The Quintessential South

The Quintessential South

A grand tour of the wonderous South, starting from Chennai on the East coast across Tamil Nadu and Kerala to Cochin on the West coast.

Marvel at the best of Hindu architecture at the World Heritage sites of Mahabalipuram and the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ and on to Madurai’s famed Meenakshi temple.

Be amazed at Chettinad’s mansions and cuisine. Created by the local Chettiar community of money-lenders and businessmen on the back of fortunes made by importing teak wood from Burma, Chettinad’s mansions are richly decorated with a mix of European and local adornments and styles.

Cross into Kerala, ‘God’s own country’ with its spice and tea plantations, lush rainforests and the famed backwaters.

Enjoy boat safaris in the Periyar Tiger Reserve to spot Tigers, herds of Elephants, Gaur among other mammals and a rich variety of birdlife.

The backwaters are a vast network of canals, used by traditional rice boats made of bamboo and coconut coir, to transport produce to Cochin, the world trading centre for spices since Roman times. You’ll take an overnight cruise on a restored rice boat, serenely sailing past colourful villages and tropical landscapes of rice paddies and coconut trees.

Fittingly, the holiday ends in Cochin, a fascinating and picturesque city where glimpses of Jewish, Christian and European Colonial influences are still seen.

15 DAYS
FROM £2995
Idea
Themes:
Activity Levels
Moderate
WHAT'S INCLUDED
  • Activities and excursions as specified
  • Entrance fees/tickets for the above
  • In-destination transfers & transport
  • Accommodation & Meals as specified
  • English speaking guides
  • 24/7 support while you travel

Explore this itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Chennai

On arrival in Chennai, your guide and driver will receive you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure.

Depending on your time of arrival, you may enjoy an evening visit to Chennai’s famous city beach.

 

None
Day 2: Mahabalipuram

After breakfast, visit Mahabalipuram, a World Heritage Site lying along the coast just a short drive south of Chennai.

The site has over 40 Hindu temples and monuments from the 7th and 8th centuries.

The elegant Shore Temple combines shrines to Shiva and Vishnu. The five 7th century stone chariots are great early examples of temple architecture evolving from wooden structures. Marvel at the cave temples which include the spectacular reliefs of Durga slaying the buffalo demon and the great Arjuna’s penance.

Mahabalipuram’s shore location is ideal for a delicious seafood lunch at the beach shacks.

Breakfast
Day 3: Explore Chennai
After breakfast, explore the city of Chennai. The Government Museum has a world class collection of Chola bronzes. Visit colonial era sites at Fort St George and St Mary’s, India’s oldest surviving British church dating back to 1680.
Breakfast
Day 4: French Pondicherry

After breakfast, drive south to Pondicherry, the former French enclave which which retains much of its colonial architecture.

After checking into your hotel and enjoying lunch, explore the city’s French Quarter and the Tamil Quarter on guided walks.

Breakfast
Day 5: The Chola Odyssey

Today, start early and take a long drive south towards Thanjavur.

Enroute, visit several grand temples built in the 11-12th centuries by the great Chola kings. Three of these have been given World Heritage Status as ‘Great Living Chola Temples‘ . The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Cholas in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting.

The first stop will be Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the ‘City of the Chola who conquered the Ganges’ where you’ll visit the World Heritage  Brihadishvara Temple, the 1000 year old imperial Chola temple erected by Rajendra I

The nearby town of Kumbakonam has several Chola temples including the Nageshvara Temple which has some of the finest early Chola sculptures.

A little further south at Darasuram, the Airavateshvara temple, a late Chola masterpiece is the second World Heritage Site.

Check in to your hotel to relax and enjoy dinner.

Breakfast
Day 6: Explore Thanjavur

The city of Thanjavur is dominated by the Brihadishvara temple of Thanjavur , not to be confused with the equally grand temple of the same name, visited the day before. This is the third of the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ World Heritage Sites.

The vast compound is entered via one of South India’ earliest monumental tower gates (gopurams).

Visit a local workshop to observe bronze making and glass painting.

If you have time, you’ll optionally visit the museum in the Thanjavur Palace, which houses a fine collection of Chola sculpture, including bronzes.

Breakfast
Day 7: Chettinad

After breakfast, check out of your hotel and drive to Chettinad, a region famous for its aromatic and spicy cuisine, and its unique architectural style.

Visit The Bangala, a heritage hotel renowned for its food and cooking classes, where you will enjoy a cooking demonstration and a delicious lunch. The Bangala was rated the 7th Best Restaurant in India by Condé Nast Traveller in 2019.

After checking into your hotel, the rest of the day is at leisure.

Perhaps you’d like to explore the neighbourhood streets or the market, or just relax in the hotel’s garden and pool.

Breakfast
Day 8: Athangudi

This morning, visit Athangudi Palace, an ornately built mansion house with lavish interiors.

One of the specialities of the Chettinad region is the art of making tiles. The process is totally manual, and having lost ground to factory made tiles for a while, the traditional tiles are making a comeback with eco-conscious designers.

Visit the Athangudi Tile Factory where you can see local artisans use traditional techniques and tools to create tiles.

Breakfast
Day 9: Madurai

After breakfast, drive to Madurai, considered by many to be the archetypal South Indian Temple town.

The vast 17th century Meenakshi Temple complex has towering gateways covered with religious figures in spectacular colours. Although non-Hindus are not allowed within the sanctum, there is plenty to admire from the outer areas.

Your next stop is hardly a stone’s throw away from the Meenakshi temple,  the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, a mix of architectural styles – Italian, Indo-Saracenic and Gothic.

If time permits, Madurai is a good place to shop for handicrafts including wood, brass and stone curios. The Poompuhar Handicrafts Emporium is especially recommended.

Breakfast
Day 10: Thekkady

After breakfast, drive from Madurai to Thekkady, just across the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Thekkady is the gateway to Periyar Tiger Reserve, and is surrounded by lush rolling hills, where the British introduced tea and spice plantations.

After checking in at your hotel and enjoying lunch, you’ll visit the Periyar Tiger Reserve for a boat ride into the Periyar Lake, hoping to spot herds of Elephants, Gaur and perhaps even a big striped cat.

The rest of the evening is at leisure in the lush gardens of the hotel.

Breakfast
Day 11: Thekkady

Start early for a dawn boat ride in Periyar Tiger Reserve. The lake looks ethereally beautiful in the morning mist, and you’ll have another chance to spot wildlife from the comfort of your boat.

Back at the hotel, after breakfast, visit a spice plantation to learn about spice cultivation. Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg and vanilla are commonly grown in the region.

After lunch, visit a tea factory and estate to witness the process of tea-making. There will be opportunity to taste and purchase various teas.

The rest of the evening is at leisure in the lush gardens of the hotel.

Breakfast
Day 12: The Backwaters

Drive after breakfast to Kerala’s famed backwaters. Allepey is the gateway to Lake Vembanad, and the embarkation point for many houseboat cruises.

Modern boats are modelled on the traditional riceboats (kettuvallams) once used to carry rice and spices to Kochi.

Board your houseboat and explore the network of lakes, lagoons and canals with its unique ecosystem on a relaxing cruise.

Spend the night on your houseboat, moored on the lakeside. Today the crew will serve your lunch and dinner, freshly cooked on the boat, often using freshwater prawns and fish caught on the lake itself.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 13: Cochin

In the morning, your houseboat cruise will bring you back to Allepey, where you’ll disembark and continue to Cochin (Kochi) by road.

Rest of the day is at leisure, ideal for spending time browsing Cochin’s shops for souvenirs.

Breakfast
Day 14: Cochin

Cochin has a rich history, and you’ll spend the day exploring Fort Cochin with its famous Chinese fishing nets and atmospheric streets. There are several old churches, of which St Francis Church, the temporary resting place of Vasco da Gama is prominent.

Jewish merchants and Christian settlers arrived in Kerala with St Thomas the Apostle in 52 ad. The Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568 by European Jews, is tucked away in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. Its airy interior is enhanced by hand painted Chinese floor tiles and European glass chandeliers.

The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in 1557, and rebuilt by the Dutch in 1663. Don’t miss the murals in the king’s bedroom depicting mythical scenes from the Raas Leela and Ramayana.

 

Breakfast
Day 15: Departure

Depending on the time off your onward journey, you may have time to spend the last day of the holiday relaxing at your hotel or exploring local markets.

Transfer to Cochin Airport for your onward journey.

Breakfast
Day 1: Arrive in Chennai

On arrival in Chennai, your guide and driver will receive you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure.

Depending on your time of arrival, you may enjoy an evening visit to Chennai’s famous city beach.

 

None
Day 2: Mahabalipuram

After breakfast, visit Mahabalipuram, a World Heritage Site lying along the coast just a short drive south of Chennai.

The site has over 40 Hindu temples and monuments from the 7th and 8th centuries.

The elegant Shore Temple combines shrines to Shiva and Vishnu. The five 7th century stone chariots are great early examples of temple architecture evolving from wooden structures. Marvel at the cave temples which include the spectacular reliefs of Durga slaying the buffalo demon and the great Arjuna’s penance.

Mahabalipuram’s shore location is ideal for a delicious seafood lunch at the beach shacks.

Breakfast
Day 3: Explore Chennai
After breakfast, explore the city of Chennai. The Government Museum has a world class collection of Chola bronzes. Visit colonial era sites at Fort St George and St Mary’s, India’s oldest surviving British church dating back to 1680.
Breakfast
Day 4: French Pondicherry

After breakfast, drive south to Pondicherry, the former French enclave which which retains much of its colonial architecture.

After checking into your hotel and enjoying lunch, explore the city’s French Quarter and the Tamil Quarter on guided walks.

Breakfast
Day 5: The Chola Odyssey

Today, start early and take a long drive south towards Thanjavur.

Enroute, visit several grand temples built in the 11-12th centuries by the great Chola kings. Three of these have been given World Heritage Status as ‘Great Living Chola Temples‘ . The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Cholas in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting.

The first stop will be Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the ‘City of the Chola who conquered the Ganges’ where you’ll visit the World Heritage  Brihadishvara Temple, the 1000 year old imperial Chola temple erected by Rajendra I

The nearby town of Kumbakonam has several Chola temples including the Nageshvara Temple which has some of the finest early Chola sculptures.

A little further south at Darasuram, the Airavateshvara temple, a late Chola masterpiece is the second World Heritage Site.

Check in to your hotel to relax and enjoy dinner.

Breakfast
Day 6: Explore Thanjavur

The city of Thanjavur is dominated by the Brihadishvara temple of Thanjavur , not to be confused with the equally grand temple of the same name, visited the day before. This is the third of the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ World Heritage Sites.

The vast compound is entered via one of South India’ earliest monumental tower gates (gopurams).

Visit a local workshop to observe bronze making and glass painting.

If you have time, you’ll optionally visit the museum in the Thanjavur Palace, which houses a fine collection of Chola sculpture, including bronzes.

Breakfast
Day 7: Chettinad

After breakfast, check out of your hotel and drive to Chettinad, a region famous for its aromatic and spicy cuisine, and its unique architectural style.

Visit The Bangala, a heritage hotel renowned for its food and cooking classes, where you will enjoy a cooking demonstration and a delicious lunch. The Bangala was rated the 7th Best Restaurant in India by Condé Nast Traveller in 2019.

After checking into your hotel, the rest of the day is at leisure.

Perhaps you’d like to explore the neighbourhood streets or the market, or just relax in the hotel’s garden and pool.

Breakfast
Day 8: Athangudi

This morning, visit Athangudi Palace, an ornately built mansion house with lavish interiors.

One of the specialities of the Chettinad region is the art of making tiles. The process is totally manual, and having lost ground to factory made tiles for a while, the traditional tiles are making a comeback with eco-conscious designers.

Visit the Athangudi Tile Factory where you can see local artisans use traditional techniques and tools to create tiles.

Breakfast
Day 9: Madurai

After breakfast, drive to Madurai, considered by many to be the archetypal South Indian Temple town.

The vast 17th century Meenakshi Temple complex has towering gateways covered with religious figures in spectacular colours. Although non-Hindus are not allowed within the sanctum, there is plenty to admire from the outer areas.

Your next stop is hardly a stone’s throw away from the Meenakshi temple,  the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, a mix of architectural styles – Italian, Indo-Saracenic and Gothic.

If time permits, Madurai is a good place to shop for handicrafts including wood, brass and stone curios. The Poompuhar Handicrafts Emporium is especially recommended.

Breakfast
Day 10: Thekkady

After breakfast, drive from Madurai to Thekkady, just across the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Thekkady is the gateway to Periyar Tiger Reserve, and is surrounded by lush rolling hills, where the British introduced tea and spice plantations.

After checking in at your hotel and enjoying lunch, you’ll visit the Periyar Tiger Reserve for a boat ride into the Periyar Lake, hoping to spot herds of Elephants, Gaur and perhaps even a big striped cat.

The rest of the evening is at leisure in the lush gardens of the hotel.

Breakfast
Day 11: Thekkady

Start early for a dawn boat ride in Periyar Tiger Reserve. The lake looks ethereally beautiful in the morning mist, and you’ll have another chance to spot wildlife from the comfort of your boat.

Back at the hotel, after breakfast, visit a spice plantation to learn about spice cultivation. Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg and vanilla are commonly grown in the region.

After lunch, visit a tea factory and estate to witness the process of tea-making. There will be opportunity to taste and purchase various teas.

The rest of the evening is at leisure in the lush gardens of the hotel.

Breakfast
Day 12: The Backwaters

Drive after breakfast to Kerala’s famed backwaters. Allepey is the gateway to Lake Vembanad, and the embarkation point for many houseboat cruises.

Modern boats are modelled on the traditional riceboats (kettuvallams) once used to carry rice and spices to Kochi.

Board your houseboat and explore the network of lakes, lagoons and canals with its unique ecosystem on a relaxing cruise.

Spend the night on your houseboat, moored on the lakeside. Today the crew will serve your lunch and dinner, freshly cooked on the boat, often using freshwater prawns and fish caught on the lake itself.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 13: Cochin

In the morning, your houseboat cruise will bring you back to Allepey, where you’ll disembark and continue to Cochin (Kochi) by road.

Rest of the day is at leisure, ideal for spending time browsing Cochin’s shops for souvenirs.

Breakfast
Day 14: Cochin

Cochin has a rich history, and you’ll spend the day exploring Fort Cochin with its famous Chinese fishing nets and atmospheric streets. There are several old churches, of which St Francis Church, the temporary resting place of Vasco da Gama is prominent.

Jewish merchants and Christian settlers arrived in Kerala with St Thomas the Apostle in 52 ad. The Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568 by European Jews, is tucked away in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. Its airy interior is enhanced by hand painted Chinese floor tiles and European glass chandeliers.

The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in 1557, and rebuilt by the Dutch in 1663. Don’t miss the murals in the king’s bedroom depicting mythical scenes from the Raas Leela and Ramayana.

 

Breakfast
Day 15: Departure

Depending on the time off your onward journey, you may have time to spend the last day of the holiday relaxing at your hotel or exploring local markets.

Transfer to Cochin Airport for your onward journey.

Breakfast

Interested in this itinerary? It's great as is, but we'll be happy to tailor it for you.

Our prices do not include international flights unless explicitly stated.

The price shown is per person, based on two people travelling and sharing a room, outside peak periods. Prices may vary depending on the time of travel, and single supplements may apply.

Our Accommodation Ratings

Opulent: Exceptional, unashamedly the best of sheer luxury. (£££££)

Luxury: Outstanding levels of 5* comfort, hospitality and facilities. (££££)

Premium: Excellent levels of comfort and hospitality and a wide range of facilities. (£££)

Mid-Range: Good levels of comfort and hospitality, with a reasonable range of facilities. (££)

Simple: Clean and simple, no frills. Often in areas of natural beauty or near wildlife reserves. (£)