Once a hippy paradise, Goa is now attracting a swankier clientele. Keeley Bolger smartens up for a luxury break on the Indian coast.
I’m not sure what to expect when I reach my hotel in Goa.
It’s dark and I only manage to snatch glimpses of coconut trees and the grand white balconies which nod to the state’s colonial Portuguese past.“Goa is not like anywhere else in India,” says our driver proudly. “It moves at its own pace.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard about Goa’s famous gear switch – quite a contrast to the rest of India. It has a reputation for attracting laidback hippies on yoga retreats and budget travellers seeking cheap massages on the beach. But I’m not a backpacker or a lover of lazing on beaches, so how do I fit into all of this?
Quite easily, it turns out.
Relaxation is the order of the day across the south of India’s smallest and richest state, and wellbeing is a key focus for the Park Hyatt and The Leela, the first two hotels I stay in during my break. Away from the honeymoon hordes and the busy hippy paradise of the north, hotels like this are helping to re-position Goa as a luxury beach destination. Both properties have enviable access to gloriously quiet and unspoilt stretches.
Of course, there are things to do; you can jet ski, have Goan cookery lessons or play tennis. But when the coastline is this beautiful and peaceful, it feels churlish to practise my serves. My husband and I sip surprisingly delicious salty lime sodas, breaking up the day with ungainly hops into the Arabian Sea, after scorching our feet on the sand to do so.
Winter is in full swing back home, so dipping into sea water in 32C heat feels strange, when just a day ago, we were snivelling into our scarves at the airport. But it’s not long before we adjust to the sultry weather and settle into our Goan rhythm. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel relaxed when the days fall into a happy pattern of swims, fresh fish curry and lolling in the sun. After all my idling on the beach, I decide to turn down the dial from ‘relaxed’ to ‘positively horizontal’ with a trip to the Park Hyatt’s spa.
There, a cashew nut ritual awaits me. The therapist promises me a holistic retreat from the world where my body will be nourished and my mind relaxed. I’m intrigued to see how that’s possible, given my already blissed-out state.
After a sauna and shower, my feet are buffed and soaked and I’m scrubbed all over with the spa’s oily cashew product to gently exfoliate my skin, before being wrapped up and massaged.
A head massage with the cashew oil follows, as does another steam, a shower and another massage. When my time is up, I’m helped into a fluffy robe and given a cashew nectar drink to sip while I ‘adjust’ to my surroundings.
To combat all this lazing around, I opt for an energetic morning yoga session the following day, at our new digs in The Leela. I’ve never practised yoga outdoors before, but The Leela makes a convincing case for doing so. Surrounded by trees dappled by the morning sun, the yoga pavilion is an appropriately tranquil spot. More medicinal than the classes at home, the session focuses on re-setting the balance of the body and mind.
For a final blast of tranquility, the Nilaya Hermitage boutique hotel in the tiny village of Arpora in north Goa takes some beating. Unlike our previous hotels, the Nilaya isn’t on the coast. Instead, it’s tucked away in the hilltops, overlooking the bustling beaches of the Baga resort.
Although only a few miles away from the lively weekend market, the hilltop location and winding roads mean that getting out of the Nilaya requires transport and planning.
I love exploring new areas, but can’t resist sitting by the pool with a fresh vat of coconut water. I book myself an Ayurvedic massage, hoping to boost my levels of calm before heading home.
With my muscles pulled and joints clicked back into place, I nod in contentment when asked how I feel after my treatment. In fact, I feel just about serene enough to conquer the British winter again.
Keeley Bolger was a guest of The Goa Experience (01489 866 986, goaexperience.co.uk) who offers tailor-made seven-night holidays to Goa from £1,299 per person, including luxury hotel accommodation with breakfast, private transfers and flights from Gatwick.