The state of Kerala is one of India's most popular domestic tourist destinations thanks to its natural beauty: beaches, backwaters, and the rolling green hills of its tea and spice plantations. So, a visit here involves a certain amount of dodging large tour groups. But I found that to be easy enough, and worth it for the intriguing history and culture in Kochi, the state's largest city, not to mention some of the most beautiful vistas I've ever seen—and, of course, terrific food. Favorite dishes include a lot of coconut—Kerala means "land of coconuts" in the local language—and abundant fish, but some of the best food I ate was simple, home-style vegetarian at a hotel retreat in the hills (more on that below). Visitors to the state tend to follow a standard itinerary, arriving in Kochi, then moving on to the hill station of Munnar, and finally overnighting on a houseboat in the sleepy river and canals of Alleppey (or Kochi-Allepey-Munnar). With limited time, this is the perfect program to follow.