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 colonial Portuguese past.
‘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 backpackers 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? Pretty 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 Goa Resort and Spa and The Leela Goa, the first two hotels I stay in during my break.
Away from the hill station attractions of the north, popular with honeymooners and adrenaline-junkies, hotels like these are helping to reposition Goa as a luxury beach destination. Both properties have enviable access to quiet and unspoilt stretches.
Of course, there are things to do; you can jet-ski, take Goan cookery lessons or play tennis. But when the coastline is this beautiful and peaceful, it feels churlish to practise serves. 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, after scorching our feet on the sand to do 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 cold drink 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. A head massage with 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 hotel makes a convincing case for doing so.
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 tranquillity, the Nilaya Hermitage boutique hotel in the tiny village of Arpora in north Goa takes some beating. Unlike our previous hotels, it isn’t on the coast. Instead, it’s tucked away in the hilltops overlooking the bustling beaches of Baga.
Although only a few kilometres away from the lively weekend market, the hilltop location and winding roads mean that getting out of Nilaya requires transport and planning.
However, while I love exploring new areas, I can’t resist sitting by the pool with a fresh vat of coconut water.
I shake off the inertia anyway and 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 masseuse 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. Serene enough to head to the sunlounger again.