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SwaSwara review | ayurveda retreat India

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Authentic ayurveda & yoga retreats in Karnataka

The Quick Read: SwaSwara offers authentic ayurveda mixed with yoga, art and naturopathy in exquisite surroundings just south of Goa in Karnataka, Southern India. You are given what you need, rather than what you might want – every aspect of your stay is overseen by the ayurvedic medical team. Yet it’s not remotely institutionalised – the standards of service are distinctly 5-star, offered with pure heart and spirit, and the experience is set in a location that feels close to heaven. There are art classes too, in the purpose-built centre shaped like the symbol Om, supposedly the first sound of creation. SwaSwara calls itself – not a spa or an ashram – but a ‘sanctuary’ – a place where you can breathe deeply, listen and hear your real self. And that’s exactly what it is – this time, you can believe the hype. Find out all about Ayurveda.

Budgett: ££-££££

SwaSwara meditation overlooking Om beach

Meditation overlooking Om beach

More on the retreats: SwaSwara recommends a minimum stay of 7 nights but will accept bookings for 5 nights at a reduced rate. You can also come for 10, 14, 21 nights or more. The centre offers retreats with a particular focus, such as yoga, naturopathy or ayurveda, and general wellbeing holidays – read a word from the queen on her stay. Each is run by a committed team who offer their skills seriously, as therapeutic medicine. The packages range from therapeutic to leisure-focused, so be sure to discuss before you book your time here, for it’s frustrating if you can’t stay long enough to have the more profound treatments.

The 7-night Swa programme is a general wellness holiday and costs €1925 (£1608) for single occupancy. It is inclusive of accommodation, meals, teas and transfers. It also includes two private yoga lessons and a cleansing kriya session. You receive a detailed ayurvedic consultation and four full body abhyanga massages and one specialised ayurveda therapy session.

SwaSwara Massage

Ayurvedic massage at SwaSwara

There are also retreats with a more specific focus. For example, the 10-night Shanti programme concentrates on yoga and costs €3025 (£2527) single occupancy. The 14-night Swastha detox and cleanse programme combines naturopathy with ayurveda and costs €5030 (£4203) single occupancy. While the 14-night Prana programme concentrates on ayurveda and costs €5030 (£4203) single occupancy.

However long you are here for, ayurvedic treatments are given strictly according to your needs – you don’t really get to pick and choose. The type of massage (intensity, which oil is used and so on) will depend very much on the doctor’s diagnosis of your mind-body type and prescription. Four-handed treatments (two therapists working in tandem) are delicious but be prepared to be naked.

You can have in-depth panchakarmas, ayurveda’s ultimate detox which can support healing from severe stress and illness. For this stringent retreat, you quieten and purge your whole system, ingesting medicated ghee for the first few days, along with light rice water and, later, ayurvedic medicines. It also involves daily consultations with ayurvedic doctors and, after the initial purge during which you stay alone in your villa, you receive regular bodywork and bastis (herbal and oil enemas) alongside private yoga sessions. Staff wait on you with great care, as you stay within your chalet in reflective solitary peace.

Cooking class at SwaSara

Learn from the ayurvedic chefs at SwaSwara

More on the healthy activities: There is a full daily programme of activities and experiences free of cost to residents. Daily group yoga sessions are held (for two levels of experience) and there’s also a special focus group yoga session – for example, art yoga, yoga nidra, pranayama, laughter yoga or mandala meditation. There are two group meditation sessions held each day – one at sunrise and one in the evening. The evening groups uses a variety of techniques, including chanting and ‘mind sound resonance technique’ which involves the repetition of mantras.

SwaSara also offers art classes in the art studio, guided nature walks (subject to the weather during Monsoon season) and a 45 minute boat cruise to nearby beaches is also included (again, subject to the weather). You can also take interactive cooking sessions in the kitchen every morning.

SwaSwara Pool

A view of the meditation dome and pool

More on the inside & outside: SwaSwara owns 26 acres of land leading from the hilltop to Om beach, so named because it’s exactly the shape of that symbol, and is especially peaceful, clean and calm. A coconut grove lies behind it, and rising above that, the rest of SwaSwara spreads between food fields, lawns and trees. The grounds are verdant and immaculately maintained. There is a delicious large pool and, if you don’t fancy lounging by its waters or on the private part of the beach, you can always find a corner in the lush flower gardens.

From the domed meditation temple to the thatched meditation hall and the beach-side yoga platform, everything has been thought out with care and consideration and is perfectly suited to its task.

The architecture is unusual – Hansel and Gretel meets giant tropical meeting house. Designed by a local architect out of rugged hunks of reddish stone, with giant cone roves, timber, terracotta and thatch, Swasara has a peculiar aesthetic. It doesn’t look as good in photos as it feels to be there.

SwaSwara Bedroom

Chalets are spacious, clean & private

More on the bedrooms: The 24 identical chalets are chunky stonework, natural wood, and plaster coloured in earth-tones, offset with white interiors and simple natural fabrics. They are designed to provide your own private retreat so each separate, spacious and spotless structure encloses a private courtyard, lush with herb-tea bushes.

Each has an impeccable double bedroom, dressing room and living room opening onto the trees. The bathrooms are partly open to the elements, which is novel and rather delicious. Upstairs each chalet has its own yoga platform (also nice for general musing and lounging) with charming overhanging thatch.

Food & drink: Ayurvedic chefs man the kitchen, which is supplied by acres and acres of organic gardens tended by women in colourful saris. You’ll have today’s catch of fish, spiced nuts, exquisite vegetable dishes, puddings of fruit or grains that are caramelized and spiced unimaginably well. There are herby waters, cooling fruit-vegetable juices, and three courses beautifully presented at every meal. Hand baked breads are effortlessly replaced with equally yummy gluten free versions (they love to cater to special dietary needs). Everything is included in the price, aside from wine, juices or snacks ordered outside of regular meal times – not that you’d ever need them.

SwaSwara Dance

SwaSwara guests come from all walks of life

Fellow guests: The clientele is very international. We met psychotherapists and authors, grandparents and young couples, and a few people rehabilitating from serious illnesses. Most are older professionals, enjoying a quiet reflective time and most come here as part of long breaks. Largely, people keep their distance unless you initiate conversation, and of course those on full retreat stay invisible in their rooms. Because the staff are extremely gentle yet open hearted, it’s actually a very comfortable place not to be sociable. It’s not for party people hoping to chinwag into the night.

crownWhat’s queenly: SwaSwara offers an exceptional space, with quiet and comfort, whether you’re secluded in your private courtyard home or floating through the grounds to the sea, yoga-tree-house or the pool. It has genuinely caring staff who are healthy, gentle and smiling. And serves the freshest finest healthy, organic gourmet food, in style.

What’s lowly: The aesthetic of the architecture is strange to western eyes, so while it’s five star for comfort and feels wonderful it doesn’t look glamourous in the photos you take home. The yoga is gritty and authentic, but sometimes more challenging and uncompromising than the western classes we’re used to.

Getting there: Goa (Dabolim) airport is 170km away and transfers between this airport are included, taking about three and a half hours each way. Mangalore airport is 240 km away. The nearest railway station is Gokarna Road.

Reviewed by Rosie Watford

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SwaSwara Exterior

SwaSwara, a luxury ayurveda and wellbeing retreat, can be found south of Goa in Gokana, Karnataka