Set on a magnificent estuary, serene Kochi has been drawing traders, explorers and travellers to its shores for over 600 years. Nowhere else in India could you find such an intriguing mix: giant Chinese fishing nets, a 450-year-old synagogue, ancient mosques, Portuguese- and Dutch-era houses and the crumbling remains of the British Raj. The result is an unlikely blend of medieval Portugal and Holland and an English village grafted onto the tropical Malabar Coast. It’s a delightful place to explore, laze in arty cafes and relax at some of India’s finest homestays and heritage hotels. It's also an important centre for Keralan arts (traditional and contemporary) and a standout place to see Kathakali and kalarippayat.
Mainland Ernakulam is Kochi's hectic transport and cosmopolitan hub, while the historical towns of Fort Cochin and Mattancherry, though well-touristed, remain wonderfully atmospheric. Other islands, including Willingdon and Vypeen, are linked by ferries and bridges.