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In the first of a series of reviews of authentic India spas, Sarah Dawson checks into Surya Samudra, Kovalam a bespoke heritage spa in southern India for some rest and relaxation.    My tour of southern Indian spas began with an overnight Emirates flight from London via Dubai, arriving...

A journey to God’s own country – the birthplace of Ayurveda 

In the first of a series of reviews of authentic India spas, Sarah Dawson checks into Surya Samudra, Kovalam a bespoke heritage spa in southern India for some rest and relaxation. 


My tour of southern Indian spas began with an overnight Emirates flight from London via Dubai, arriving at Trivandrum, Kerala, ready for breakfast. After a 40-minute transfer I arrived at Surya Samudra, an exclusive heritage retreat for the discerning visitor, tucked away on a quiet cliff at Kovalam beach. 

Surya Samudra is described as a ‘living expression of Kerala’s ancient and vibrant civilisation,’ and is located within lush green acres of landscaped tropical gardens overlooking the Arabian Sea and according to Lonely Planet, the best strip of beach in Kovalam.

As the gates closed behind me, I was greeted with a cooling towel then a sliced coconut with a straw propped inside and immediately felt cocooned and secluded from the bustling outside world.

Accommodation is modelled on the Tharavadu house (ancient Kerala homestead), which is evocative of Kerala’s history and built in harmony with nature. Each of the 30 cottages is discreetly located for the utmost privacy and a sense of ‘oneness’ with the surroundings – some on the cliff top, others nestled within palm groves. 








Traditional in design, and carefully restored from former homes, the cottages feature terracotta roofs, tiled floors, wooden pillars and carved doors and are every bit as comfortable as a five star hotel, having air con, wi-fi, wide screen TV and 24-hour room service. 

The bathroom was stocked with delicious natural toiletries with one interior cubicle shower and another in an alfresco enclave, for showering beneath the stars or in the sunshine. 

Dining was in two restaurants overlooking the sea, Oottupura and Kanal (more for evening grills and barbeques), while cocktails and ‘mocktails’ could be indulged in the sea-facing bar, Madira. Menus offered both local Indian and international cuisine, with plenty to whet the Western palate if Indian spices upset the digestion. 

I was staying on a bed and breakfast basis and indulged in a delicious feast of delicately sliced cucumber, tomatoes and cheese, sliced carrots followed by toast, eggs then fresh watermelon, pineapple and yoghurt with honey. I spent my days relaxing on a shady sun lounger beside the infinity pool or on the cliff beside the leafy palms and vibrant red hibiscus flowers. 

I visited during the busy season (end of January) but enjoyed complete peace and quiet – along with a feeling of undivided attention. If I stood for more than a few minutes in any one spot, a member of staff appeared from nowhere to check I had everything I needed, or that I wasn’t lost (it’s not a large place but every so often I accidently followed the wrong path!).

When I visited the beach (not exclusive to the resort, but very clean and free from hagglers) the attendant-cum-lifeguard accompanied me down the steps and settled me on a lounger with an umbrella then waited while I paddled in the crashing waves, cautiously calling me in, as the sea is notorious for strong currents so swimming is mostly not advisable.

Although holidaying alone, I was extremely well looked after (a reassuring aspect for female guests considering a trip to India alone) and I was among several female guests on a pursuit for yoga, Ayurveda and ‘time out,’ as well as couples on a relaxing holiday. 

‘Niraamaya’ means free from ailments, and Spa Niraamaya’s philosophy is to help guests achieve this state through traditional Ayurvedic treatments and yoga, as well as globally inspired therapies like reflexology and traditional Thai massage. 

The spa was set in a beautiful building on two levels with the Ayurveda centre, including therapy, restaurant and relaxation rooms on the ground level, and the wellbeing spa for herbal/steam baths, body wraps and facials on the lower level. The decor was traditional, with wood and stone pillars, timber roofing, candles and colourful yogic wall hangings. 

After being greeted with a ‘namaste’ from each of the calm, collected and extremely welcoming spa staff, I was offered a refreshing green tea and completed my medical questionnaire. 

The atmosphere in the spa was therapeutically tranquil; incense puffed and burned and spiritual music played softly in the background. The spa’s central lily pond was a soothing sight to ponder over while sitting in the open-air reception. 

After my tea, the in-house Ayurvedic doctor, and spa manager, Dr Arun Aravind took me on a tour, pointing out the Ayurvedic treatment rooms named after the body’s energy systems, the seven chakras, Mooladhara, Swadisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddhi, Ajna and Sahasara. 

He explained that although ‘Spa Niraamaya’ is Indian in nature, he preferred not to describe it as a typical Ayurvedic spa because it also draws on therapeutic traditions from around the world. Here, you are just as likely to be offered a Thai or Balinese inspired massage as you are ‘Shirodhara’ (traditional Ayurvedic treatment involving hot oil being poured onto the forehead).

The spa offered six treatment rooms, four of which were single rooms and two doubles (ideal for couples and newly-weds), one beauty parlour and two steam rooms. If preferred, you could also have a treatment at your cottage.

The choice of massages ranged from the Herbal Powder Massage to the Synchronized Marma Massage. The spa offered a comprehensive range of Ayurvedic treatments such as Abhyangasana, a 60-minute full body massage (INR2600/£30 plus taxes) and Shirodhara (INR3200/£37 plus taxes), carried out on carved wooden tables made from neem, a medicinal timber believed to help the body retain heat.

Trained therapists and doctors design programmes for their guests, which involve yoga, meditation, along with Ayurvedic and/or other therapies and a special diet. Meals are allocated according to a person’s ‘dosha’ – or individual nature according to the ancient Indian Ayurvedic principles. 

Although the spa’s herb garden is still in its formative years, jasmine, neem and pomegranate plants and many other herbs were beginning to flourish.

I was prescribed the 90-minute signature spa treatment, Spice Magic (INR, 3,800, approximately, £44 plus taxes), which blended Western and Indian methodologies and involved long loopy movements to channel toxins and other baddies from the body, with the smooth application of a hot herbal compress and oil. 

It was the perfect cure for my jetlag, and really helped me to ‘arrive’ on my Indian adventure. My therapist showed excellent attention to detail, and I felt completely nurtured throughout. However, I felt the experience would have been even better in a semi-outdoors treatment room in this superbly exotic environment.

At Surya Samudra, the team believe yoga sessions should be tailored to individual needs and as well as offering group sessions, recommend sunrise and sunset yoga (when the air is believed to be most conducive to spiritual development) on a one-to-one basis. This is designed to help guests develop their practise so they can incorporate it into their lives once they return home.

Local teachers are generally trained in the Sivananda style of hatha yoga, and teacher training courses are held at the Sivananda Ashram located at nearby Trivandrum. Typical yoga classes will include some pranayama (breathing exercises to calm the mind), meditation, sun salutations (a sequence involving 12 specific postures), and a series of traditional yoga poses known as asanas, to give the body a healthy workout. 

Sessions were held on a stunning podium on the cliff top between the two bays where, as you raised your arms to salute the sun, you were greeted by the sight and sound of crashing waves on the rocks, birds soaring in the sky, and a vibrant orange sunrise or sunset – it really couldn’t be a more perfect setting to learn or develop your yoga and/or meditation practice, not least, because it is the place where it originated. 

Should you need a break from your healthy programme, an in-house library provides DVDs and books, and the friendly staff at Surya Samudra can arrange a cooking session to learn to concoct authentic Indian dishes. Although you may never want to leave this stunning, exclusive haven (I certainly didn’t!), there is much to explore in southern Kerala. 

The Surya staff can arrange an Alleppy backwater trip, a scenic tour of the tranquil interconnected canals and riverways forming the Kerala Backwaters, or a trip to Kovalam’s Lighthouse or Main beach where vendors sell jewellery, leather wares, sarongs and scarves. 

Sarah flew with Emirates. Return flights from London Gatwick to Trivandrum (via Dubai) cost from £432 including taxes. Visit .Visit to apply for an Indian tourist visa. To visit the states of Kerala some vaccinations are required, for advice.Surya Samudra offers 19 Heritage Classic Cottages, 10 Heritage Premium Cottages, plus the exclusive Octagon and Banyan Tree bungalows.Rooms are on a room/breakfast basis based on double occupancy (single occupancy, 10% less), exclusive of Indian taxes. Daily rates until 15 April 2013 are as follows: Heritage Classic cottage 14,100INR (approximately £164); Heritage Premium: 20,000INR (approximately £232).
In the low season, April 16, to September 30, rates drop by 50%, to 7200INR for the Classic and 10,200INR for the Premium cottage.The resort also offers full board Ayurveda packages, from slimming and rejuvenation to bone/joint care or stress and strain, including 60, 90 or 120-minute daily treatments over a course of minimum five days, up to 28 days.As an example, single occupancy in a Heritage Classic over five days up to 15 April 2013, costs 112,680INR (approximately £1,307) including 60-minute Ayurveda therapies, herbal medicines, daily yoga, all food, transfers and taxes.To make an enquiry/reservation visit and to find more private heritage hotels/properties in India.

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