Chettinad, Tamil Nadu, India

The Chettiars, a community of traders based in and around Karaikkudi, 95km south of Trichy, hit the big time back in the 19th century as financiers and entrepreneurs in colonial Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. They lavished their fortunes on building at least 10,000, maybe even 30,000 opulent mansions in the 75 towns and villages of their arid rural homeland, Chettinadu. No expense was spared on finding the finest materials for these palatial homes – Burmese teak, Italian marble, Indian rosewood, English steel, and art and sculpture from everywhere. In the aftermath of WWII, the Chettiars’ business networks came crashing down and many families left Chettinadu. Disused mansions fell into decay and were demolished or sold off piecemeal. Awareness of their value started to revive around the turn of the 21st century, with Chettinadu making it onto Unesco’s tentative World Heritage list in 2014. Several mansions have now been turned into gorgeous heritage hotels where you can enjoy authentic Chettinadu cuisine, known throughout India for its brilliant use of spices.

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