Travel pick: Fort Cochin, Kerala

Posted in: Featured, Travel

Typically a two day stopover on the way to the Backwaters, Munnar’s tea estates or Kerala’s beaches, most people I chat to in Old Harbour Hotel’s (granite) pool site Fort Cochin (and the hotel) as the best part of their holiday, wishing they’d factored in longer. Like me, many return to do just that.

Fort Cochin is what I term chic, cultural India. Easy and safe enough even, for the most All-inclusive inclined, delicate tummed or toddler minding among us. Kochi’s people take great pride in their town’s 600 years trading history. Home to ancient Chinese fishing nets, a 16th century synagogue, mosques and a crumbling mix of Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial architecture. Fort Cochin is a cultural melting pot of art cafés, prawn curries, boutique hotels, antiques, pashminas and Zen kindness. And that’s just the town.

Thanks to India’s famous railways and super cheap taxis, zipping to other parts of tropical Kerala are just a few rupees away. Because pictures speak a thousand words, I’ll take you on a visual tour with bullet points.

WHERE TO STAY

Old Harbour Hotel

Highlights:

Understated luxury, Dutch colonial architecture adorned with Indian art and antiques, impeccable service and a pool that breaks hearts to leave.

It’s worth noting service in India can at times be challenging. The propensity to employ an army to fix a light bulb, along with an apparent inability to say no, tends not always to be entirely conducive to speed. Not to mention personal space or uninterrupted dinner party chat.

Old Harbour Hotel owner, Edgar Pinto has made it his mission not to be tarred with the same brush. Well, maybe not the giant workforce bit. Vineetha and Jude are on hand to manage said army, anticipating and attending to their guests every whim.

It has been intimated that the aforementioned may be the reason ‘Madam’ (read: yours truly) considers Old Harbour Hotel her Indian home and appears incapable of breaking away.

Our soda and lime mixers came hand delivered to the hotel’s bijou house (a great option for families and only a few minutes walk away), complete with a week’s supply of cut lime and bottle opener. Making the two minute trek to the local bar (where a very large G&T is approx. £1.20) was just too strenuous.

Leaving no stone unturned, even the restaurant is one of the best in Fort Cochin. Serving Keralan specialities alongside the odd western dish sampled on Edgar’s travels and returned to his chefs. Thanks to a Madrid city break, you can follow tandoor kingfish (from the Chinese fishing nets in front of the hotel) with poolside Chilli spiced chocolate & churros.

All this and there’s free WIFI and morning roof-top yoga, plus a mini spa for Ayurvedic massage. With art cafes and shopping on your doorstep. Given many a supermodel and Bollywood diva (so demanding they make Naomi Campbell look like Gandhi) keep coming back for more, it’s not just Little Miss Fussy who’s hooked.

HOW

A member of Small Luxury Hotels, there are countless sites to check reviews, pictures and to book securely. See also TripAdvisor and Old Harbour Hotel.

I’ll blog my tips for around the town next week. On the off chance you find the strength to drag yourself away from the pool. Did I mention it’s granite?

For all Holy Cow posts, click on Popular Tags on the right or on the Reviews page.

 

Travel pick: Fort Cochin, part 2

Posted in: Travel

Part 2 of post, Travel Pick: Fort Cochin, Kerala, here are some ways to pass your time in and around one of my favourite holiday picks in the world, when not lolling by the pool.

WHAT TO DO

Fish markets & Chinese fishing nets

Highlight: Fort Cochin’s fish market where ancient Chinese fishing nets are still in use. Go around 7.30am to witness fishy bartering in full swing.

How: The town is built around the nets and market so you’d be hard pushed to get lost. Head for the sea.

Jew Town:

Highlight: Antiques, pashminas, once tried, forever essential oils; jewellery, spice markets and a toe dip into real life India.

How: A 15 minute rickshaw fairground ride from the town centre or Chinese fishing nets.

WHERE TO EAT

The Teapot

Highlight: A banana pancake and masala chai must do for every Fort Kochi visitor.

How: A two minute walk Fort Cochin’s tiny tourist town centre.

Shantilal

Highlight: Demolished food. Because Gujarati’s are the master sweet-makers. And samosa chefs, it would seem.

How: Tell the rickshaw driver to drop you at Shantilal opposite the Guajarati school. My friend Vineetha takes me and I’m yet to spot another westerner or tourist. It’s completely safe, don’t worry!

Kashi Art Café

Highlight: Another uber stylish hot spot serving dishes with a western twist by the Old Harbour Hotel team. Breakfast is a must. My favourites: Try the seafood roti wrap and coconut iced coffee. Kerala means Land of Coconuts, after all.

How: A two minute walk from the town centre or fishing nets. Just about everything is a two minute walk. Ideal for an unwind holiday in my opinion.

The Seagull

Highlight 1 : A down to earth café on the water. Read: respite from often stifling humidity.

Highlight 2: THE BEST Fish Moile and paratha (pancake like bread).

Highlight 3: Gin & Tonic. Raj sized measures (big).

Highlight 4: The Seagull is where just about every well-heeled local eats and gets the thumbs up from my fussy Indian family so not to be missed.

How: Less than a five minute rickshaw ride from Fort Cochin’s town centre.

Old Harbour Hotel

Highlight: Breakfast and lunch chef, Rahim’s cooking. Thanks to him I’ve consumed almost every Indian breakfast ever concocted and now know how to make my favourite dish, Green mango curry.

How: Stroll in, kaftan clad from your room. Or dine by the pool in your bikini. That would be my advice. Take it or leave it.

KERALA & AROUND

The Backwaters

Highlight: It would be a sin to visit Kerala without spending time on The Backwaters. One or two nights on a houseboat with skipper, cook + an/other on hand to guide and feed you through sleepy waterside villages could well be the most relaxing and fascinating experience of your life.

The houseboat tick box has become a bit of a factory procession tourist trail. Somehow it still manages to be worth the effort. I guess it’s not hard to see why when you look at the pictures.

How: The boats leave from Alleppey, about 1 ½ hrs away from Fort Cochin by taxi (£15 fare approx.). Book your trip in Fort Cochin with the countless travel agents, or through your hotel. Expect to pay a premium if doing the latter.

Munnar

Highlight: Tea plantations, cool air, home cooked meals, 1950’s flower gardens and butlers.

How: You can do a day tour, leaving very early from Fort Cochin or spend a night. Unless you’re going hiking, you probably won’t need much more than a day. The town isn’t up to much and once you’ve seen one tea factory, you’ve probably seen them all.

Cherai & Madurai

Highlight: Both have beaches and some very stylish boutique hotels popping up, so my sources tell me. I’m incapable of leaving Old Harbour Hotel, remember?

How: Two – four nights should be good unwind time, depending on the length of your stay. The hotel would be the decider for me.

Goa

Parts of Goa are described by The Lonely Planet as India’s answer to Blackpool. I went under duress. Ten minutes inland by scooter, however, and you’ll find an entirely different (non-beer drinking for breakfast) crowd. Exceptional restaurants and yoga; Portuguese colonial architecture; and a multi-cultural night market to inspire London’s finest street traders.

It’s worth noting that Goa was a Portuguese protectorate until 1961 and as such, its cuisine and customs are quite different to the rest of India. Think tangy tamarind and Indian shoulders on display.

How: Domestic flights are excellent and frequent between Cochin and Goa. Book planes and trains through Cleartrip a wonderfully efficient service. You can even cancel and get a refund. Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) bless India.

Mumbai

Highlight: Stay in Colaba for Raj style hotel luxury with Victoriana. You’ll be spoilt for choice with galleries, street life and Bombay cafes on your doorstep. Try the Mumbai branch of Trishna, London’s Indian fish restaurant with style. You’ll find the original somewhat different in terms of design – old style London tube upholstery features – but the food is outstanding. The Colaba night market is well worth a visit; a drive thru diner for rich Mumbaikers.

How: Most flights stop over in Bollywood capital Bombay or the Middle East. If taking the former, it’s worth spending one or two nights on the way there or back.

This post is part 2 of Travel Pick: Fort Cochin, Kerala Click on the link for more India tips.