beach, Fort Cochin, Fort Kochi, Kerala, India.
Ian Cooke/age fotostock
To get a feel for Kerala’s rich and layered history, head to Fort Kochi. Once a small fishing village in pre-colonial times, this area—now the historic old town neighborhood of the city of Kochi—belonged to the Portuguese for much of the 16th and 17th centuries, then to the Dutch for a little over a century, then to the British until India’s independence in 1947. For all that time, the waterside spot served as an important port along the spice route, with Chinese and Arabian traders sailing through to pick up sandalwood, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and other local goods. Today, Fort Kochi features myriad reminders of all who have lived and worked here: the Dutch cemetery, Koonan Kurish Old Syrian Church, and the 16th-century St. Francis Church, the Mattancherry Palace (aka the Dutch Palace), colonial Parade Grounds, still-in-use Chinese fishing nets, and the painted tiled-lined Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1567 and considered the oldest active synagogue in the commonwealth. The Indo-Portuguese Museum and Southern Naval Command Maritime Museum provide more context, while Fort Kochi Beach—with its colonial-era bungalows, Arabian Sea strand, and food stalls peddling the day’s fresh catch—draws both locals and tourists. Architecture buffs will love historic sites like Thakur House, Bastion Bungalow, and David Hall, many of which can be spotted from a stroll along breezy Church Road.