Mini guide to Kerala, India

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Squeezed between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, Kerala is one of India’s most beautiful states. The rivers that make up the region’s backwaters are the star attractions. Further south are the beaches of Kovalam, while inland the mountainous Ghats are covered in a blanket of spices and tea plantations.

In this excerpt from Lonely Planet Magazine we highlight the best bits of Kerala - what to see, what to eat, where to stay.

What to see

Venice-like, the shady streets of Alappuzha (Alleppey) are set around a grid of canals that spill into the watery highways of Kerala. As the gateway to the backwaters, this is the place to soak up village life before taking a trip on a houseboat. Lakes & Lagoons offers gorgeous accommodation on traditional rice boats.

With guesthouses and restaurants perched perilously along a cliff edge, Varkala is a sight to behold. It’s also more laid-back than Kerala’s other beach resort, Kovalam.

Related article: A perfect trip to Kerala

Munnar town in the Western Ghats isn’t much to look at, but wander just a few miles outside the city and you’ll be engulfed in a sea of tea trees and mountain scenery. Book into one of the tea estates-turned-guesthouses such as Dew Drops.

Only in Kochi can you find giant fishing nets from China, ancient mosques and Portuguese houses. Don’t miss the fantastic Hindu murals in the Mattancherry Palace.

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is a green medley of rice paddies and spice plantations. You’re almost guaranteed to see wild elephants here. Entry is as part of a guided jeep safari that can be arranged at the entrance.

Where to eat

For good-value, authentic Keralan food, drop by Sreepadman. A hole-in-the-wall with a view, this is where you will rub shoulders with rickshaw drivers rather than tourists. Located near the Devaswom Building, it also has seating out the back with temple views.

Located in Munnar’s main bazaar, Rapsy Restaurant is packed with locals, lining up for Rapsy’s famous paratha and biryani. It also makes a decent Spanish omelette.

You’ll hear the buzz about Dal Roti before you arrive – it has the best food in Fort Cochin. Owner Ramesh will guide you through his North Indian menu, which includes melt-in-the-mouth Mughlai parathas and Hyderabadi biryani.

Chakara is an 1860s heritage home that’s been restored to its former glory. The creative menu combines traditional Keralan cooking, such as Alleppey fish curry, with European dishes such as tuna niçoise.

Rambling Pachyderm Palace lies outside just the gate of Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary. It consists of simple rooms and a good restaurant that serves excellent curries and biryanis.

Where to stay

Just six miles from Alleppey, Green Palms Homes is a series of homestays set in a picturesque backwater village. Your host can double as a guide to the village and will also prepare three Keralan meals a day if requested. You can hire bicycles here or take cooking classes.

Wayanad’s Stream Valley Cottages sit on the bank of a stream, 1½ miles from Vythiri. Each cottage has separate sitting areas, large private verandas and comes with a hushed soundtrack of singing birds and babbling brooks.

Villa Jacaranda is a romantic retreat set amidst a subtropical garden, near Varkala. The four large rooms are elegantly furnished with white bed linen and period furniture. The delicious complimentary breakfast is served on your veranda.

Set in the hills of Munnar, the Windermere Estate is a luxurious yet intimate country retreat. There are rooms in the main farmhouse and newer, garden cottages, all with views. The plantation grows cardamon and coffee.

The gorgeous Olavipe Homestay is set on a 40-acre farm surrounded by backwaters. The restored mansion dates back to the 1890s and is a traditional Syrian-Christian home with large, breezy rooms, all skilfully finished with original period décor.

Getting there and around

Pick up prepaid taxi vouchers at the airport, it should cost around £3 to Trivandrum.  There are frequent trains from Kerala to Varkala (£2), Kollam (£2) and Ernakulam (£3), with trains passing through Alleppey (£2.50). Within the towns, autorickshaws are the main mode of transport (30p-£1).

When to go

Avoid monsoon season between June and October, and visit between December and March when temperatures are a pleasant 30ºC. In February, March and April, festivals take place in Kochi, Kottayam and Kollam, featuring traditional Kathakali dancing.