Namaste! I’ve arrived in India at last. And what better way to ease me into my trip than 3 nights at the fabulous Soul & Surf, a pastel-painted paradise perched high on the red cliffs above Varkala beach. Famed for their yoga and surfing tuition as well as the post-card perfect setting, this place had been on my bucket list for sometime. And it didn’t disappoint. My mouth fell open when I groggily hauled my bag out of the taxi… a pink vintage car was being loaded up with surfboards outside a serene whitewashed building, surrounded by lush gardens and lantern-strewn trees. It was India, but not as I had imagined.
Friends have raved about this place for years, it’s perfect for solo travellers and couples alike, attracting predominantly Guardian-reading, media-types from London seeking a little slice of Kerala’s surfing paradise complimented with delicious food (MADE for instagramming) and sunset yoga sessions with the resident teacher, Hayley. This place is the perfect introduction for first time visitors to India like me.
Admittedly, Kerala is affectionately known on the backpacking circuit as ‘India light’ as it’s definitely a more sterilised version of the India I’ve come to know and love. Checking in here is like stepping into a serene bubble of calm but that was exactly what I was after for my first few days, gently allowing myself to acclimatise before hitting the frenetic streets of Mumbai and stifling traffic of Delhi.
That’s not to say you can’t find some culture and authentic Indian traditions here, from ayuvedic healers to Hindi elephant festivals in neighbouring villages – this is a good base from which to explore. In the evening, hop in a 5 minute tuk tuk to the North Cliff of Varkala where you’ll be harassed until submission by the various fish restaurants, all vying for customers along the main walkway and showcasing their catch of the day. Pick between enormous blue marlin, red snapper or fresh jumbo prawns cooked to your liking… I opted for mahi mahi in masala spices. Or if their over-zealous sales techniques get a bit much, just amble around the shops before heading back to Soul & Surf for a beetroot burger and tahini date shake.
What I liked best about Soul & Surf was the homely atmosphere. From the moment I arrived, staff went out their way to befriend me and I was soon acquainted with everyone from the surf instructor to the cleaner. There’s no separation between staff and guests, who mingle at the long tressle tables or chat away over breakfast after an early morning surf lesson. To ensure you meet other guests (and have no excuse to leave the place!) there are regular events organised – from film screenings of iconic surfing documentaries to BBQs in the garden.
These guys have built a loyal following and it’s easy to see why. You can’t fail to be seduced by the laid-back vibe of the place. I was expecting a disciplined daily routine of communal surf lessons followed by regimented yoga practice in the afternoon, but instead it’s a real ‘take it or leave it’ approach which caters to all agendas. Whether that be kicking back with a book from the well-stocked library, booking in for a treatment with the resident masseuse or testing your balance on the slack rope strung up between trees in the garden. That said, I’d highly recommend trying your hand at surfing if you can drag yourself out of bed for the 6am start. It’s a great way to meet people and depending on the waves, you’ll go to different surf spots around Varkala – pretty fun in the back of one of their brightly painted vintage cars!
What sets this place apart is the small touches – the book mark on my desk and handmade soap laid out on the bed, the way staff remember your name and the little chrome hip flask offered to guests who (like me) are determined to drink in a State where alcohol consumption is heavily regulated.
Soul & Surf is the kind of place I can see myself returning to again and again. Whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a solo backpacker like me wanting to meet like-minded people or a health-conscious yoga junkie craving a picture-perfect place to perfect your poses, this place ticks all the boxes.
Many thanks to the wonderful team at Soul & Surf for the complimentary surf and yoga lessons. Regardless of any freebies I accept, rest assured that my views will be honest and reflect my experience. Please contact me to discuss press trips or travel blog collaborations.