Discover Southern India

Duration: 14 nights part-escorted tour

Price from: £2699pp

Day 1: Fly to Chennai.

Day 2 Chennai: On arrival, transfer to your hotel. Later, visit some of the main sights such as the San Thome Basilica and Government Museum. If time allows, the Bronze Gallery Museum is also a must-see.

Day 3 Chennai/Mahabalipuram: Start with a walk around Mylapore, a bustling neighbourhood in the heart of Chennai which pre-dates the city by at least 2,000 years and has kept alive many traditions and arts. Lunch is at the private home of a local family for the chance to experience Tamil culture. This afternoon drive to Mahabalipuram (approx 35 miles/1¾ hours drive).

Day 4 Mahabalipuram: Explore this former Roman port, famous for its ancient shore temples which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surreal in their location they are also unsurpassed in craftsmanship of that era.

Day 5 Mahabalipuram/Pondicherry: Drive to the former French colony of Pondicherry (approx 60 miles/ 2 hours drive). This afternoon, tour the French quarter, walking the cobbled streets lined with bougainvillea, chic shops and restaurants. This evening, take lessons on Franco-Tamil cuisine, a fascinating mix called ‘Creole’.

Day 6 Pondicherry/Tanjore: Depart for Tanjore (approx 105 miles/4 hours drive). Stop en route to admire the magnificent temples of Chidambaram, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram, two of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This evening, feast on a Chola dinner - a 12th century vegetarian menu.

Day 7 Tanjore/Karaikudi: Explore Tanjore, once the capital of the great Chola Empire. Visit the outstanding Brihadeshwara Temple Complex, dating from 1010, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and India’s largest ancient temple complex. A short drive from here, visit artists who still follow the millenniumold tradition of casting bronze statues. Drive onwards to Karaikudi with its lavish mansions and home of the Chettiars, a merchant community who made their fortune trading everything from salt to gems (approx 66 miles/2 hours drive).

Day 8 Karaikudi: Spend the day hearing stories of the Chettiyars, who have left a significant mark on almost everything. The town is now almost abandoned with palatial residences featuring outstanding woodwork, Italian marble, stained glass and handmade tiles, left in the hands of caretakers. This evening, learn about Chettinad cuisine.

Day 9 Karaikudi/Madurai: Drive to Madurai (approx 54 miles/2 hours drive), a 2,500 year old bustling little temple town. Enjoy a walking tour for stories of Madurai’s inspirational culture, heritage and food. Later, visit the Meenakshi Temple for its ‘going to bed’ ceremony.

Day 10 Madurai/Thekkady: Drive to Thekaddy (approx 92 miles/3¾ hours drive). For the adventurous, a night walk in the buffer zone of the Periyar Tiger Reserve will be thrilling, with flashlight at the ready to spot animals in the dark. Definitely not for the faint hearted!

Day 11 Thekkady: At leisure to relax or explore. Alternatively, optional excursions include a walking tour, rafting on the Periyar Lake or cycling around the fertile plains bordering Tamil Nadu (all additional expense). Enjoy lunch at a spice plantation.

Day 12 Thekkady/Kumarakom: Drive to the backwaters of Kumarakom (approx 76 miles/3¼ hours drive). This evening, visit the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, which has around 180 species or birds.

Day 13 Kumarakom: An early morning trip to the fisherman’s beach to watch boatmen haul in their catch. Continue to a farmhouse for a traditional breakfast with a local family. Later, explore the backwaters, passing through verdant paddy fields and villages.

Day 14 Kumarakom/Cochin: Cruise the backwaters on a kettuvallam (traditional rice houseboat). After lunch disembark and drive to Cochin (approx 30 miles/1½ hours drive).

Day 15 Cochin: Get acquainted with the city’s history and heritage, a wonderful mix of Dutch, Portuguese, British and Jewish influences. In the evening, take lessons on Syrian Christian cuisine from a local host and dine with the family. Kerala’s Syrian Christians are the descendants of the first converts from when St Thomas landed here in 52AD.

Day 16 Cochin: Your tour concludes with a transfer to the airport for your onward journey.

Departures: Daily.

Accommodation: In 3* hotels throughout. Higher grade hotels are available.

Meals: Breakfast. Lunch is also included on days 3, 11 & 14; dinner is also included on days 5-6, 8 & 15.

Tour price: The price shown includes international flights, private transfers, monument entrance fees, services of an English speaking guide during sightseeing (driver only for transfers between cities), sightseeing as outlined and accommodation.

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