Planning a trip to Kerala and looking for a setting that will give you an ethereal experience of ‘God’s Own Country’? I happened to stay at this beautiful heritage property called Surya Samudra – Kovalam by Niraamaya Retreats with my family a couple of months ago and simply didn’t want to return. I had almost planned to apply for a job as a staff member only so that I could live in the tranquil surroundings for the rest of my life. 😉
Set in 20 acres of landscaped gardens, Surya Samudra is a peaceful retreat built at a stunning cliff-top location with dramatic views of the Arabian Sea apart from the two secluded and nearly-private beaches, yet not more than 12 km from the hustle and bustle of Kovalam. Everything from the reception to the polished wooden cottages reflect the 100-year old traditional Keralan homes and lifestyle.
Spaced well apart, surrounded by a number of coconut trees, the cottages are perfect for families looking for deep relaxation or even a couple looking to sharing some romantic moments with each other. In fact, a solo trip here is highly recommended too as you’re sure to come back with a lot more calm and renewed energy for your next opus.
WHAT I LOVED
Though I didn’t really intend to make you feel envious, I’m sure you’re aching to be here already. We put up in a lovely Heritage Premium Cottage that was spacious and characterised by ornate doors, terracotta roofs, and carved pillars. The private verandah with comfortable old-style wooden chairs precisely reminded me of what I had envisioned for the traveller in me. I enjoyed spending hours sitting there, reading a book or a travel magazine while being mesmerized by the changing shades of blue and green in the sea and watching the sunrise from behind the clouds with my morning cup of lemon tea.
The little attention to detail is what contributes to a great living experience here. Another striking feature of my room was the bathroom that was almost like a walled garden with open-to-sky rain showers; very, natural and blissful indeed. And the organic cotton bathrobes and top-of-the-range Forest Essentials toiletries were perfect add ons. Though, what made me absolutely fall in love with my room was the gauze-curtained four-poster bed with silk bed linen in a rich purple hue and it totally made me feel like a princess. After all, who doesn’t love to be pampered!
I came to the resort with a plan to do something interesting every day but once I was here, I simply didn’t want to step out of my ‘room with a view’. Yet, I convinced myself to pack in the most. There’s truly a lot do here. Wander along the quiet beach, float in the jade-coloured infinity pool, unwind with a massage or Ayurvedic treatment at the serene yet attractive-looking spa or go for a yoga or meditation class on the cliff-edge yoga platform (you can also book an individual session) where you can practice different postures with the soothing rhythm of crashing waves in the background.
If you are keen on exploring Kovalam, the resort organises some really awesome day trips for a decent charge. One of our most memorable experiences was a trip to the Poovar Estuary. After a short 20-minute drive south of Surya Samudra, we were transferred to a motor boat that sailed through the backwaters with pristine coconut groves on either side of the river leading upto the Golden Sand Beach where we could see the backwaters meeting with the Arabian Sea. It was lunch time already! Hence the boat staff accompanying us quickly set up a sleeping beds, comfortable pillows and umbrellas so that we could have a great time lunching and resting at the undisturbed beach, while protecting ourselves from the scorching heat.
The resort arranged a delicious picnic hamper – sandwiches, pasta salad, barbecued chicken, fresh choco-chip brownies, a basket full of fruits, juices, iced tea and two bottles of chilled wine – specially prepared and curated by the chef. We had a really great time at the amazing spot and returned back to the retreat through the same route.
Other must-do activities:
Visit the local fish market at 6 am with the resort chef. The open air fish market is situated at the harbour where all the boats come to unload and the chaos is worth a watch. Once you’re back to the hotel, the chef is happy to cook a special ‘fishy’ meal for you from the day’s fresh catch! In fact, you can actually be a part of the cooking session and learn how to prepare mouth-watering, Kerala-style fish. Yummy!
I have been to a couple of spa retreats but this one truly won my heart. The USP of the spa area (which is a silent-zone) is the delightful and the earthy gazebo built amid coconut plantations and mini water bodies for rejuvenating outdoor treatments. It’s hard to take your eyes off it! Moreover, the therapists are extremely well-trained and qualified in both Indian as well as international therapies. And the personal touch is the cherry on the cake.
From the moment I entered Surya Samudra, Kovalam, I only made friends. The receptionist who welcomed us with a broad smile was happy to get chatty about other things to see around Kovalam. The cute bartender enthusiastically revealed the recipe of the Jasmine mocktail I enjoyed at the bar and the friendly waiter at the restaurant, who by now knew the fruit lover in me, immediately brought me a bowl overloaded with delicious tropical fruits as soon as I got seated in the restaurant. Yes, I didn’t even need to order it! I’ve stayed in many hotels before but the staff here was genuinely caring and friendly, without really being bothered about whether they were tipped or not, and this was something that really impressed me.
WHAT I LIKED
Here, I am adding the word ‘experience’ for a reason. Whether it was our early morning tea and coffee at the beach, hearty breakfast at Café Samsara that overlooks the beautiful pool and sea or dinner at Essence, a specialty restaurant that’s perched on a cliff, it was all more than just eating good food. We had a couple of meals at Café Samsara that serves a mix of Keralan specialities, pan-Indian dishes and European flavours. What I realised was that it wasn’t the food but the entire experience of relishing a dish in a breezy, open-air space with Indian classical music playing in the background which was so satisfying. When the scenery that lies in front of you is so beguiling, you don’t really care about what lies on your plate.
Plus point: The food served here is made out of fresh ingredients; most of them are organic.
Minus point: There are limited vegetarian and non-vegetarian choices. So, if you’re staying here for longer; you end up repeating most of the dishes which is slightly unexciting. Also, Essence is only open in the evening for seafood dinner that you can watch being prepared, marinated and flamed.
> If you have a choice and slightly bigger budget, book the Octagon room; it has the best panoramic view of the Arabian Sea.
> The stay at Surya Samudra isn’t cheap and extras can add up to the bill; so check on the complete list of inclusions before you proceed with the booking. Check for their latest offers and off-season prices.
> While planning your to-do list, speak to the receptionist and probe for recommendations according to your taste. No one knows the local treasures better than the local people. Plus, by planning on the very first day of check-in ensures you don’t miss out on the hot spots.
> The resort is set on a steep hill and isn’t well-lit at night, so be careful while wandering out at night or call for an escort with a torch.
> The sea has strong currents and hence there is a flag to signify when it’s safe for swimming. Look for the flag before heading out for a swim at the beach.
HOW TO GET THERE:
At a distance of 23 km, Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram is the nearest airport. You can either take a taxi from the airport or ask the hotel to arrange a pick-up.
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
Peak season is from December to March; April to May are usually hot (though it was raining when we visited Surya Samudra, Kovalam in mid April last year). June, July and late October to mid November are the monsoon seasons, but it usually doesn’t rain heavily all day plus there are umbrellas in all cottages. November and December are slightly chilly yet pleasant.
Although it’s a paradise for romance, this resort is very child-friendly. Parents can relax as there are lifeguards manning both the beach and the pool. The resort staff is happy to assist you with special meals and other facilities for kids.
WILL I VISIT SURYA SAMUDRA – KOVALAM AGAIN?