Swaswara - An Article by Helen Greenhow, Wellbeing Escapes
January 3, 2014
What were your first impressions of the resort?
After an overnight flight to Mumbai and then a short hop across to Goa (as my friend and I flew in a season when direct Goa flights were unavailable), we were pretty tired by the time we arrived at Goa Airport, so seeing the SwaSwara transfer driver amid the colour and chaos of the arrivals area was a welcome start to our trip. The transfer was smooth and it was a great way to see a bit more of the area; we passed tuk-tuks, cows wandering in the road, bustling markets and then out into the tropical, coastal countryside. We were greeted warmly by members of the hotel team, and checked into our villa which was huge – there are no rooms at SwaSwara, just spacious villas with an outside bathroom, upstairs seating area, interior bedroom and light, open inner-courtyard. I loved the fact that in each villa courtyard, there’s a lemongrass bush and a holy basil bush, so you can help yourself to cuttings each morning and add to ginger to make your own stimulating morning infusion tea. It doesn’t get any fresher than that...
What do you think makes the resort so special?
The team and the ethos; the ratio of staff to guests is impressive, there’s a big team of knowledgeable, warm and friendly staff members so there’s always someone on hand to point you in the right direction or answer your queries. It’s not a formal approach, the team here have a genuine warmth that comes across to the point that you know they really do care. From the smiling patience of Chita, the resident artist and to the enthusiastic waiting team to the walking encyclopaedia that is their resident naturalist (who helped us spot rare sea eagles – we didn’t need any help spotting the local monkeys...) the team make you feel very welcome, very relaxed and gently but seamlessly well-looked after. It was wonderful to see Chef Joy and his team in action in the kitchen, creating all sorts of delicious, healthy dishes with panache. The ethos of SwaSwara is also very special, they have gone to great lengths to reduce the impact of the property on the local environment, creating their own rainwater collecting and cleaning facilities so that they do not place a burden on the area’s limited water supply. Apart from toothbrushes that they provide in each villa, there is hardly any plastic at the property - the buildings are made using local, natural materials, the natural bath amenities that they provide in each bathroom are homemade and presented in ceramic pots. During a garden tour with the naturalist, you can see where they grow their rice, how they process their water and where they keep their cows; you get a really good understanding of how sustainable and environmentally-friendly the property is which matches their mindful approach to life that they share with their guests.
What was your favourite treatment?
Any Ayurvedic treatment can have powerful effects when done well. Here at SwaSwara, with their two resident naturopaths and two resident in-house Ayurvedic doctors, your health is assessed and then treatments are tweaked to ensure that you receive the maximum benefit, depending on your goals or health concerns. The emphasis is on preventative health as well as getting the mind and body back in balance. I loved the Ayurvedic Full Body Massage, which was carried out by two tiny Indian ladies, in such a special way. Firstly, they greeted me and lead me to the simple treatment room, sat me on a chair and sung a few lines of a good-wishes prayer, massaging my head and then leading me to the treatment bed. Putting aside British bashfulness as it’s necessary to be naked for the oily Ayurvedic treatments, the warm oil and four-hand massage was blissful, invigorating at times and relaxing at others, with rhythmic full body sweeping strokes. After the treatment, one of the therapists led me by the hand to the private garden at the back of the treatment room, where she had run a warm open-air shower for me. To help get the oil off, she had prepared a body scrub and gently scrubbed by back while I stood in the shower; I then finished showering and she lead me back the treatment room, sat me on a stool, carefully brushed my wet hair, sang softly again and put some sandalwood on my forehead to finish the treatment. It was incredibly nurturing and by half way through my stay, I could already feel the beneficial effects of the treatments.
What was your favourite activity?
It’s hard to pick just one – the beauty of SwaSwara is the amount of activities that are on offer. Each evening, a blackboard is updated, sharing what’s on offer for the day ahead in terms of group activities (available at no extra cost) but there’s no obligation to go to everything, you can simply pick and choose depending on how you feel. I loved the early morning and evening meditation sessions, each day there were different methods to try, so it was a great way of sampling a range of ways to meditate. The art workshop, which you can pop into, gives you the chance to have a go at watercolour, acrylics, pottery, craftwork, pastimes I hadn’t tried for years, it was more fun than I remembered and so absorbing, a real form of meditation in motion. The resident artist was patient and encouraging – at home I have the watercolour of a flower from their garden which I painted as a lovely reminder of a peaceful afternoon in India. We also felt stretched and relaxed at the various morning and evening yoga classes and it was helpful to have two levels of yoga to join, so depending on how you felt that day or on your level of experience, you could opt for a soothing, relaxing class or push yourself in a faster-flowing, invigorating class. Practising in either the blue meditation and yoga dome, or in the light, bright, yoga shala (with windows all around, so all I could see were green tree leaves and branches) is a very special experience, all you can hear is the sound of nature, the crash of distant waves and sweet birdsong. I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in all three yoga Nidra lunchtime sessions... what was great too was being able to travel lightly, I only took a small bag as I wore the kurta pyjamas that they provided each day to the classes, then just changed into something comfortable in the evenings.
How was the food?
Healthy, varied, colourful and flavoursome. Every day was different, it was lighter, fresher and healthier than any Indian food I had ever tried, the programme I was on meant that the food wasn’t dosha-specific but for longer programmes, then the food served is specific to your particular dosha (Ayurvedic body type). We tried a one day juice fast half-way through our stay, which was tailor-made for each of us by one of the resident naturopaths, and involved drinking a number of fresh fruit juices throughout the day, as well as eating more lightly the day before and the morning after the juice fast. Other than that, we had largely vegetarian food with various fish options during our stay. Wine was available on my programme but we decided to forgo it (a first on holiday...) as I just didn’t want it, I felt so relaxed as it was and wanted to feel as clean and healthy as possible.
What was your favourite aspect of the resort?
The warmth of the staff, the delicious Ayurvedic treatments, the abundance of nature and vitality of the gardens – with monkeys on the roof, kites soaring overhead, tiny tree frogs at every turn and butterflies and dragonflies everywhere, it was impossible not to feel connected and alive here. Our fellow guests were interesting too: some came from the UK, others from Germany, Norway, Australia, and Switzerland. It was easy to meet other guests in activities and after classes and we teamed up with a few during the week to dine with them here and there too. I loved how close Om Beach was too – in less than ten minutes by foot you could be on the beach. They have a meditation platform that gazes down on the beach too. Watching cows roam freely on the beach felt very Indian, it’s a ‘working’ beach as well so we saw busy fisherman pulling in nets by hand in the early mornings, local boys playing cricket in the dying afternoon light and visitors sunbathing on the golden sands. Om Beach is ‘real’ and relaxed, not pristine and polished but authentic and rugged. We loved it, so too the amount of sleep we got during the week; I’m not sure if it was down to the Ayurvedic treatments, the amount of yoga we were doing or the meditation classes but we both slept deeply and well all week, which makes a welcome change to frantic London life. I still felt rested for a good while after getting back; it was a break with a difference.
Who would you recommend the resort to?
Anyone wanting to get away from it all, switch off and dip in and out of group activities. It’s ideal for a lengthy health programme, be it for a detox or a yoga programme, as well as a shorter stay option for a taster of Ayurveda, yoga and healthy eating. There were quite a few single travellers, couples and small groups of friends travelling when I was there, it’s a welcoming place for all three of these types of travellers but it’s an adults-only resort (to keep it as peaceful as possible) so it wouldn’t suit families with young children. I travelled soon after the monsoon rains when the land was lush and green, but many people choose to travel either in the drier, sunnier months or during the soothing monsoon rains, as this is the best time for nature-spotting as well as the best time for Ayurvedic treatments (and you can take advantage of lower airfares and hotel prices). Either way, I congratulate the SwaSwara team on creating a very special wellness bolthole that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.