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Palaces & Houseboats: Charming South India

Experience sunny South India at its best with this wonderful luxury 12-day itinerary. Pristine beaches in Goa, shopping in bustling local markets, charming houseboats on the backwaters of Kerala and ancient architecture in Bangalore and Mysore are all on the agenda.

Highlights   Pricing
  • Relax on Goa’s white sand beaches
  • Ply the backwaters of Kerala on a traditional Kettuvallam
  • Learn the secrets behind the Indian art of silk weaving
  • Interact with local creative-types in the country’s largest artists’ commune
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Day by Day Itinerary
Day 1

Arrive in India’s exciting Mumbai, capital of the country’s vibrant film and arts industry. Check in to your room at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, favorited by India’s elite, and get settled in. Enjoy some free time at your hotel to get acquainted with your surroundings.

Day 2

Fly to Goa today, home to some of Asia’s most stunning, pristine beaches. After checking in to your room at the Taj Exotica Goa, enjoy some relaxed beach time. Next, head to Se Cathedral, the largest church in India, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bom Jesus Basilica. Return to your hotel, where you may relax for the evening.

Day 3

After breakfast today, head to Chapora Fort, a one-time Portuguese fortress overlooking the picturesque Chapora River. Next, pay a visit to Cabo de Rama, one of the region’s oldest forts, which also affords stunning sea panoramas, set in a mystical atmosphere. Finish your tour of Goa off with a trip to Albuquerque Mansion, a beautiful colonial structure built in the 1920s.

Day 4

Check out of your hotel this morning and fly to Cochin, West India’s major port city. You’ll be escorted to your luxury eco-resort, Brunton Boatyard, moored on a historic stretch of Cochin's famed harbor. Spend some time in Cochin Bay, getting familiar with your surroundings, before embarking on a colonial tour of Cochin.

Day 5

Today you’ll be spending some time in Cochin’s “Jew” town, where Cochin’s Jewish populace was given land by the raja, where they could build their homes. Today, it’s a bustling, charming port town. From here, you’ll visit Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest of its kind in the Commonwealth of Nations, and Dutch Palace, which was, curiously, built by the Portuguese.

Day 6
Kerala Backwaters

One of Kerala’s most favorited features is its widespread channel of backwaters, and the most ideal way to explore them is aboard a traditional wooden houseboat, called Kettuvallams, built without a single nail. Today, you’ll board a luxury Kettuvallam for an overnight cruise.

Day 7

Today you’re heading for Madurai (7 hours away), one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Check in to your hotel, the Taj Garden Retreat, which has a lovely view of an ancient temple. Once settled in, venture to Thirumalai Nayak palace, a sprawling royal abode once considered one of the wonders of the South. Next, pay a visit to Meenakshi Amman Temple, said to form the heart and lifeline of this ancient city.

Day 8

Mysore is your destination today, an ancient Indian city 7 hours away and known for its wide array of palaces. Visit the Mysore market, and haggle for some fresh fruits or fun souvenirs. Learn the secrets behind the Indian art of silk weaving, and then get ready for the evening: tonight, you’re dining with the Prince.

Day 9

Today, you’re off to Bangalore, India’s third-largest city (a 3-hour drive). Transfer to your suite at the Taj West End, which holds the title of the city’s first hotel, and get acquainted with your new surroundings. Once settled in, visit Lal Bagh, a botanical garden with India's largest collection of tropical plants; and the elegant Tipu Sultan’s Palace. Enjoy a romantic dinner out tonight, sampling some of the city’s best food.

Day 10

Visit the recently-renovated Bangalore Palace today, and walk around its royal grounds. Next, head to Dodda Basavana Gudi, also known as the Bull Temple, representing a sacred Hindu demi-god. Spend the rest of your day relaxing in the palatial surroundings of your hotel, or exploring the city as you like.

Day 11

Fly to Chennai today, and check in to your suite at the Park Hyatt. Visit the country’s largest artists’ commune, Cholamandal Artists’ Village, followed by the Government Museum, a hub of Tamil Nadu’s art, culture, and natural heritage. Finally, end your day with a visit to the Southern Railway Terminus, the city’s oldest surviving station. Relax at your hotel this evening ahead of your departure tomorrow.

Day 12

After breakfast today, you’ll check out of your hotel and fly to Mumbai, where you can check in for your connecting flight home or to your next destination.


Suggested Accommodations

Taj Mahal Palace & Tower

Taj Mahal Palace & Tower

For over a century, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower has been the haunt of India's elite, and has played host to princes, kings, maharajas, presidents, CEOs and countless celebrities. Built in 1903, it is an architectural marvel, bringing together Moorish, Oriental, and Florentine styles. Inside, the hotel showcases contemporary Indian art framed by vaulted alabaster ceilings, onyx columns, graceful archways, hand-woven silk carpets, crystal chandeliers, and an eclectic collection of furniture. There are 519 rooms and 46 opulent suites with panoramic views of the Arabian Sea and the Gateway of India. The Taj's excellent dining options include Golden Dragon - voted the best Chinese restaurant in Mumbai; Masala Kraft - Indian cuisine with a contemporary twist; Souk, which has stunning views of Mumbai from its rooftop location and serves Middle Eastern cuisine; The Zodiac Grill, where a special menu is offered for each month's star sign, and the stellar Wasabi By Morimoto - Mumbai's first contemporary Japanese restaurant, helmed by the Iron Chef himself. There is also the Harbour Bar, Mumbai's first drinking establishment, and the Insomnia nightclub, filled with "Bombabes" and their millionaire boyfriends. Guests can unwind at the luxurious spa, the fitness center, equipped with cardiovascular and weight training equipment, steam shower and sauna and swimming pool, or with a game of badminton, squash, tennis or billiards. The hotel also has a private yacht available for day trips on the Arabian Sea or to nearby Elephanta Island. There is a business center with wired and wireless Internet access, secretarial services and cell phones and laptops for hire. Wi-fi available throughout the hotel. The Taj Mahal Palace is 45 minutes from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM).

Taj Exotica Goa

Taj Exotica Goa

Located on the southwest coast of Goa overlooking the Arabian Sea, the Mediterranean-style Taj Exotica is arguably one of the best five-star hotels in Goa. Set amidst fifty-six acres of lush gardens, the Taj Exotica features a sun-drenched atrium, wide, shady corridors, and flower-lined patios. Its rooms and villas draw inspiration from Portuguese aesthetics and Indian design, and all offer plush beds, separate bathrooms and shower units, flat-screen televisions, electronic safes, and views of either the garden or the sea. Dining options include Alegria, a Goan restaurant serving fresh seafood and Portuguese wines; Eugenia, which serves a mix of Indian and southeast Asian fare; Li Bai, a Chinese restaurant named for a renowned poet; and Miguel Arcanjo, an eatery that faces the Arabian Sea, and serves dishes from a number of Mediterranean cuisines. Amenities include a spa, a pool, and various sporting facilities, including tennis courts and a 9-hole golf course. The Taj Exotica lies forty-five minutes from Goa International Airport.

Brunton Boatyard

Brunton Boatyard

Set in a restored boatyard dating from the Victorian era, the Brunton is located at the tip of Fort Cochin. Designed in the style of early Dutch and Portuguese buildings, with whitewashed walls, a sloping tile roof and terracotta floors, the Brunton features twenty-two rooms – all of which face the sea, and are fitted with antique furniture and high royal beds with steps to climb up to them. Dining options include the History Café, which serves a fusion of Dutch, Syrian, Indian and Keralan cuisines in a room paneled with warm woods and teak crossbeams; the Terrace Grill serves the best of that morning's catch; and lastly, the Armoury Bar, which overlooks the harbor and features a selection of teas and classic cocktails. The hotel has a small pool next to the sea, an Ayurvedic center with massage and healing treatments, and a steam room, but does not have a fitness center. There is no business center, though there are secretarial services and Internet access. The Brunton Boatyard lies approximately 30 minutes from the airport in Cochin (COK).

Kettuvallam Houseboat

Kettuvallam Houseboat

A night aboard a Kettuvallam, or a traditional wooden houseboat, is the perfect way to truly get into Kerala culture. Our chosen luxury Kettuvallam vessel will explore Kerala’s famous tranquil backwaters, through a series of canals and lakes, allowing guests to discover the region’s rich heritage from the comfort of their own well-appointed luxury boat. Inside, the boat is richly-decorated, with spacious rooms, comfortable furnishings, air-conditioning, and top-end facilities. The sundeck is the ideal place for guests to relax during the day (or night) and watch Kerala drift by. A full crew is available to serve guests at all times, with meal service that includes fresh, local specialties. 

Taj Garden Retreat

Taj Garden Retreat

With a comprehensive view of Meenakshi Temple, the 100 year-old Taj Garden Retreat is set amidst lush, serene gardens. The resort’s fifty rooms feature in-room safes, twenty-four hour room service, currency exchange, and high-speed internet access. The resort’s rooms fall into three categories: Old World Rooms are the oldest, and feature wooden furniture and colonial charm; Deluxe Rooms offer views of the Meenakshi Temple and Kodai Hills; and Superior Rooms are the newest, with views of the swimming pool and Madurai city. The resort’s signature restaurant offers a range of international and Indian dishes in an opulent, luxurious setting that evokes the bygone days of the British Raj. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool shaded by a growth of trees, and several tennis and badminton courts. The Taj Garden Retreat lies less than half an-hour’s drive from Madurai International Airport, and fifteen minutes from Meenakshi Temple and downtown Madurai.
Lalitha Mahal Palace

Lalitha Mahal Palace

Built by the Maharaja of Mysore to host his most important guest, the Viceroy of India, today the Lalitha Mahal Palace is one of India’s most opulent hotels. Set on a ridge with commanding views of the gently sloping valley, the Lalitha Mahal offers guests a taste of princely living in a real palace. A grand, two-story structure with twin Ionic columns, spherical domes, and Indian marble, the Lalitha Mahal features fifty-four stately suites and rooms, all of which are comfortable and spacious, and offer natural light, period furniture, four-poster beds, deep velvet-covered armchairs, air-conditioning, televisions, telephones, and framed mirrors. The hotel contains three eateries: a restaurant serving Chinese, north and south Indian, and English-inspired Continental cuisine; a tea lounge serving snacks and non-alcoholic beverages; and an elegant bar built in the style of an English club, with dark-paneled wooden furniture and countertops. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, jogging tracks, and billiards tables. The Lalitha Mahal lies twenty minutes from Mysore Airport, and less than twenty minutes from downtown Mysore itself.
Taj West End

Taj West End

Set amidst twenty acres of gardens, this luxury hotel in central Bangalore was the city’s first hotel. Constructed in 1887, the Taj West End has been meticulously preserved throughout the decades, and remains a fine example of colonial-era luxury, opulence, and hospitality. Each of the Taj’s ninety-one rooms feature twenty-four hour room service, electronic safes, mini-bar, a plasma television with satellite channels, telephones with an international calling capability, and queen size beds. On-site restaurants include Blue Ginger, which serves refined, elegant versions of classic Vietnamese food within a tasteful, atmospheric setting; Masala Klub, which features light, refreshing twists on traditional north and south Indian dishes; Mynt, which offers refreshing, authentic Mediterranean cuisine; and Blue Bar, an open air bar located in the gardens adjacent to Blue Ginger. Other amenities include a business center, a fully-equipped fitness center, swimming pools, and a full-service spa. The Taj West End is located approximately 45 minutes away from Bangalore airport (BLR).
Park Hyatt

Park Hyatt

Designed by the architects of New York’s George Wong Designs, the Park Hyatt offers its guests a modern, international aesthetic, accented with fine Indian textiles. Built beside the governor’s residence with a pool overlooking the the Guindy National Park, the hotel contains 201 rooms, with 20 suites, across seven floors of the hotel’s 11 stories. For dinner, take a seat at The Flying Elephant. Designed to be an unforgettable dining experience, The Flying Elephant spans 6 interaactive kitchens on 3 themed levels, including a bar, dance floor, and family dining room, each serving a rotating menu of Indian delights as well as international fair. The Park Hyatt Chennai was named “The Best New Hotel of the Year” at the HICSA conference in 2013 and is approximately 20 minutes from the Chennai Airport (MAA) by car.

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Our co-founder & CEO Catherine Heald was moved by her Hindu wedding vow renewal in Kerala. She also loved staying with a Maharajah at his palace in Darjeeling.
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