No matter which way you look at it, if you want to see both the Sri Rangathaswamy and Brihadishwara temples, you'll have to make do with a hotel in either Trichy or Thanjavur -- a pity, because neither has exciting accommodations. Of the two, Thanjavur has the better option in the Ideal River View Resort . Alternatively, skip one of the temples and head directly to Visalam in Kanadukathan (Chettinad) one of our favorite lodgings and locations in south India. If you need to have lunch in Trichy, the Sangam's Chembian serves an excellent lunchtime South Indian thali for just over Rs 100; in Thanjavur, head for the Ideal Resort.
We like Ideal Resort both as a luncheon and overnight stop because of its tranquil rural atmosphere, but if you want to be in the heart of Thanjavur, the best option in town is the 50-room Hotel Parisutham (tel. 0436/223-1801; www.hotelparisutham.com; around Rs 8,000 double). It's been refurbished from top to bottom and rooms are looking spotless, the pool area is pretty and sparkling clean, and it's a mere 5-minute walk to the temple and another 5 minutes to the bus and train stations. However, we think it's overpriced given that the hotel is essentially an unattractive 70s monstrosity, and amenities offer nothing particularly superior -- though it's been spruced up, it's an old-fashioned hotel with no real defining attributes other than a great location. But if you can negotiate a better price, do it. Until such time, the best-value deal in town is found at Hotel Gnanam on Anna Salai Rd (www.hotelgnanam.com), which is also walking distance from the temple, bus, and palace. Gnanam is pretty basic but rooms are comfortable and clean, there's free Wi-Fi in the lobby (when working), and the rooftop vegetarian restaurant is a good place to dine at night. Given the accommodation standards, it's a real steal at Rs 1,400 double (including breakfast and taxes). Noisy location though, so ask for a room at the back (or shell out for the Ideal Resort).
We love the peace and tranquility of Kanadukathan, and with CGH Earth bringing some slick hotel-style standards to this hitherto rough tourism gem it's even more worth a detour -- even if only for lunch. The Visalam's Chettinad Kitchen is where lunch is prepared in an open kitchen under the auspices of one of the village dowagers -- served on a banana leaf it is always utterly delicious, as are the Indian breakfasts. A less atmospheric venue, but enjoying a legendary reputation for Chettiar cuisine is The Bangala in nearby Karaikudi, the bustling center of the entire Chettiar region. If you want to ship home some large antique pieces such as Chettiar pillars and door frames, Karaikudi is the place to forage. The Bangala is an extremely friendly and efficiently run guesthouse (hands-on owner Mrs. Meenakshi Meyyappan is a real character; her staff clearly in awe of her) and currently being extended into a 25-room joint, with a new pool being excavated. Accommodations are nowhere near as delightful as that at Visalam (room nos. 3 and no 4 are best; avoid rooms 9 to 12) or authentic as Chettinadu Mansion. If you wish to lunch here as a nonovernight guest (worth it if you have time), contact Mrs. Meyyappan at least a day before (tel. 04565/220-221; www.thebangala.com).