Kerala's coast has all of Goa's beauty but none of the hustle and bustle. It's a clean and gorgeously relaxing introduction to India, from the sleepy streets of the old city of Cochin, the cosmopolitan port town and state capital, to the languid backwaters, a network of rivers, lakes and lagoons where you can hire a houseboat and cruise for days on end.
In Alleppey, the gateway to the backwaters and an hour south of Cochin, tourists kick back in crumbling colonial mansions to the distant ring of sacred bells. The food, too, is divine, with fresh fish and spicy, coconut-rich sauces and steamed rice pancakes a speciality.
Budget Kerala Bamboo House in the quiet backpacker village of Varkala charges just Dh100 per night for a large hut sleeping two people, in very pleasantly landscaped grounds on a cliff top. Tel: 0091 989 527 0993.
Mid-range The Old Courtyard Hotel (www.oldcourtyard.com) in Fort Cochin is a small historic hotel with welcoming owners. Rooms are large with antiques and polished rosewood floors. The building is over 200 years old and was built by the Portuguese when Cochin was their gateway to the spice trade. It's centred around a cobbled courtyard filled with mango trees. Dh300 per night.
Luxury Kovalam, a small resort offering sandy coves sheltered by coconut trees, is just 10 minutes from Trivandrum airport. The five-star Leela Kempinski (www.theleela.com) is situated on its own rocky promontory and has an 750 square metre Ayurvedic centre, Divya, and an infinity pool overlooking Ashok beach. From Dh500 per night.
In Kovalam, Fusion (0091 471 2484153) on Lighthouse Beach is swish and clean and has an airy terrace. It offers a good choice of Keralan and European dishes, including crayfish, ravioli and roast chicken. Book ahead for a candlelit table at night; main courses from Dh10. In Cochin, the restaurant at Malabar House (0091 484 2216666), an 18th-century Dutch colonial restoration, offers excellent South Indian and Western cuisine. Dinner is served beside the pool in a candlelit courtyard; main courses from Dh28.
Both Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) and Air India Express (www.airindiaexpress.in) operate direct routes to Kerala from Abu Dhabi. Etihad flies to Trivandrum and Cochin from Dh2,340 return including taxes; Air India Express flies to Cochin, Kozhikode and Trivandrum from Dh1,200 return including taxes. Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies to Cochin and Trivandrum from Dubai; return fares to Cochin from Dh1,990 return including taxes; Trivandrum flights from Dh 1,710.