1 Gawk at the UNESCO World Heritage temples of the 7th century AD Chola Empire in the Cauvery Delta. The temples at Tanjore, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram, represent the crowning glory of temple sculpture in ancient South India.
2 Be distracted by old French charm in Pondicherry, a former colony, where quiet boulevards and avenues (all in French) are lined by restored French villas, boutique hotels, art galleries and restaurants serving Creole food. Nearby is the other-worldly commune of Auroville.
3 Newport Massachusetts meets Tamil Nadu in Chettinad. Fabulous, kitschy, early 20th century mansions (some with more than a hundred rooms) sit squat in the middle of tiny hamlets. Built by the wealthy Chettiar community who made their money in trading in South East Asia, they also developed a rich peppery cuisine that uses meat in a largely vegetarian region
4 Take a short ride on the UNESCO cited Blue Mountain Railway, an early 20th century creation of the British Residency that precariously climbs the Nilgiris Mountains to their erstwhile summer capital of Ootacamund. The tunnels, bridges and stunning views make this a must-do.
5 Wander through the temples and sculpture of the 6th century AD ancient Pallava Dynasty port of Mamallapuram, where Romans, Chinese, Arabs and Phoenicians all traded in spices, cloth and wine. See the magnificent bas relief of the Descent of the Ganges, a masterpiece of art and sculpture, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
6Offer evening prayers at a Tamil temple and join the throngs of devotees as you get caught up in the frenzy of the rituals. The burning incense, ringing of bells, chanting of ancient Sanskrit hymns, and the glow of oil-lamps really brings home the Tamil Hindu faith. The great temples of Mylapore in Chennai, the temples at Chidambaram and Madurai, are great places to experience this fervour.
7 Explore the colourful markets of Tamil Nadu selling almost anything. Begin in some of the great flower and vegetable markets of Chennai, see santhais (weekly markets) in the villages of Kanadukathan or Pollachi, or visit the markets of Old Madurai around the main temple, which look like they have been around for centuries. Bring a camera, a sense of humour, and small change.
8 Immerse yourself in the annual winter music and dance festivals in Chennai – now considered as the single largest confluence of performing arts in the world. From mid December to mid January, tens of sabhas (halls) hold hundreds of concerts each day in Carnatic music and Indian classical dance from sunrise to well past sunset. Travellers and locals vie for the best seats, while munching on hot Tamil vegetarian snacks such as vadas and idlies, while animatedly critiquing the intricacies of each performance. The whole city gets enveloped in the glow of this great Tamil celebration.
9Live the planter’s life on a tea estate, coffee plantation, or coconut farm in the Western Ghats, a range of rugged mountains that first attracted the British over 150years ago. Enjoy stunning views, go on beautiful walks, welcome the cool weather, and train your binoculars on the prolific bird and animal life.
10 See how most of Tamil Nadu lives – stay in traditional Tamil homes, eat delicious vegetarian Tamil food served on large banana leaves topped with steamed rice and lentil curries, walk through a village and stop off to see a potter or a weaver, go on a bullock cart ride, or have your fortune decided by a parakeet!