Kerala Getaway: Fish Fry, Ayurvedic Massages and Sea Views in Kannur

The Malabar region of Kerala is just coming into its own as a tourist destination.  
theyyam dancers, kannur, photo by Christ Ophe Boisvi Eux/Age Fotostock/Dinodia Photo Library
Theyyam dancers are said to be possessed by the spirit of the gods they represent. They return to normalcy only when their headgear is taken off. Photo: Christ Ophe Boisvi Eux/Age Fotostock/Dinodia Photo Library

Located in Kerala’s Malabar region, Kannur is just coming into its own as a tourist destination. With an international airport scheduled to open in mid-2017, rapid change is around the corner. For now however, it remains a sleepy town, the kind where you sometimes have to get out of your vehicle to coax a calf off the middle of the road. To the tourist in search of an action-packed holiday Kannur has little to offer, but it welcomes with open arms those who want to slow down. The best thing for a traveller to bring to Kannur is the willingness to embrace relaxation as a way of life: the townsfolk take midday naps and the streets are completely empty by 9 p.m. While it may sound like a place straight out of an Enid Blyton novel, note that that it is also a Marxist stronghold and known for political violence. When I tell fellow Malayalis I’m from Kannur, I often see them shudder just a little bit. Bandhs are frequent. If you encounter one, make like a local: put your feet up and enjoy a quiet day indoors, it is the quintessential Kannur way.

History Lesson

Built in 1505 by the first Portuguese viceroy, Don Francesco de Almeida, St. Angelo’s Fort is one of Kerala’s better-maintained historical sites. The fort, complete with a moat and secret tunnel, is a popular haunt with newlyweds looking for a scenic spot to take a few romantic photographs. Come here in the evening for a quick history lesson, and stay for views of the colourful boats docked at Mapila Bay (Burnacherry; open 8 a.m.-6 p.m.).

st. angelo's fort, kannur, photo by Yogesh S. More/Age Fotostock/Dinodia Photo Library

St. Angelo’s Fort changed hands from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the Arakkal royalty, and finally to the British who controlled it until 1947. Photo: Yogesh S. More/Age Fotostock/Dinodia Photo Library

Spa Time

A trip to Kannur is incomplete without an Ayurvedic massage. Asokam Beach Resort has several treatment packages for longer stays. For a few hours of relaxation, there’s a day spa package that offers a full day of treatments tailored to specific needs, after consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor (Payyambalam Beach Road; ayurvedaresort.co.in; 94460 70373)

Eat Local

In a town with strong opinions and divisions, there’s one thing everyone agrees upon hands down: Odhen’s serves the best naadan or local set lunch. Located on a narrow street, the restaurant is just a handful of no-nonsense tables with uncomfortable stools. This is a place for serious eating: the next person in line is always standing and watching over you, ensuring you finish and leave without wasting time.

Seafood lovers in particular are in for a treat. It is the fried fish that makes this place the town’s most popular lunch destination. The secret is in a special masala which the elderly couple who own the place grind early in the morning before the rest of the staff arrive. Be sure to also try the mussels, squid, shark, and shrimp. (Onden Road; near St. Michael’s school; fish meal for two around ₹250; open 12-4 p.m.; no reservations, so go early to get a table.)

If you prefer to linger over your food, head to Sahib’s Grill Kitchen, Kannur’s neighbourhood hangout where everyone knows everyone. The relaxed setting is perfect for conversations savoured over the wholesome bistro-style fare. The exposed brick walls, high ceiling, French windows, and retro music give the place character and warmth (www.sahibsgrillkitchen.com; open 12 p.m.-12 a.m.; meal for two ₹750).

Kannur has a bakery on every street corner. Sheen bakery sells excellent puffs, or “pups” as they are called. The
egg puff is exceptional—flaky pastry that crumbles at first bite, with an eye-wateringly spicy filling (sheenbakery.com; egg puff ₹20).

Payyambalam beach, kannur, kerala, photo by Anders Blomqvist /Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Payyambalam beach is popular with families for its camel rides and vendors selling ice cream. Photo: Anders Blomqvist /Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Room with a View

Kanaka Resort—across the road from the beach—is quite possibly one of the most picturesque places to stay in Kannur. It’s like a homestay, with only a handful of airy, spacious rooms with beautiful views. Deluxe rooms come with a desk and chair, perfect for penning a letter to a loved one. Sample some of Kannur’s must-tries for breakfast: puttu (steamed rice flour) and kadala (black chana curry). The best part about the resort is the sprawling terrace that overlooks the ocean. Be sure to catch a sunset here (Payyambalam Beach Road; www. kanakabeachhouse.com; doubles from ₹2,750).

Dance with the Gods

Located 16 kilometres from town, Parassinikadavu Muthappan is one of the most important temples in the north Malabar region. Sitting on the bank of the Valapattanam River, it is dedicated to the deity Sree Muthappan. This is a good place to see Theyyam, the ritual dance performance that the Kannur and Kasargod districts are famous for. Some believe this fascinating tradition goes back to an ancient Dravidian era. Dancers narrate stories that range from local myths to tales about village ancestors and folk gods. This form of ritualistic music and dance is set to the beat of a chenda or drum, and performed at the temple every day (Parassinikadavu; 30 min from Kannur; ritual dance at sunrise and sunset daily).

Appeared in the January 2017 issue as “Take it Easy”.

The Guide

The nearest airport is in Kozhikode (previously Calicut), 115 km/2.5 hr south of Kannur, along the coast (taxis ₹2,600-3,200 one-way).

  • Aysha Tanya is a freelance food writer and photographer who divides her time between Kerala and Bangalore. She also runs a food blog with her mother, in which they chronicle the joys (and struggles!) of cooking world classics in a small-town kitchen.

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