Kerala, the tropical backwater-laced state on southern India’s Malabar Coast, is Ayurveda’s rightful birthplace. These are the top five retreats there.
More than just another wellness fad, Ayurveda – which means ‘life knowledge’ in Sanskrit – taps into 5,000 years of age-old science. Its wisdom is rooted in a lifestyle that champions a holistic, preventative approach to healing, with a focus on the doshas, or constitutional types – vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth).
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You can try one-off spa treatments all over the globe, but for the full-on experience, nothing beats a health-boosting trip to Kerala to fine-tune body, mind and soul. Read on for our pick of five of the best Ayurveda retreats in Kerala.
In a wonderfully remote location on the banks of a river fringed by tall palms and surrounded by lush gardens, Mekosha is just an hour north of the Keralan capital, Trivandrum, but feels a world away in spirit. With just 11 luxurious, contemporary-style, pool-facing suites, the vibe here is intimate and low-key. Few guests naturally means lots of individual attention (and attention to detail). Ayurveda regimes here are bespoke and based on a diagnosis with a highly experienced doctor. Diet is an integral part of Ayurveda, and here the food is as delicious as it is healthy and easy to digest, with tri-doshic meals prepared with organic garden-grown herbs, vegetables and fruits, and the freshest local produce. Besides treatments (some of which can be carried out on the therapy bed in your room), there are small-group yoga and meditation classes.Top treatmentsExpect sweet-voiced mantra chanting while unwinding with treatments like podikizhi, where medicated herb poultices are applied to alleviate aches and inflammation, abyangam massage with warm medicated oil to improve circulation and sleep, and pizhichil – a blend of warm oil and gentle massage.You’ll never forget…Watching kingfishers flit past as you quietly contemplate the river from a terrace framed by bamboo. Or listening to the hypnotic sound of evening puja (prayer) drift from nearby Hindu temples as the sun goes down.
Dr Sreejit and his skilled team radiate positive energy at this family-run retreat close to Kottayam and Kerala’s mazy backwaters. Here you can benefit from Ayurvedic wisdom that has been handed down over five generations, and the backdrop of swaying palms and rice paddies is nothing short of dreamy. Accommodation is in traditional Keralan-style cottages, with curving tiled roofs and pretty views of gardens swathed in tropical flowers and fig trees. The resort has its very own take on Ayurveda, with consultation being the cornerstone of diagnosis and treatments being highly specific and results-driven. Individual programmes are assembled to address modern-world conditions from diabetes to insomnia and stress, incorporating medicine, therapy and yoga. Guests are closely monitored before and after a stay through Skype discussions.Top treatmentsAthreya prides itself on panchakarma (a five-step process of cleansing and rejuvenation to eliminate toxins).You’ll never forget…The immune-strengthening, anti-ageing effect of Kutee Praveshika Rasayana, where treatments take place in a dark room cut off from the outside world to allow body and mind to relax totally.
Nature is the best medicine is the ethos of this ever-so-peaceful retreat in Palakkad, spread across 50 acres (20ha) of lush tropical gardens and jungle. The healing village sits at the foot of the Nilgiri and Anamalai ranges in the Western Ghats, a mere stone’s throw from the mountain pass between the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The sound of flowing water sets the mood for personalised Ayurvedic programmes based on a diagnosis with highly trained experts. Besides fabulous oil-based herbal massages and treatments, the village offers holistic healing in the form of yoga, meditation, palmistry, nutritional therapy and traditional Indian puja (prayer). The retreat’s organic farm forms the basis of tasty Ayurvedic meals based on six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent).Top treatmentsKairali offers the whole shebang, with packages designed to target everything from weight loss to chronic back pain and stress. Five-stage panchakarma is the ultimate five-step detox.You’ll never forget…Switch off your phone (go on!) and tune into birdsong instead as you wander around the gardens or relax at one of the hexagonal, red-tiled villas, which are nestled among the palms and overlook a creek.
In a thrillingly tucked-away location in a forest on the banks of the Kabini River and with its own organic farm, Ayurveda Yoga Villa is a retreat in the truest sense. The setting is phenomenal, close to the vast wilderness of Bandipur National Park, where tigers, leopards and elephants roam freely. Stays can easily be combined with hiking and wildlife spotting in the jungly surrounds. While Ayurveda is the core focus here, there’s also a big emphasis on Ashtanga yoga and vedic rituals (such as ghee offerings in a sacrificial fire with mantra chanting). Programmes are designed to be karma cleansing and spiritually uplifting as well as physically healing. And there is a huge and impressive range of classes to choose from, from asanas (postures) to pranayama (breath work), kalari (an ancient form of martial art) to astrology.Top treatments:Treatments run the full Ayurvedic spectrum, from pizhichil, where two to four therapists rhythmically apply warm herbal oil to the body, to detoxifying njavarakizhi – a sweating therapy using herbal poultices – and kalari massage, once used to mentally and physically strengthen warriors.
You’ll never forget…
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