I recently travelled to Kochi in Kerala on India's west coast. Kochi or Cochin, as it used to be known, is famous for its beautiful backwaters and laid back charm. It is a firm favourite on the tourist trail so you may have to put up with the persistent auto drivers and shop keepers. That said there are many small boutique shops and hotels and places to eat. Here are our hot tips.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Malabar House, part of the Relais & Chateaux group. Positioned close to some of our favourite shops including Anokhi, Cult Modern and Cinnamon. An absolute highlight were the meals in their in-house restaurant. We noticed many tourists coming daily just to dine here. Their seafood tapas with freshly made appam was unbelievable.
As well as the stores mentioned above another great find was the Pepper House. This old building has been tastefully restored while still retaining its charm. The design store is a very well curated mix of modern homewares and quirky pieces. They stocked my favourite Aman Khanna's Claymen heads which have been on my wish list since discovering them. There is also an old school library attached as well as a courtyard cafe set on the internal square grass courtyard which gives off a slight French Provincial air with its open shuttered kitchen and green vines scaling the walls.
One thing that you see absolutely everywhere is antique shops. By the time you reach the Jewish Quarter you are well and truly over it. But in my opinion the best has been saved for last. Right next to the old Paradesi Synagogue is a cavernous antique store which seems to have layers of authentic dust covering old pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac like antique butter churners, spice boxes as well as a few newer items. The staff were good with their negotiating and it seemed to be fairer than the other stores we entered.
On our way to the Synagogue, half way down the lane on the left hand side was the boutique hotel Mandalay Hall. The beautiful rustic walls and wide doorway drew us in to a beautifully minimal space with a simple design store attached and a green contemporary courtyard out the back housing their cafe, Aah. We later learned that Aah is the firsts sound in their local language Malayali which makes for a stunning graphic on the cafe wall. We cooled off with a Karikku Cooler made from a fresh mix of tender coconut water and pulp, mint, lime and a scoop of homemade coconut icecream. The menu looked so promising that we returned for the most delicious lunch.
I think our pick for the best cafe went to Kashi Art Cafe on Burgher Street. This place was packed which meant the food was both good and was turning over at a high rate keeping it fresh. They were bring in crates full of fresh fruit which were disappearing fast for their juices. If you need a break from local food put this place on your list.
I know we could have gone through the hotel for a full day lunch inclusive all-the-bells-and-whistles backwater tour, but this is exactly what we didn't want. Instead we discovered the very local Salmon Tours run by lovely Peter Thomas. The four of us were picked up at 8:30am in a very comfortable car and taken to Aleppey where our village boat was waiting for us. What I loved about it that they weren't pushy and we weren't herded like cattle with other people and it was just us taken through the backwaters - this could have been luck or low season but definitely worth asking about during peak season. Mr Thomas knew his way around and took us where no one else would be. On our way back he suggested a cup of local sweet and spiced up tea which we all loved and appreciated. A couple of us watched the tea being prepared while the other leisurely waiting on the boat. We drank our tea on the boat on our return back to shore. For us it was the perfect tour as we made it back to the Malabar House for our last thali.