If you want to get away from it all, with plenty of sun, surf and savasanas thrown in, there’s nowhere quite like Soul&Surf – one of Kerala’s first surf and yoga retreats.
It was set up by intrepid Brits Ed & Sofie Templeton, who gave up their jobs in Brighton to set off on a round the world surf and yoga adventure – and soon fell in love with Kerala. In 2010 they founded Soul&Surf, as a twist on the usual surf camps out there, and the rest is history. The result is somewhere that encapsulates escapism, with surfing, delicious organic food, restorative yoga and meditation, and most importantly great people and a homely, welcoming vibe.
We arrived in the pouring rain late in the evening – our clothes soaked to our skin – and were greeted into the twinkling lights of the retreat with warm smiles. Just what we needed after a long day’s drive along Kerala’s hectic motorways.
The following morning we really got a sense of where we were – and the views were breathtaking. Perched atop a quiet patch on Varkala’s red-hued cliffs, the retreat overlooks an uncrowded stretch of beach and has a pretty garden, dotted with cosy hammocks and seating areas, where you can sit back with a good book under the swaying palms.
The house itself, with a rooftop yoga terrace, is beautifully designed – the owners clearly have a cool sense of style – with plenty of quirky touches, like branded beach bags and mini hip flasks in the room (drinking spirits is illegal in Kerala, so you have to be discreet).
Days here can be as full or chilled as you want them to be and it’s easy to while away the hours enjoying the sunny solitude or sitting with a hot cup of chai in the communal benches meeting the interesting people that come and go.
The surf, however, is one of the big draws and Kerala’s small, but burgeoning, surf scene is fast becoming less of a well-kept secret amongst those in the know.
I decided to join the morning classes to see quite how rusty my surfing ‘skills’ were. (After a few so-so attempts years ago, I was happy to start from the very beginning!) Lessons start bright and early and we hopped into their oh-so-cool turquoise jeep and meandered through the colourful streets to one of their favourite spots, where you only have the fishermen for company.
Luckily where we were was reasonably shallow, but it was amazing the strength of the current that sucked you along the beach. I definitely don’t know how surfers do it – it’s exhausting! At the end of the lesson I was chuffed to have ‘popped up’ successfully and ridden my first Arabian Sea wave (albeit a modestly-sized one).
Surfing really gives you an appetite, so I was thrilled to wolf down their legendary organic breakfasts, usually coconut porridge with dates or banana pancakes (delicious!) on our return.
Yoga and massages are on offer every day, so I made the most of both while I was there – the perfect antidote for my aching muscles. My favourite yoga class took place at sunset on the rooftop terrace and it’s clear that yoga in my local studio will never be the same. There was something pretty magical about doing vinyasas as the sun sets over the ocean (even with pesky mosquitoes!).
Evenings are quiet here – it’s a retreat after all – but a short rickshaw ride away the sprawl of buzzing Varkala awaits with its many cafes, bars and restaurants; depending on your mood.
It was pretty hard to bring myself to leave after three days (I would have loved to have stayed longer). I have never felt so far away from the chaos of city life in London and I returned with a genuine sense of zen that I have been clinging on to ever since. Until next time Soul&Surf!