Let my people Goa

Let my people Goa

Keeley Bolger enjoys a new state of relaxation in 
India’s luxury beach destination

Keeley with husband Joe at the Nilaya Hermitage
Keeley with husband Joe at the Nilaya Hermitage

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 that nod to the state’s Portuguese colonial past – one that centuries ago hosted a notable Jewish population.

“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 laid-back 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 well-being 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 reposition 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.

 The Leela Hotel in south Goa
The Leela Hotel in south Goa

Nestled in our sun-loungers, my husband and I sip surprisingly delicious salty lime sodas, breaking up the day with ungainly hops into the Arabian Sea, scorching our feet on the sand in doing so.

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.

A hefty gin and tonic from a nearby beach shack sets the mood as we watch people paragliding along the coastline, while the sky turns pink.

“Great view from the office,” I say to the owner of the beach shack.

“It’s like this every night,” he replies with a smile.

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.

The pool at the Nilaya Hermitage hotel
The pool at the Nilaya Hermitage hotel

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.

As morning routines go, this is one I could certainly get used to.

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 it. Surrounded by trees dappled by the morning sun, the yoga pavilion is an appropriately tranquil spot.

More medicinal than the classes I’ve attended at home, the session focuses on resetting the balance of the body and mind.

Bird song in the air also makes a pleasant change from the whims of my yoga teacher’s record collection.

For a final blast of tranquility, the Nilaya Hermitage boutique hotel in the tiny village of Arpora in north Goa takes some beating.

Keeley Bolger in Goa
Keeley Bolger in Goa

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 enthusiastically book myself an Ayurvedic massage, hoping to boost my levels of calm before heading home.

Gesturing towards a selection of potions in glass bottles, the masseur explains these blends have been used in India for hundreds of years.

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 much milder British weather again.

Keeley Bolger was a guest of The Goa Experience (goaexperience.co.uk; 01489 866 986), which offers tailor-made seven-night holidays to Goa, including luxury hotel accommodation with breakfast, private transfers and flights from Gatwick.


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