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Southern India's Coastal Route: Tamil Nadu to Kerala

15days from
£2,499*per person


15 Days - Worldwide Tour

Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala: Discover their remarkable cities, thought-provoking temples and astonishing natural wonders. Less familiar than the north, visiting the south of India is an incredible journey of discovery: we’ll see amazing thousand-year old rock-cut and granite temples, intricately carved, rising to over 200ft high, packed with pilgrims and devotees and remarkable forts, mansions and churches from British, French, Dutch and Portuguese colonial periods. We’ll sail on converted rice barges through the tranquil backwaters of Kerala and walk through fragrant spice plantations and pristine tropical forests of the Western Ghats. Staying in colonial hotels, lakeside bungalows, thatched cottages and hundred-year old original traders’ mansions and we’ll experience a cuisine and hospitality renowned throughout India. All blended together; this outstanding eclectic mix will ignite your imagination. Southern India and specifically the vast states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, are worlds away from New Delhi, Agra or Rajasthan. It’s much more laid back here, slower paced and a simpler way of life. There are no deserts here and lush fertile land yields plentiful harvests of rice and every sort of tropical fruit. In the higher elevations of the Malabar Hills in the Western Ghats, the altitude and temperature are perfect for every type of spice - the ‘black gold’ of 500 years ago was not oil but pepper from these very hills. Vast fortunes were made and lost, battles and campaigns were fought and colonies founded just to control the spice trade. We’ll stay in Kumily, at 2,600ft, markedly cooler than the plains below, with its lush spice plantations and Kerala’s best-known Nature Reserve, Periyar, where we’ll explore the enchanting forest during a fascinating walk with a naturalist guide. The great temple cities of Tanjore and Madurai are quite unique - there is nothing like them anywhere else in India. The astonishing craftsmanship and sheer scale of these temples is extraordinary. But the real beauty here is that they are not mere tourist attractions; they are working Hindu shrines, many locals visit daily and many more travel great distances. You’ll see young people and families, from every walk of life, coming to pay their respects. In Chennai, we’ll visit Fort St George, the British fortification where Clive of India first rose to prominence from a lowly clerk with no military training, to a Major-General securing India for the East India Company and ultimately the British Crown. The fascinating museum houses some of his letters, period military uniforms, cannons and arms. We’ll also explore one of the least visited but most intriguing regions of Tamil Nadu - the Chettinadu. Originally home to the Chettiars, financiers and traders par excellence, they amassed vast wealth trading in raw materials with Burma and South East Asia. Using their profits to build opulent, flamboyantly coloured 60-room mansions housing their extended families, the beauty of these unique houses has recently been rediscovered and great efforts have been made to preserve their remarkable legacy. The setting of the novel and film ‘The Life of Pi’, visiting Pondicherry is like stepping back in time. One of India’s few French colonial outposts, it was one of the major centres of military operations against the British. Changing hands several times during various wars, the French subsequently stayed, although nothing remains of the impressive fortifications – all were demolished. Independent since 1954, what remains is an elegant, quiet, tree-lined slice of the Cote d’Azur transplanted to sub-tropical India. Palm-fringed Kerala has the highest literacy rate of any Indian state and thus is one of the most affluent too. Its greatest natural assets are the 900kms of waterways known as the backwaters, creating a watery world of tranquil palm-shaded canals, with mats of water hyacinths lazily floating by and paddy fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Gliding gently in a typical Keralan houseboat all local life is there to be enjoyed: fishermen casting their nets from tiny wooden canoes, sari-clad women washing clothes, while kingfishers and darters look out for an easy meal. Cochin is the main city here, Portuguese in the 16th century, it was the first European colony in India. We’ll see St Francis church, India’s first, where Vasco da Gama was originally buried plus Cochin’s most iconic sight, the famous Chinese fishing nets– huge wooden cantilevered structures, operated by just four men as they are lowered and raised from the waters below. Southern Indian cuisine displays a marked difference too; Tamil Nadu is known for the huge variety of its vegetarian dishes, different chutneys and pickles, whilst in Kerala, coconut, seafood and bananas feature heavily. Whatever your tastes, the food of the south is a revelation and completely different to what often passes for Indian cuisine at home. In short, perhaps the greatest allure of India is that we feel it with all our senses: from the unbelievably luminescent saris of every hue and description, to the noisy excitement of the markets, the heady aromas of the spices, the delicate flavour of a dosa with a hot sambar soup. Azure skies above crown the lushest of greenery below, all reflected in the Keralan backwaters. Every day brings a myriad of new discoveries on this outstanding tour.


  • Take your overnight flight to Chennai (Madras) via Muscat.
  • On arrival we transfer to the hotel.
  • This morning your immersion in one of the world’s oldest cultures commences with a tour through Chennai’s bustling streets. We’ll pass a number of Victorian-era buildings and the famous Marine Beach, see the incredible fish market and multi-coloured long wooden fishing boats drawn up on the sand, before arriving at the very centre of colonial Madras, Fort St George.  This was one of the most vital outposts of the British Empire – its first in India, the home of Clive of India for many years and the military base for numerous wars against the French. We’ll tour the fort and visit St Mary’s Church – not only is it the earliest Anglican church in India but it also claims to be the first east of Suez, built in 1680.    In the afternoon, you’ll have time to relax and enjoy the hotel’s facilities or continue to explore Chennai alone with time at leisure.
  • Mahabalipuram  This morning, we’ll make our way to Mahabalipuram a port which traded with Rome in ancient times. Its huge 7th century temples have been intricately carved from vast granite monoliths and are now UNESCO World Heritage sites. We’ll also enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.     Pondicherry  Later, we’ll travel south to Pondicherry and enjoy a delicious dinner at our hotel.  
  • Pondicherry Start the day with a walking tour of the beautiful old French colonial centre of ‘Pondy’. Both its architecture and ambience are very different from any other Indian town.  There’s a sleepy, almost Mediterranean air here, with bougainvillea-clad walls and mustard-yellow-coloured neo-classical villas. We’ll see the impressive Governor’s residence, the former site of the French fort designed by the French military architect, Vauban – there is even a Hotel de Ville!    Tanjore  We continue our journey south to Tanjore, with a two-night stay at the three-star superior Ideal River View Hotel with breakfast. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the tranquil surroundings and palm-shaded pool.
  • We continue our journey south to Tanjore, with a two-night stay at the three-star superior Ideal River View Hotel with breakfast. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the tranquil surroundings and palm-shaded pool. Lunch is included today.
  • Tanjore was the capital of the ancient Chola Empire and is mainly known for its extraordinary Brihadeeswara Temple, the template for all in southern India. Standing over 200ft tall, its main tower is covered with an intricately-carved ochre-coloured facade which glows in the morning light. A working temple for over a thousand years, surrounded by colonnaded halls and a fortified wall, it is a testament to the power and wealth of the Chola Empire which at sunset seems to give off a red hue. Tanjore is also noted for its fine metalwork and the nearby Royal Palace’s art gallery houses a fascinating array of bronze sculptures.
  • We drive to the nearby Chettinad region, which you are sure to love. Undiscovered, it’s a revelation, the real rural India of small farming communities. Dinner is included this evening sampling some of the region’s unique cuisine, served on a banana leaf.
  • After breakfast we’ll explore this undiscovered region, visiting other remarkable mansions, seeing the local Maharaja’s palace, plus local handicrafts. A fascinating visit is to a tile workshop, where each piece is delicately handmade and decorated, whilst saris are still woven to age-old local designs on traditional wooden handlooms. In the afternoon we drive to Madurai for one of the tour’s real highlights: the Meenakshi Amman Temple. This is the southern India’s Taj Mahal, a complex shrine of courtyards, vast pillared halls, a sacred lake and no less than twelve gateway towers completely covered with thousands of brightly-painted stucco carvings. Madurai was already an ancient city well before Chennai was even founded, trading spices with the ancient Romans. It is considered to be Tamil Nadu’s spiritual and cultural heart. This afternoon we take tuk-tuks to visit the temple at dusk, exploring its busy traditional markets full of impossibly laden stalls and tailors rattling away at their ancient Singer sewing machines!
  • This morning we re-visit the temple in daylight plus tour the nearby Nayak Palace, with its vast throne-room and ceremonial courtyard. Then drive west towards the distant outlines of the Western Ghats, the mountain range and border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The road zig-zags through lush forest with fleeting glimpses of verdant valleys below then crossing the border, we arrive at Kumily, surrounded by spice plantations and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Rising early, with a tropical dawn chorus ringing in our ears we enter the wildlife sanctuary for a guided nature walk through the tall stands of teak, bamboo, wild fig and beautiful jacaranda trees. The reserve has a small population of rarely seen tigers, however, as the reserve’s core surrounds a large lake, the birdlife is absolutely excellent, with over 260 species recorded, including hornbills, parakeets, kingfishers, eagles, kites and flycatchers. You may also be lucky enough to spot a Malabar giant squirrel or a lion-tailed macaque. After returning to the hotel for a late breakfast, the day is at leisure until our afternoon visit to one of the numerous local spice plantations where our guide explains the uses, medicinal and culinary, of pepper, cloves, curry leaves, cardamom, vanilla, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon and a host of others.
  • This morning we leave the hills of Periyar behind us descending towards the Kerlan coast, passing the almost carpet-like tea plantations en route to discover the enchanting Keralan backwaters.  We experience an overnight stay on a Kerala Houseboat. Leaving from nearby Alleppey, each houseboat accommodates six to eight guests plus three crew who prepare a delightful and typical Keralan lunch and dinner on board. It’s a wonderful way to travel, passing paddy fields, coconut palms and colourful local houses – watch out for the plentiful birdlife, children walking (or rowing!) back from school, people washing their clothes, pots and pans and even themselves in the narrow waterways.
  • After a dawn awakening, mesmerised by the stillness with the sights and sounds of the backwater, after breakfast we depart the Kerala houseboat and drive to to Kumarakom.  The rest of the day is at leisure and early evening we enjoy a sunset boat cruise on Lake Vembanad, one of India’s largest lakes and wetland eco systems home to an array of birds, animal and plant life.
  • For early morning bird enthusiasts there is the opportunity to go bird watching and take a village walk. The rest of the day is free to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of this unique location.
  • This morning we leave Coconut Lagoon for the short drive to Cochin, the Malabar Coast’s most historic port, traditionally from where India’s invaluable spices were shipped to Europe. The city’s oldest quarter is Fort Cochin, a fascinating maze of narrow alleyways and large merchants’ houses, whilst the nearby bazaar district of Mattancherry has the Dutch Palace and the subcontinent’s oldest synagogue. The iconic sight in Cochin is the famed Chinese fishing nets, vast cantilevered contraptions that still work to this day.
  • Fly home to the UK, arriving later the same day.

What's Included

Holiday Highlights

  • Visit Chennai’s Fort St George, where Clive of India began his glittering career 
  • Tour of elegant Pondicherry, a French colonial outpost until 1954 
  • See the breathtaking Meenakshi Amman Temple of Madurai, southern India’s greatest cultural icon, plus enjoy a tuk tuk ride and explore the bustling markets 
  • Cruise overnight the picturesque backwaters and canals of Kerala on a houseboat 
  • Visit to Periyar National Park and enjoy a nature walk through primeval virgin forest 
  • See the extraordinary World Heritage Site of Tanjore’s Brihadeeswara Temple 
  • Visit Cochin on the Malabar Coast, India’s first European colony, settled by the Portuguese, Dutch and finally, the British 
  • Explore the fascinating Chettinad region, visiting and staying in one of its extraordinary traders’ mansions 
  • Visit a 500-acre spice plantation high up in the stunning Western Ghats to learn how the most popular spices are grown 

Our Price Includes

  • The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single occupancy rooms are available at the relevant supplement. The price includes:
  • Scheduled flights to Chennai and from Cochin
  • All transfers
  • Guided visits to Fort St George in Chennai, temples at Mahabalipuram, Tanjore, and Madurai
  • Guided tour of Pondicherry and Chettinadu region, walking tour of a spice plantation and Periyar nature walk, and a city tour of Cochin
  • Overnight-cruise on the Kerala backwaters by houseboat
  • Connecting flights
  • Hotel porterage of one item of luggage per person
  • The services our experiened and insightful tour manager throughout
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Dates and Prices

October 2024
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Price from:£2,499
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Taj Connemara -


Originally built in 1854, the Taj Connemara is the city's only heritage hotel.  It's been carefully restored to reflect its historic status with influences inspired by the past and present. Throughout, there are thoughtful touches that pay homage to the local area, including the South Indian stonework that embellishes the wooden staircase and the centuries-old brass statues of Shiva and Parvati. During time at leisure, take advantage of the hotel spa with signature treatments and experiences to help even the weariest traveller unwind. There's also an outdoor swimming pool, a bar and lounge, and two on-site restaurants that each offer different styles of cuisine, from South Indian to multi-cuisine.   Your spacious, air-conditioned room offers 24-hour room service, tea and coffee-making facilities, a TV, a safe, a hairdryer and complimentary Wi-Fi.    Location description: Located on the eastern banks of the river Cooum in Chennai, just 200 meters from Spencer Plaza Mall - and a 13-minute walk from Government Museum Chennai - the Taj Connemara Hotel is surrounded by different attractions, including museums and temples. 

Great Trails River View Resort Thanjavur by GRT -

The three star superior Ideal River View Resort is located in a quiet rural spot surrounded by paddy fields overlooking the Cauvery River, about 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre. There is a charming restaurant with a spacious terrace overlooking the river, as well as a large pool and plenty of hammocks strung out between the palm trees. The 42 rooms are simply furnished and have air-conditioning, bath/shower, safe, TV and either balcony or terrace with river or garden views.

4* Heritage Hotel - Madurai -


Set in extensive grounds, not too far to the centre of Madurai, the four-star Heritage Hotel was originally a British club during the Raj and is considered one of the city’s best properties. The hotel’s 17 acres of mature gardens surround a large sunken pool, around which are clustered the open-air lobby, restaurant, coffee shop and bar. The 73 spacious simply-furnished air-conditioned rooms are all in low-rise blocks and feature a shower, twin or double beds, shower, hairdryer, safe, minifridge, TV and free WiFi.

Kerala Houseboat -

The perfect charming floating home, all unique and traditional in their own homely individual style.  Fully air-conditioned, each houseboat can accommodate up to six to eight, with a décor of an array of various colours, natural wood flooring, with single pane windows offering stunning views of as the boats glide through the backwaters. Equipped with modern amenities including an attached bathroom.

3* Superior Atithi Hotel - Pondicherry -

Well located right in the centre of Pondicherry, the three-star superior Atithi Hotel boasts a rooftop pool with panoramic views and an adjacent roof bar & grill restaurant. There’s also a main restaurant serving buffet breakfast and dinner, a lounge bar, plus a small spa and fitness room. All the 60 air-conditioned rooms have twin or double beds, shower, hairdryer, safe, minibar, TV, tea/coffee maker and free wifi.

Chidambara Vilas - Pudukkottai -

Once an original Chettinar Palace back in 1884, the Chidambara Vilas has been sympathetically restored to ensure an authentic experience during your stay here. The food served in the restaurant here is mainly local cuisine, and offers something for every palette. The 25 rooms are spacious and have a heritage feel given the detail of the furnishings and handpicked paintings of a bygone era.  All the rooms have TV, tea/coffee, air conditioning and safe

4* Spice Village - Kumily -


The four-star Spice Village is spread out over 35 acres of lush gardens, not far from the small centre of Kumily. All the low-rise buildings are thatched in elephant grass and blend in beautifully with the surrounding landscape. There is a small pool overlooked by the open-air dining area, as well as a cosy bar full of old memorabilia and a large billiard table. Dinner is also available from the grill on the lawn outside the bar. The library holds numerous fascinating photographs, books, periodicals and videos about the flora and fauna of Periyar National Park. There are over 100 different plants in the grounds, plenty of opportunities for bird-watching and cookery demonstrations every afternoon. The 53 single-storey bungalows all have their own covered patio and the since the property is at an altitude of around 2,500ft, no air-conditioning is provided or necessary. The spacious rooms have ceiling fans, shower, hairdryer, minibar, safe and tea/coffee-maker, but no TVs.

4* Coconut Lagoon - Kumarakom -


The four-star superior Coconut Lagoon is beautifully located overlooking the vast expanse of Lake Vembanad. Reached by a short boat transfer, the resort is spread out over 30 acres of beautiful gardens and little canals and even has its own paddy field. The palm-shaded pool is great to relax by, or you can join an early-morning yoga session, or try out the Ayurverdic spa. There’s a bird sanctuary next door and the hotel also has its own butterfly garden. The main restaurant serves excellent buffet meals, there is also a seafood a la carte restaurant and tables are also set out on the lawn next to the bar. The wood-panelled rooms are all air-conditioned with an outdoor walled bathroom with shower, hairdryer, safe, but in keeping with the serene and tranquil nature of the location, there are no TVs.

4* Trident - Cochin -


The four-star Trident Cochin is located in quiet area on Willington Island, midway between the historic quarter of Fort Cochin and the modern city. The main restaurant serves Keralan specialities as well as continental cuisine, whilst the seafood grill next to the pool is an ideal location for an al fresco dinner. The Traders bar is convivial place to meet in the evenings and there’s also fitness room and Ayurveda spa centre. The 85 air-conditioned rooms are all pleasantly furnished and overlook the lush landscaped gardens or pool. All have a shower, hairdryer, minibar, safe, TV, tea/coffee-maker and complimentary Wi-Fi.

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Holiday provided by Riviera Travel

BOOK WITH CONFIDENCE: This holiday is sold and operated by Riviera Travel (ABTA V4744, ATOL 3430). These ABTA and ATOL bonds mean that, when you book a Riviera Travel holiday, you can be 100% sure that your money is safe.

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