Guide to Kochi, India: Where to stay, what to eat, and things to do in the ancient port city
India is not for the fainted hearted. It's an assault on the senses. It's chaotic, intoxicating, beautiful, exasperating, spiritual, intriguing and wonderful all at once. How do you prepare yourself for an epic adventure in the land of dichotomies and magic? Well, you can start at Kochi, just a little over four hours from Singapore.
A centuries-old port city on the southwest coast of India, Kochi — also known as Cochin, the Queen of Arabian Sea and the Gateway to Kerala — is India on a chill pill. You still get the vibrancy and exoticism that's typical of India here, but the city is slower and more subdued compared to the central and northern parts of the country. There's also a wide diversity of cultural heritage to immerse in — after all, it was an once the centre of Indian spice trade for hundreds of years and the only place in the world that was colonised by three European colonial powers in succession (the Portuguese in 1503, followed by the Dutch and the British).
If you're making Kochi your first stop in a bigger Indian adventure, there's no better place to stay than Tribute Portfolio's newest address. A stone's throw away from the Cochin International Airport — a mere 300 metres — the 54-room, art-filled Port Muziris is chic and urban, but with modern nods to local design and history. The hotel takes its name after the legendary seaport, which sat at the heart of the historic Spice Route and vanished over 3,000 years ago in Kerala during the Periyar Flood. Its palatial building, featuring distinctive long, sloping roofs, channels the state's style of colonial-influenced architecture, while the vast contemporary art collection displayed across the hotel's Insta-worthy public spaces and guestrooms re-imagines the lost port of Kerala with vibrant depictions about the region, the cultures, and the people.
The food is the real coup, though. The all-day Lila's Kitchen serves a fantastic breakfast with an epic spread of eye-opening local dishes and international options (you know, like eggs and pastries). It's impossible to go through all of the restaurant's offerings in a single seating, but make sure you don't miss out on the appam, a traditional Kerala breakfast made from fermented rice flour. Of course, there's also a brilliant selection of teas at Kettle, which also offers local snacks and nibbles. Like the rest of the hotel, the food and drinks here are a smart tribute to the Kerala's heritage — and one more reason why Port Muziris is set to be a pulse point in this emerging Indian destination.
THINGS TO DO IN KOCHI, INDIA
Muziris Heritage Project's Hop-On Hop-Off circuit tours give you a great taste of Kochi's vast and vivid past. With a day ticket, you can get off and on from anywhere on the route and explore the lost port at your own pace. There are three circuits and 10 stops, from which you can visit the best bits of the city, including Paliam Kovilakom(Kerala History Museum), the Paravur Synagogue (Kerala Jews History Museum), the Kottappuram Fort (built by the Portuguese in 1523 and later captured by the Dutch), and more.
Beyond the circuits, you should definitely make time for Fort Kochi, the city's historic heartbeat. Start your cultural jaunt at the Mattancherry Palace, also known as the Dutch Palace, to get acquainted with the Rajas (kings) of Kochi. Got an appetite going? You'll find some good strong coffee, French toast, homebaked cakes, sandwiches, salads, some local art and a zen vibe at Kashi Art Cafe. Then, drop in at one of the oldest European churches in India, the Saint Francis Church, via Princess Street, to pay your respects to the late legendary Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who was originally buried here. If you have more time, the waterfront Ginger House Restaurant, tucked behind a massive antique-filled gown, is a gem of a place to dine and see some heritage artefacts.