March 29, 2023
Two weeks. 2034kms. 4 states. 11 cities.
A couple of years ago, I took a driving trip along the Konkan Coast and it completeley changed my perception of Indian travel. I decided that I needed to take this a step further so we took a two-week trip driving along the picturesque Malabar Coast from Goa to Fort Kochi. Approximately 750 km long, National Highway 66 runs parallel to the Western Ghats. The drive is easy and smooth except for the stretch between Karwar (Karnataka) and the northern border of Kerala where they're expanding the road.
This is a travelogue from Goa to Fort Kochi on the Malabar Coast and coming back to Goa via the countryside of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. We stayed at 1 villa, 2 farm stays, 3 homestays and 4 boutique hotels on this journey. I highly recommend these places to stay even if you don't go on a roadtrip.
Goa to Padubidri: 350kms/6 hours: 1 night
Padubidri to Kannur: 190kms/6 hours: 1 night
Kannur to Cranganore: 230kms/7 hours: 1 night
Cranganore to Fort Kochi: 35kms/2 hours: 2 nights
Fort Kochi to Vagamon: 100kms/4 hours: 1 night
Vagamon to Munnar: 100kms/4 hours: 1 night
Munnar to Emerald (Ooty): 250kms/7 hours: 2 nights
Emerald (Ooty) to Wayanad: 100kms/3 hours: 1 night
Wayanad to Madikeri: 131kms/4 hours: 1 night
Madikeri to Udipi: 200kms/5 hours: 1 night
Udipi to Goa: 315kms/6 hours: 2 nights
Sweatshirt. Even though it was a sweltering March, it dropped to 9 degrees in the hills.
Flip flops. Lots of coast means lots of beach.
Anti-nausea pill. Lots of winding roads.
Podcasts (Downloaded). We were glued to Business Wars
Mosquito Repellant. I swear by the Forest Essentials one.
Kindle. Nothing like a good read at the end of the day.
Portable Speaker. I've been travelling with my Boat speaker for a millenia.
Car cleaning kit. A water spray and some cleaning towels.
On the first day, we hit the road in the wee hours of the morning, starting at 5.30 am from Goa. Crossing through Goa in the morning is beautiful and traffic-free. We stopped at Hotel Ratna Sagar for a quick breakfast. Ample parking, a clean restaurant and manageable toilets. After a breakfast of crisp medu vadas and chai, we hit the road for one more stop before getting to Padubidri which is a beach town in the north of Karnataka. Murdeshwar is popular for being the world's second-tallest Shiva statue. A quick in and out to see the statue before our final destination.
Check-in: Iraa Beach House
Rs 9500 a night for the whole house (2 rooms) including breakfast for 4.
This 2-room guest house has a bare minimal digital footprint. (Not on Instagram). The place is owned by Naren who is super friendly and made sure that everything was well in place before we arrived. The house is right across the beach and the sound of the waves is surreal. A river flows at the back of the housem surrounded by palm trees. The staff is local and is happy to assist you with a cup of tea (Hi I'm Insia and I'm a tea addict!) or with lunch which they order from Hotel Pallavi, a nearby restaurant.
We decided to go to Pallavi for their oh-so-famous chilli chicken and kori roti and chicken ghee roast. Our dinner was back at Iraa Beach House, cooked by the team there and is simple, traditional and homemade.
Padubidri is popular for being one of the eight Blue Flag Beaches in the country. Don't know about Blue Flag beaches? Read.
We stopped over at Hotel Karthik in Mangalore for breakfast with Chef Shriya Shetty and Varun Shetty who together own an artisanal bakehouse called Buco. They seemed to be VIPs at this place and we were gently escorted to a “Ladies Only” section where Shriya and Varun ordered away in their fluent Kannada. Tuppa Masala Dosa (A crisp ghee dosa), an extra crisp Tuppa Dosa with sugar, Kadle Bhaji - a spiced chana curry topped with sweet and spicy crispy poha, Pundi Gassi - steamed rice dumplings served with spicy onion gravy and to top it, KT style coffee. Of course, we took back some Buco Brown butter giant cookies for the road.
Check-in: Aru's Beach Home on Airbnb
Rs 6500 per night including breakfast.
Aru's Beach Home is a beach house with minimalistic design, spacious rooms and hammocks in the garden. You can walk straight onto the beach from the house. Clear sands lead you to a point where it seems like two oceans are coming together. The sunset is breathtaking.
For lunch, a home-cooked meal of fish fry, beetroot toran, pachadi and fish curry awaited us.
For dinner, we drove off into the city to a seedy-looking place called Hotel Soft that served incredible chilli chicken (which seems like a real trend in South India) and Kerala-style chicken biryani.
Insider tip: If you speak Malayalam, you can get yourselves a Beef Biryani.
We hit the road at daybreak and made a pit stop at one of the iconic Indian Coffee House outlets in Thalessery. It opens nice and early at 6 am so we got ourselves a quick breakfast of Idli, wada and upma which were the only things available on the menu at that hour. From here onward, we were moving at snail's pace thanks to the road expansion work.
We took a detour and got off NH66 at Mooniyur and took the inside/alternate route to Ponnani. We stopped for lunch at Safa Restaurant in Ponnani which looks like a dhaba (unusual in these parts of the country). The best Beef Porotha I've ever had! We got back onto the highway and reached Cranganor exhausted.
Rs 9000+ per night including breakfast.
We didn't even take a breadth. We just walked into this gorgeous boutique hotel and jumped straight into the infinity pool. The water was like a balm to our sore bodies.
The hotel is beautiful with wide gardens, swings and hammocks right on the river. The rooms are spacious with dressing mirrors and open-to-sky baths.
The chef prepared a traditional Fish Pollichathu (Wrapped in banana lef) and Grilled prawns for dinner. Our journey on the following day was going to be short so we slept in, woke up at leisue and ate a hearty breakfast of Puttu (Steamed rice flour) and Kadala Curry (Black chickpea curry) with steamed bananas. If you have time, make a trip to the Muzuris Heritage Project, one of the largest conservation projects in India.
An easy-breezy 2-hour drive took us to Fort Kochi which was also hosting the Kochi Bienalle.
Check-in: Niyati Boutique Stay
Rs 3000+ per night including breakfast.
Fort Kochi teleports you to a different era and so does Niyati Hotel. You walk into a cosy reception area that leads to a staircase connected to multiple rooms. The rooms have dark wood floorboards and high ceilings. We dropped our bags and walked through tiny bylanes offering everything from block-printed clothing to hemp-woven bags. The Kochi Bienalle adds a whole different vibe to the city. We popped into curated stores and galleries (I loved the ones in Jew Town) with cute cafes to indulge in a cup of coffee, a slice of cake or a leisurely breakfast. My faves:
Beef biryani at Hotel Nooriya
Homemade ginger ale at Qisa Cafe
Syrian Christian cuisine at Fusion Bay
French Toast and Chocolate Cake at Kashi Art Cafe
Corn ribs and the pulled pork sandwich at Pandhal Cafe, David Hall
A beer at Hotel Seagull. (Go early to get a seat on the deck and catch the sunset)
Hotel Niyati has a cute pub that serves yummy sliders.
It was time to say goodbye to the hot and humid coast and drive up to Vagamon, a hill station surrounded by tea plantations. The weather is cool and breezy as we enter Little Flower Farms and are greeted by two beautiful hounds, Stella and Sophia.
Check-in: Little Flower Farms
Rs 11,000 per night including breakfast
Rekha and Thomas have created a beautiful home for themselves and travellers alike. Little Flower Farms is quaint, and tranquil and makes you feel one with nature. You just want to take a few moments and deeply inhale the fresh mountain air.
Indulge in their homemade meals. We had Kappa and Beef curry for lunch followed by vanilla ice cream topped with seeds, nuts and cascara (all sourced from various artisanal producers).
Rekha likes to grow a lot of her produce. She took us for a walk down one of the trails leading to a dried-up stream with rounded rocks and tree canopies.
Sunset from the upper deck is worth the climb. A homely Malyali dinner followed by hot chocolate was the perfect recipe for a good night's sleep.
Rekha packed us homemade pineapple jam sandwiches and we took off for the tea plantations of Munnar, the landscape turning lush green.
Tip: Pop an anti-nausea pill if you are prone to car sickness.
Check-in: Windermere Estate
Rs 12000+ including breakfast per night
Windermere is a beautiful 18-room resort with cardamom and tea plantations. It's the best way to enjoy plantation life with charming rooms, a whole lot of greenery and plenty of nooks to hang out at.
They serve a traditional south Indian meal for lunch and a continental set meal for dinner.
The swimming pool, sunset deck, bbq pit, plantation walks and tea hut (where they serve tea and fritters every evening for all guests) will make you want to spend all your time here. John who owns the property very kindly invited us a for drink at his cottage which is the OG plantation bungalow on the property. The history is enlightening and the hospitality is humble. We discovered Windermere Estate thanks to Trips To Luxury.
We left Munnar just as the sun was rising over the tea plantations. The moon was eclipsed by clouds and the tea plantations were shimmering in the light. The drive was mesmerizing, it felt like Narnia. Cutting through the Anamalia Tiger Reserve, we made a quick breakfast pitstop for egg puffs and parippu vada (dal vada) and took the long road into Tamil Nadu. There's a shortcut via the Manjur but since we didn't have a Tamil Nadu number plate we were refused entry (By a very rude checkpost officer who had no right to deny us entry). A long detour around Coimbatore meant a lunch break. We found ourselves at Hotel Aryaas for a heavenly banana leaf lunch.
Check-in: Red Hills Nature Resort
Rs 12,000 including breakfast per night.
We arrived at Red Hills Nature Resort (7000ft above sea level) at tea time, knackered. The drive up to Emerald lake was long and winding but the moment we got there, it was all worth it. 25 km north of the touristy Ooty is the village of Emerald with gorgeous lakes and wondrous views. Vijay and his wife Banu started Red Hills in 1991. The cottages are elegant and welcoming as are their five dogs.
Their son (and our friend) Vishanth (Chef and Founder Kikui Farms) took us on a walk around the estate where they grow tea (obvs!), artichokes, scarlet runner beans, garlic, radish, rhubarb, butternut squash, pepino melons (great for diabetics) amongst a few. We saw wide varieties at Kikui Farms which is a 3 km walk away.
Vijay and his family are from the Badaga tribe and one of our meals was prepared by Banu and her team of cooks with local Badaga dishes. Lots of beans and lots of greens. Chef Vishanth cooked a comforting dinner of cauliflower soup, steamed fish, butternut squash pie and roast chicken with rhubarb sorbet at the end.
We watched the sunset post our tour of Kikui Farms and took a full moon, night drive in the back of Vishanth's pickup truck. I still remember coming back to the resort and watching the lake and the whole estate glow in the moonlight.
Tip: Make sure you get yourself a tea-tasting session with Vijay.
Vishanth also has cabins that you can book if you would like to stay at Kikui Farms.
The Nilgiris offer the most beautiful views of the mountains, valleys and tea plantations. We made our way back to Kerala first thing in the morning with one quick stop for Bread Omelette and Tea at a small tea stall called Vinu Tea Break. The lady behind the counter whipped up some eggs, placed two slices of bread on a pan, poured the egg over it, flipped it and served us this very unique and delicious bread omelette.
Rs 120,000+ per night for the whole luxury villa (Including a living area, hangout spaces, 4 bedrooms, a private pool and a full-service team).
Earthitects is a luxury in the lap of nature. These private residences are fully equipped with a butler, chef and team which is quite helpful. The menu is concise and the food is delicious. The villas have been built keeping all the natural elements (rocks and trees) intact. Our spacious room had a large rock with flora growing all over it, half of which extended into the bath. The whole space is private, densely green and offers yet another gorgeous view of the setting sun.
Our initial plan was to drive from Wayanad to Udipi which is an 8-hour journey. We decided to break the journey into two parts instead and stayed a night in Madikeri, Coorg. Most places seemed to be booked out so we settled on an unusual choice - Club Mahindra. I've never stayed at one of their properties before so I was a bit apprehensive. They're pretty popular with family crowds, with kids' activity zones and buffet meals. We were pleasantly surprised by the enormity of the space which gave us enough quiet time. The food and the hospitality were to the point. Kudos to them for managing so many kids and parents!
Udipi is a lesser-known sister of Gokarna in Karnataka. You may have seen photos of the popular Maravanthe Beach Road with the sea on one side and the river on the other. However, with the addition of wave breakers, you can't clearly see both sides anymore. Udipi has a handsome coastline and quite a few B&Bs and beach houses tucked away by the water.
Check-in: SaffronStays Suvarna Sangam
Rs 3500 per night
SaffronStays Suvarna Sangam is a 5-room B&B by the river Suvarna. The place is divided into two houses, one with three rooms and the other with two. The rooms are simple, well designed and homely.
The place is surrounded by palm trees and they've built a couple of decks that extend themselves over the river.
The food is exceptional. Home-cooked coastal cuisine with a rather wide offering for Rs 350 per person.
This was the toughest drive for us simply cause we were going back home. But all of it changed the minute we stepped into......
Check-in: Ahilya By The Sea
Rs 25000+ per night
Ahilya By The Sea is a discreet boutique hotel tucked in the quiet corner of Dolphin Bay, Nerul. The there villas with nine rooms are decorated with curios and antiques carefully curated by the owners.
The bed and bath linen is handwoven and embroidered, the toiletries are natural and you sink into their fluffy beds.
The menu is concise but the kitchen can prepare anything you like. A specials board is put out every day with fresh catch from the sea and seasonal produce. The spinach ravioli, beetroot ravioli salad, strawberries poached in wine with vanilla gelato and their version of the Goan thali, blew my mind. There are two swimming pools facing the beach that are a respite from the Goan humidity. The perfect place to end our journey!
Throughout our journey, we met the kindest people, some who not only opened their homes but also their hearts. We made friends, especially with a whole bunch of loving doggos, saw magical sunrises and sunsets and slept a peaceful eight hours every night.
A big thank you to my partner in crime, Joy Manavath for being the best co-traveller and for photographing some beautiful memories.
A shoutout to everyone who made this journey worth writing home about.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.