Namaste! I’ve arrived in India at last. What better way to ease me into my trip than 3 nights at the fabulous Soul & Surf Kerala, 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 doesn’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 Soul & Surf Kerala for years, it’s perfect for solo travellers and couples alike. It attracts 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 to Soul & Surf Kerala is like stepping into a serene bubble of calm but that was exactly what I was after for my first few days. It allowed me to gently acclimatise before hitting the frenetic streets of Mumbai and stifling traffic of Delhi.
This is a good base from which to explore and you can easily immerse yourself in local culture and authentic Indian traditions. There is plenty going on – from ayuvedic healers to Hindi elephant festivals in neighbouring villages. 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 Kerala for a beetroot burger and tahini date shake.
What I liked best about Soul & Surf Kerala 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. There are regular events organised to ensure you meet other guests (and have no excuse to leave the place!) – from film screenings of iconic surfing documentaries to BBQs in the garden.
Soul & Surf Kerala has 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. It’s got a real ‘take it or leave it’ approach which caters to all agenda – I was expecting a disciplined daily routine of communal surf lessons followed by regimented yoga practice in the afternoon, but you really can get involved as much or little as you want. 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 Soul & Surf Kerala 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 Kerala is the kind of place I can see myself returning to again and again. This place ticks all the boxes, 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.
Many thanks to the wonderful team at Soul & Surf Kerala for the complimentary surf and yoga lessons. Rest assured that my views will be honest and reflect my experience, regardless of any freebies I accept. Please contact me to discuss press trips or travel blog collaborations.