Taking good care of yourself and your spiritual needs is at the centre of a holiday at boutique retreat SwaSwara in Karnataka: this eco-friendly, serene hideaway promises to make you emerge thoroughly relaxed. Surrounded by untouched vegetation and close to breathtaking beaches, you’ll find yourself removed from everyday stresses yet with all the comforts you crave. Simply furnished, although stylish, SwaSwara's villas look out over the ocean, boasting vast beds to sink into after a day of meditation or jungle trekking.
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One 30-minute private yoga class a person per stay
Normally 11am, but flexible depending on the season. Check-in, noon.
Double rooms from £266.20 (INR25,250), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates include breakfast, daily group yoga and meditation sessions, daily cooking classes, guided nature walks and bird-watching, art and pottery lessons led by the resident artist.
SwaSwara aims to help guests on the road to self-discovery, so meditation, yoga and Ayurvedic therapies are central to its philosophy.
At the hotel
There is Internet access in the rooms but otherwise you can enjoy the quiet in a TV- and music-free environment, air-con in the bedrooms, emperor-sized beds (plus extra pull-out bed), and a lounge area for making tea or coffee.
Our favourite rooms
All villas are identical, built in the local Konkan style of clean, uncluttered spaces, using natural materials. Air-conditioning has been discreetly fitted without interfering with the authentic design. The lower level comprises a sitting area to unwind in the evenings, and the upper section contains a semi-open bathroom and calm bedroom area. Assume your favourite yoga position on the upper deck.
Comfortable clothes for yoga, good walking shoes (the main mode of transport here, and the terrain can be tricky), sun protection, and during monsoon you’ll need wet-weather gear. Should you forget anything, there’s a shop.
Idyllic locations like this come with mosquitoes, so be prepared, but there are emergency creams available. Five-night minimum stay.
Leave the little ones at home – grown-ups seek tranquility here.
Extremely eco-friendly: packaging-reduced bathroom toiletries, reminders about water conservation, harvesting of rainwater, on-site bio-gas converter – ecological impact is minimised wherever possible.
The nearest airport is Dabolim in Goa, which is 170 km away from the hotel; transfers with the hotel for can be arranged for up to three passengers for Rs.6,500 each way. Another option is to land at Mangalore Airport, 240 km away.
The closest station is Gokarna Road, on the Konkan Railway. The scenic ride links up Mumbai with Kerala’s big cities, including Cochin and Trivandrum.
A friend, who’s spent a fair bit of time in India, told me before I came that when they do luxury in India, they do it very well indeed. This country is, of course, also the birthplace of yoga and the ancient healthcare system of Ayurveda. SwaSwara combines all these features, and more, exceedingly well.
Having spent the best part of two days getting there, I could not have looked more shabby upon arrival, but I was immediately put at ease by the calm efficiency of the informal but courteous staff. However, something was missing. Ah yes, the incessant mechanised background noise, which is part of Indian city life. The only sounds here are those of the abundant wildlife and the rumble of waves rolling onto Om beach below.
Om Beach is so named due to its double cove shape, but it also reflects the spiritual feel of the whole area. Gokarna has been a pilgrimage destination for over two millennia for generations of Shaivites, devotees of the God Shiva, and the town is inhabited predominantly with Brahmin priests. The ‘shanti effect’ is also heightened by the backpackers who come here to the beautiful local beaches to make the most of the relaxed atmosphere, say their ‘boom Shivas’, and chill.
Each of SwaSwara’s identical 24 villas is designed around a split-level open atrium with miniature grass lawns on both levels, which happen to be just big enough to lay out a towel and work on a total white-bit-free tan. A study/lounge area is on the lower section, containing the kettle and the alcohol-free minibar, while the semi-open bathroom and enclosed bedroom are in the upper section. The covered deck above the bedroom is designed with meditation and yoga practice in mind, but as I discovered serves equally well as a sunset viewing point. The bedroom below contains a superbly comfortable bed of gigantic dimensions, so big that even lanky-legs Mr Smith could lie full stretch any direction and still not hang off the end.
The added wow comes in the local wildlife, which includes kingfishers, sea eagles and brahmini kites, as well as long-tailed langurs (shy, black-faced monkeys), lizards, geckos and, thankfully, surprisingly few mosquitoes. Dolphins are often seen, and can be swum with, in the waters of the coves below. I have to confess it was a treat to see the red snapper too – particularly, as I discovered at supper, the way it was grilled with a sublime coriander and yoghurt masala sauce.
The apparently very palatable locally produced wine is available at dinnertime but no other alcohol is available for sale at SwaSwara. But even without it, my spirits and energy were being revived after the long journey, and I could feel a natural sense of calm growing within.
In the local language, Kannada, SwaSwara means inner voice or rhythm. The owners of SwaSwara, the six Dominic brothers who run CGH, prefer not to call it a hotel or resort, but rather an ‘experience’ – a CGH Earth Experience, in fact. And as every staff member can tell you, the letters nowadays stand for ‘clean, green and healthy’, and SwaSwara is certainly one of the most progressively environmentally conscious luxury hotels in the world today. From the packaging-reduced bathroom toiletries and reminders about water conservation to their own harvesting of rainwater and the on-site, bio-gas converter to recycle organic produce into cooking gas, it is evident that the owners have taken great care in establishing an operation that minimises its ecological impact.
And being a secluded and beautiful location, with excellent facilities and staff to provide first-class guidance and treatments, there could not be a better place to experience yoga and Ayurveda, especially if you are new to either of these ancient practices. The simple luxury of SwaSwara make any initial challenges one may encounter a lot easier to attempt and cope with. Private tuition sessions can be arranged with the well-experienced resident yoga masters at no extra cost, and they are happy to discuss just about anything to ensure that these steps along the yogic path, especially if they are your first ones, are enjoyable and positive.
SwaSwara’s Ayurvedic centre provides a range of treatments, which focus on tension-reducing and rejuvenating massages with medicated oils to release toxins stored in the body fat. Activities and diet will also be recommended according to one’s individual ‘dosha’ or body type. A full ‘Panchakarma’ treatment, which is basically a total system overhaul, normally requiring a minimum of 10 days, can have dramatically positive effects, mentally and physically. And, as this lucky Mr Smith discovered, if you are going to make the long trip to this idyllic eco-haven, then there can be no better place than SwaSwara to totally immerse into what India does so well, yoga and Ayurveda, in luxury where your conscience, as well as your body, soul and mind, is clean, green and healthy.