The port city of Kochi (formerly known as Cochin) is located on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas about halfway up the Goan coastline, in the north of the state of Kerala. A favourite destination for European tourists on package-deal tours of the country, Kochi offers a serene and relaxed change of scenery, and a very gentle introduction to a holiday in India.
The majority of tourists to Kochi stay in the Ernakulam district, but the old sections of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin are the main areas of interest. All linked by a series of ferries and bridges, these districts are an unlikely blend of late-medieval Portuguese, Dutch and English architecture, and are a living record of the area's colonial history.
Near Kochi's waterfront, visitors will find a host of extremely old and interesting religious buildings: the St Francis Church is India's oldest European church, and held Vasco da Gama's mortal remains for a while before they were transported to Lisbon; the imposing 16th-century Santa Cruz Basilica, a testament to the Portuguese occupation of the area, might feel a little out-of-place but is still full of grandeur and is eminently photogenic; and the oldest synagogue in the entire Commonwealth, the Paradesi Synagogue, can be found in Kochi's 'Jew Town' area, a beautiful white building with dark blue accents, founded in 1568. Set amid these fascinating sights are spice markets, fish markets, and a village green that could have been transported straight from rural England.
Boasting many cultural sights and interesting things to do, as well as some top-class restaurants specialising in both local and international cuisine, the main allure of Kochi remains its serene atmosphere and languid pace of life. It is very easy to while away time in Kochi by simply meandering around the waterfront area, watching fishermen unhurriedly fixing their nets by the water's edge, and perusing the fine selection of goods presided over by (mostly) Nepalese traders.
Kochi is also an ideal place from which to organise cruises of Kerala's backwaters, which is one of the most popular tourist activities in the whole of India.