Those seeking a cool contrast to the bustling Keralan coast will find secret delights in the Hill Country. The mountainous Western Ghats, the highest point in India south of the Himalayas, run down from Mumbai to the tip of the subcontinent and mark Kerala's eastern border with Tamil Nadu. These forested hilltops rise above valleys now boasting exotic spice and tea plantations, dams and wildlife sanctuaries. Perhaps the most interesting and accessible parts fall within central Kerala, just 2-5 hours' drive away from the Keralan coast, and accessed from Kottayam or Cochin.
Set in dramatic countryside, the small hill station of Munnar is the centre of the world's highest tea plantations and offers spectacular views of southern India's highest mountain, Anamudi. Stay at the peaceful retreat Windermere Estate - a working cardomom plantation surrounded by cool virgin forest and ideally situated for walking expeditions. You can also explore the Eravikulam National Park nearby and visit the renowned Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary.
There are numerous bird and wildlife sanctuaries, the most impressive and popular of which is the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and Lake near Kumily and Thekkady. Within its 777 sq.km of deciduous and evergreen forest roam some 750 elephants, numerous antelopes, gazelles, sambars, wild boars, monkeys, langurs, bison, over 100 bird species and, most elusive of all, a handful of tigers and leopards.
If you want to prepare yourself for a hike, or recover in comfort, try staying on the tranquil Paradisa Plantation nature resort, which is set amongst a coffee plantation near Thekkady (and perfectly placed en route to Periyar from Kottayam). The ideal stopover for those travelling to Periyar from Cochin is Serenity at Kanam Estate, a superbly decorated 1920s colonial plantation house turned hotel, near Kottayam. Here you can go on guided plantation walks through the many varieties of tropical plants and spend time with the resident elephant.