Kochi While the majority of India’s visitors head to the tourist-heavy sites like the iconic Golden Triangle, bustling Mumbai, and serene Goa, art and design lovers might want to visit another destination: Kochi. The metropolis of just over two million inhabitants, which also goes by the name of Cochin, is an ancient port city in the southern state of Kerala that grew to prominence as a hub for the spice trade, connecting cultures from China to Israel, then becoming part of the Portuguese and Dutch colonial empires.
But lately the cosmopolitan city is perhaps best known for its Kochi-Muziris Biennale, South Asia’s largest contemporary art event, which sees more than 500,000 people visit exhibitions by dozens of artists from around the world. Though the next edition of Biennale begins in December 2021 and runs through March, the destination continues to be an art hot spot year-round, making it worthy of a trip at any time. Here are the best things to do, places to eat, and hotels for your stay in Kochi.
Set in the Jew Town shopping district, concept hotel Mandalay Hall offers contemporary accommodations in a historic setting. The boutique hotel offers just five rooms, or “galleries,” that feature rotating installations by artists selected by the hotel’s curator, Bose Krishnamachari, who is also the president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. Mandalay Hall is also home to a library, a jewelry shop, a design boutique, and the Aah restaurant.mandalayhall.com
Experience a taste of historic Kochi with a stay at Fort Kochi, a 16th-century heritage house once owned by a wealthy Jewish family. The property has just been restored head to toe during its conversion to a hotel. It has 27 Keralan-meets-colonial-style rooms set around a tranquil pool—they’re delightfully quiet, given the hotel’s prime location on Princess Street in the historic city center.
Port Muziris, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
One of the newest hotels in Kochi, Port Muziris is a breath of contemporary fresh air among its more traditional neighbors, offering guests modern amenities like a rooftop infinity pool and a coffee shop. Located adjacent to the airport, about an hour from historic Fort Kochi, the property is a refuge for art lovers, with 70 custom works by 12 local designers and artists.
Kumarakom Lake Resort
Set just over an hour outside of Kochi, this lakeside resort in the Keralan backwaters is worth the drive. Its 80 private villas were built from historic materials salvaged from traditional Keralan houses slated for demolition, offering guests a unique look into local architecture. The property also has a small fleet of houseboats that guests can charter for overnight stays on the scenic lake and its many canals. And don’t forget to book an Ayurveda treatment at the spa—the region is known for this ancient medicinal practice.
Hop-On, Hop-Off Boat Tours of Port Muziris
One of the largest conservation projects in India, the Muziris Heritage Project seeks to preserve and restore dozens of historic sites across the waterways of northern Kochi, where the ancient city of Muziris once stood. It operates hop-on, hop-off boat tours of a number of the sites, from temples, synagogues, and churches to stately homes to the ruins of old fortresses.
The laid-back Ginger House restaurant on the Kochi waterfront is much more than just a place to dine on local cuisine—it’s also an antique gallery, a museum, and a hotel. After dining on fresh delicacies like fish stewed in coconut milk and served with spongy appam bread, a local favorite, stay to peruse the collection, which includes a 108-foot-long traditional snake boat.