If the big Indian cities up North don’t fit into your ideal Indian vacation, there’s always the South and its stunning resorts on the waterways of Kerala.

Endless emerald rice paddies and spice fields, rural groves of palms, quaint fishing communities and thousands of migratory birds can be glimpsed in God’s Own Country – Kerala, the coastal state in southwestern India.

Named as one of the “Ten Paradises of the World” and “Top 50 Places of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler, Kerala embodies a refreshing tropical paradise far from the country’s busier cities. Historically a region known as a hotbed of commerce and splendor during the golden days of spice trades, the peaceful beaches, nature preserves and intriguing luxury resorts contribute to its glowing modern reputation.

Visitors are hard-pressed to find a more ideal location from which to explore Kerala than the picturesque “backwaters” area. So named for the aqueous network of interconnecting lakes, canals and rivers, the backwater is home to the Kumarakom Lake Resort, an enchanting collection of historic villas comfortably nestled amidst coconut groves on the edge of Lake Vembanad.

The verdant 25 acres are peppered with intricate domiciles, forged from the structural bones of over 100 manas. These 16th-century traditional homesteads were purchased throughout the state, dismantled and relocated to Kumarakom to create the authentic, elite accommodations. Eccentric architectural elements from these stately homes blend with the finest modern amenities to produce a truly unique property in a lush tropical setting.

Each of the villas is a mana in itself, inclusive of a private terrace, pool and Jacuzzi. Contemporary en suite facilities are given a jungle treatment, set outdoors in an open-air courtyard, completely secluded while still welcoming towards the natural allure of the grounds. An azure pool over 800 feet in total length winds through the Meandering Pool Villas, accessed by each suite from private bathing coves and plush outdoor lounges. Guests are surrounded on all sides by the beauty of the backwater – panoramic views of the lotus-strewn canals, lush foliage and the still waters of Lake Vembanad are cherished through unobstructed panes of floor-to-ceiling glass. Interiors reflect the history and traditional styles of the area, with warm tile floors, rich wood finishes on the walls and ceilings, hand-painted murals and vibrant teals and golds synonymous with the color of southern India.

room interior

Kerala’s backwater is a treasure trove of experiential splendor and natural wonder. Water sports and banana boat rides on Lake Vembanad are easily within your grasp. Set off from the resort for an idyllic cruise on a private houseboat, traditional in styling but no less opulent than the land-based abodes. Avian denizens from the nearby Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary populate the towering palms and coconut trees in the gardens. A variety of waterfowl, cuckoo, parrot, lark, owl, darter, Brahminy kite and the migratory Siberian crane can be found enjoying the riverine verdure, many having traded their chilly residences in Siberia and the Himalayas for an annual tropical vacation.

Unimaginable spa experiences complement the stunning scenery at Kumarakom Lake Resort. The resort’s skilled staff specializes in Ayurveda treatments, blissfully balancing body, mind and soul with techniques harmonious with nature. The Ayurmana Spa retreat, an original 200-year-old mansion, is the setting for calming moments. With a history as rich as many of the resort’s buildings, Ayurmana was transported in its entirety to its lakeside location. Here, it remains infused with the legacy of the Chathamangalathu, a family of renowned Ayurvedic practitioners who once called the building home. Guided yoga and meditation sessions complete the divine experience at Ayurmana.

Kumarakom Pool

Relaxing moments in the spa or chilled pools are punctuated by extraordinary culinary delights in the resort’s two gourmet eateries. The grandeur of bygone days is alive inside the regal eight-sided Ettukettu mansion, another jewel in Kerala’s architectural past that was relocated in its entirety to the resort. International dining with dramatic flair awaits, serving up the best in Chinese, Mughlai, northern Indian and traditional Kerala creations, infused with local spices, unique curry blends, coconut milk and tropical fruits and vegetables. Marine delicacies of all sorts are enjoyed at the Vembanad seafood bar on the banks of the lake – one of the best places at the resort from which to witness a breathtaking sunset. Continue to wind down at the resort’s Thattukada tea shop, where exotic aromas and bubbling waters tempt the senses with new blends and freshly-prepared snacks begging to be sampled. Reminiscent of a seaside destination, Kumarakom Lake Resort is a refreshing escape, revealing a tranquil side of India that is the perfect conclusion to any tour.

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