or enjoy a quiet read with piping hot mountain coffee made with beans from our very own garden.
This evening we take you to watch Kalaripayattu – one of the oldest forms of martial arts indigenous to Kerala. With carefully measured movements, the clash of swords is guaranteed to leave you mesmerized. The performance will be followed by dinner at the retreat.
Day 7 - Thekkady Gavi Jeep Safari
Our team has organised exciting choices for a memorable outdoor experience! We have two options: For a genuine safari experience, we will travel by jeep into the dense reaches of spice hills in Gavi. The safari will take you through all forms of terrain - valleys, tropical forests, sprawling grasslands, and cascading waterfalls. It includes three hours of trekking and two hours of paddle boating. Try and spot the rare lion-tailed macaques, the yellow-necked Nilgiri marten, Salim Ali's fruit bats, black bears, wild elephants, and tigers. Or, if you are game for a little more adventure, you can opt to go bamboo rafting down the Periyar Lake. Steer your craft through dense forests, skirt the rapids, we are certain you will come back with a new respect for the wild. Breakfast and lunch are organised in a quaint hamper for both the excursions. Your dinner today is Niraamaya's special barbeque dinner and bonfire. End the blissful day with our sundowners, stargazing at the bright blanket of stars that stretch across a clear night sky, before a crackling bonfire.
Day 8 – Depart to Lake Vembanad, Kumarakom
After breakfast at Cardamom Club, we will drive to Kumarakom (4 hours). Niraamaya Retreats Backwaters & Beyond, one of the most beautiful waterfront resorts in Kumarakom, is a tranquil destination with its enviable location nestled on the banks of Lake Vembanad. Set amidst 8 acres of lush tropical gardens, the retreat houses 27 luxurious villas designed to maximize the glorious views of the lake. Meandering pathways lead to tasteful living spaces that are in complete harmony with nature amidst breezy coconut palms and tropical foliage. Lunch will be served at the Café Samsara. The rest of the day is at leisure, relax at the pool or take a sunset cruise in a small traditional boat which takes you through the canals in and around Kumarakom. A therapeutic Ayurvedic treatment is already pre-booked for your convenience. Follow the pampering with a candlelight dinner at Essence.
Day 9 - Introduction to Kerala's Water world
We invite you to a free session of yoga class. After breakfast we suggest a trip to the Bay Island Driftwood Fossil Museum, it is situated about 1.5kms. from the Retreat. The museum displays a unique collection of superior quality driftwood sculptures of very high artistic value prepared through a rare and innovative modern art form. The museum is located at the scenic village of Kumarakom. A visitor would find a huge collection of root sculptures of various shapes and designs. Many of these works closely resemble birds, animals, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes. Shaping, scraping, polishing, finishing and preserving are done with fierce dedication.
Post lunch, get the glimpse of the rural life in Kerala. The direct interaction with local culture, traditions and livelihood activities such as coconut palm frond weaving to screw pine making and fishing with the locals to a visit to the local toddy shops, are all exquisite experiences that are enriching for travellers. As part of the Responsible Tourism (RT) initiative, they encompass all forms of tourism and seek to minimise negative economic, environmental and social impacts.
Day 10 - Houseboat Cruise (Overnight Stay on the Houseboat)
After your breakfast, you have some time at leisure. Closer to lunchtime you board the luxurious houseboat for a cruise through the many canals and waterways. Feel free and relaxed as your eyes, first lazily and then passionately enjoy the bewitching Vembanad Lake, the largest backwater stretches in Kerala. Passing through rivers and canals, you can enjoy a delicious meal. Dinner and overnight stay at the houseboat.
Day 11 - Depart to Cochin
Today, after breakfast, check-out from the houseboat; you will be then transferred to Cochin. At the heart of historical Fort Kochi you will be welcomed in traditional Indian custom. Check-in at The Malabar House, member of Relais & Châteaux and winner of the World Travel Award 2014. The Malabar house offers you its eclectic mix of history, art, design and fine dining. Proceed for lunch and enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure.
In the evening, be mesmerized with a cultural program of Kathakali – a classical Indian dance-drama noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures, and well-defined body movements. This is followed by a degustation dinner at Malabar Junction, the restaurant at Malabar House. 'Discover the Flavours of Kerala' - highlights of the local cuisine translated into a classical degustation menu by Chef Manoj.
Day 12 - Introduction of Cochin
After breakfast at the Malabar House, we introduce you to the history of Fort Kochi, the heart of ancient spice trade. Given in 1498 by the Cochin Maharaja to Vasco da Gama, it is India's oldest Indo-European town and was once governed by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Even today, it holds the reins as the hub of the spice trade. Next to the Indo-European Fort Kochi is Mattancherry, the former capital of the Maharajas with its ancient harbor front. It is a melting pot of many communities like Konkani's, Gujarati's, Kutchi Muslims, Jews, and Tamil Brahmins. All these communities have created their own settlements, including markets, temples, mosques, and churches. The oldest European Church in India, St Francis Church built in 1510, is just in front of the hotel. It is the place where the Portuguese navigator Vasco Da Gama was first laid to rest in 1502 – his tomb is still open to tourists for viewing.
Some of the mosques in Mattancherry date back to the 14th century. The synagogue in Jew town is the oldest operating synagogue in the world. The surrounding warehouses in Jew town have over the years become India's largest antique market, a paradise to browse.
We also suggest a visit to the Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese in 1557 and subsequently renovated by the Dutch in 1663. It is home to some of the best mural paintings in Kerala. The Malabar House team will be delighted to listen to your interests and help you to put together a personalized program for the day. Whatever you prefer to do, sightseeing at the historical landmarks on a tuk-tuk, browsing through antique shops or contemporary art galleries, fashion shopping or simply soaking up the everyday life in the local markets and streets. Do not miss the sunset at the Chinese fishing nets - Cochin's famous landmark, only a short 5-minute walk from The Malabar House. In the evening we recommend you to discover the emergence of Indian wines, a wine degustation at Divine, the wine lounge of Malabar house.
Day 13 - Depart from Cochin
Today, after breakfast check-out from the Malabar House. You will be transferred to Cochin airport for your homebound flight.