Set by the Arabian Sea, on acres of tropical Keralan countryside, beach-break spot Neeleshwar Hermitage is soulful and serene. Its thatched fisherman hut-style cottages are built in traditional vastu shastra style: facing the spectacular sunrises in the east. An ayurvedic spa, goddess-inspired restaurants and unique cultural experiences (festivals, dance performances, trips to hidden shrines) instil a true sense of place; add a backwaters trip on the hotel’s houseboat the Lotus to round off your sultry south Indian affair.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of wine in your room on arrival and a 30-minute boat ride on the backwaters
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 11am.
Double rooms from $237.30 (INR16,915), excluding tax at 18 per cent.
Rates do not include à la carte breakfast (INR850 for a Continental selection, INR850 for hot dishes). A two-night minimum stay is required for stays between 20 December and 4 January.
For a peaceful spot to practice your new transcendental meditation techniques, sit by the garden’s lotus ponds.
The hotel is closed annually from 1 to 31 July.
At the hotel
Public beach, spa and beachside yoga pavilion, cookery school, gardens, laundry, parking, free WiFi. In rooms: double bed, desk, air-conditioning, black-out curtains and Kama Ayurveda bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The Prema: Love cottage is indeed rather romance rousing; it’s the only cottage with a private pool, and the couple-sized bath tub sits in the open air, overlooking the garden’s greenery. Cosy up in the hammock, admire the sea views with a glass of wine and revel in its utter seclusion.
The unheated infinity pool looks out to sea. Surrounded by gently swaying palms, coir-thatched parasols and sunloungers on a stone deck, it’s perfectly peaceful. Staff serve snacks and refreshments from the little pool bar throughout the day.
If your cosmic life force needs a little zhuzhing or your circadian rhythms are out of whack, the Priya Ayurvedic Spa’s treatments will cure your ills. The four treatment rooms have verdant views from floor-to-ceiling windows, and all-natural herbal products (from the Sahayadri Foundation) are used in a range of massages, reflexology and facials. Recline in a soothing milk or flower bath, primp with a mani-pedi or get bendy in the free yoga classes (daily, from 8am to 8.45am; advanced classes available on request). Ashtanga (a two- to five-day course) and pranic energy meditation (an hour-long session) are offered to inner-peace seekers, or go on a four-day journey through transcendental meditation.
Bring a suitcase filled with swish yoga wear and bright, breathable statement pieces. If you’re sceptical about wellness philosophies, bring an open mind.
In deference to local culture, red meat is off the menu. There’s an embargo on fizzy drinks and spirits too.
Peaceful reflection, romantic sunrises, serene soul seeking: this is more of a sedate adult stay; however, an extra bed can be added to all cottages (INR3,150 from 16 April–15 October and INR4,200 from 16 October–15 April – some special rates apply).
With LED lightbulbs, environmentally sound products, locally sourced food and on-site recycling, the hotel ticks the requisite boxes for ethical practices.
Meenakshi’s terrace tables make you feel like you’re on the beach.
Incorporate Kerala’s bright day wear into your wardrobe with vivid hues, floral embroidery and a flash of gold. Mr Smith should look coolly groomed in light linens.
Annapurna (fittingly named after the goddess of nourishment) is a bright and breezy, open-plan space for authentic – largely vegetarian – fare. Meenakshi (named after the Hindu goddess of love and beauty), is a less-formal, lantern-lit beach shack for barefoot dining on freshly caught seafood. Keralan dish thoran (coconut-sprinkled spiced rice with locally grown vegetables), and banana leaf-steamed kingfish, slathered in masala sauce, are specialties here. Breakfasts are a tempting medley of Indian and international hot and cold dishes.
Sink into a sofa in the small, softly lit bar beside Annapurna. There’s a slim selection of beers and wines to sip, and refreshing soft drinks, including a ginger, honey and lime slushie and coconut and banana cordial. The only sound is the murmur of the waves.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 9.30am. Both Annapurna and Meenakshi are open all day from 7am to 10.30pm.
During restaurant hours, the full menu can be ferried to your door. Peckish insomniacs can snack on burgers and sandwiches.
You’ll find Neeleshwar Hermitage beside a picturesque beach by the Arabian Sea in northern Kerala.
Mangalore International is the closest hub, around a two-hour drive from the hotel. From the UK, fly Air India to Mumbai or Delhi then hop aboard a two-hour flight to Mangalore. From the US and Australia, fly Etihad to Abu Dhabi then Jet Airways to Mangalore. The hotel can arrange private transfers in an air-conditioned Toyota Innova (INR5,600 for a one-way trip).
Direct services run from Bangalore or Cochin to Neeleshwar Railway Station, a 20-minute drive from the hotel. Transfers are INR1,800, one way.
Driving in India is famously frazzling, but it can be done; there are car-hire booths at Mangalore Airport and valet parking at the hotel. Alternatively let someone else take the wheel; hop in a tuk-tuk or taxi.
Worth getting out of bed for
Surrounded by Kerala’s emerald Western Ghats and camera-baiting coast, guests are encouraged to shift into a lower gear and meditate on the state’s extravagant tropical beauty. An unspoilt public beach is an amble away from the Hermitage’s cottages, or delve into the spice racks in the hotel’s cookery school (IDR2,700 an hour, classes are held once or twice a week), then stock up on a trip to a plantation in Neeleshwar or Kasaragod. Hire a bike to bomb along coastal pathways, or ask staff to arrange a driver and guide for a trek in the Western Ghats. The hotel can arrange unique cultural experiences: trips to the Theyyam festival from October to April, where boldly costumed and masked dancers shake and strut in fields and villages nearby; and visits to temples, colourful markets in Kasaragod and Kanhangad, and the Ananda and Nityananda ahshrams. Spy fancifully plumed birds in the hills of Madayipara and the wetlands of Ezhome and Chemballikundu, which has a river for boating. Bekal Fort, a sprawling 17th-century stronghold, is a 20-minute drive to the south.
There are few restaurants close by, so work your way through the hotel’s mouthful of a menu. For poolside barbecues, a longer drinks list and globally influenced dishes, head to Vivanta in Bekal.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this holistic beach resort in Kerala and unpacked their sense of inner calm and fancy yoga moves, a full account of their rejuvenating coastal break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Neeleshwar Hermitage on India’s south-west coast…
Neeleshwar Hermitage may inspire some furniture rearrangement on your return home. Its layout is perfectly aligned with nature, built using the Hindu principles of vastu shastra, where the hotel buildings are oriented to the east, for the best views of papaya- and mango-hued sunrises, and thatched cottages are placed with geometric precision amid the palms and verdant lawns. However, even the most divine patterns are elevated with the addition of a light and open ayurvedic spa and an unspoilt stretch of sand within flip-flopping distance, and coconut- and cardamom-sweetened dishes will edify several parts at once. There’s also a team of staff whose time spent in such a tranquil and naturally good-looking place has given them the sunniest of outlooks, if perhaps a smidge less luminescent than those sunrises.
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