Yoga on a Shoestring at the Banyan Tree, Goa
Magical weeks to relax, reconnect & soak up some sunshine
Best for: Barefoot eco-warriors and hippie trail city escapists
Not for: Squat loo refusniks or social media addicts – there’s no wifi or internet
Yoga on a Shoestring have a real knack for finding unique retreat locations and we think they’ve struck gold with the Banyan Tree, a gorgeous eco-retreat in north Goa a 20 minute walk from Mandrem Beach and Ashwem Beach. It radiates feel-good vibes aplenty, with its earthy natural surroundings and laidback welcoming energy. You’ll start the day with meditation in the airy, open-sided yoga shala in a lush palm-filled garden. Between classes you can walk to the beach, sip freshly-made mango lassies next to the lovely little pool or retreat to your eco-hut’s private balcony. Yoga classes come courtesy of hand-picked teachers – on our retreat, the UK’s Jess Horn, whose life-affirming Ishsta classes will leave you feeling healthier, wiser and happy to be alive.
The Banyan Tree’s uplifting authentic hospitality, which emanates from the two young founders Annu and Chinu. Their warm smiles and energy infuse every aspect of the retreat, from the clever earthy design, through to the delicious vegetarian feasts.
If you’re a queen who needs creature comforts such as air con, a sit down loo and a sumptuous mattress with high-thread count sheets, this won’t be your kind of place.
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There’s optional meditation and yoga twice a day, with one yoga-free afternoon and one yoga-free morning mid-week. Between classes you can hang out by the pretty pool, have treatments and just relax.
There’s an optional mediation class at 7.30am, which merges seamlessly into the yoga class proper at 8am, which usually lasts two hours. There is a second class in the late afternoon, starting at 5pm, or 4.30pm on one or two days, so that you can get to the beach in time for sunset. The morning class is more dynamic. The evening class is a more restorative yin style embracing being rather than doing or ‘softening and resting into stillness’ and wraps up with a relaxing yogic ‘sleep’ or yoga nidra.
Yoga teachers vary on each retreat and are chosen to teach classes that suit levels. On our retreat the teacher was UK-based Jess Horn, who teaches Ishta, a form of yoga that marries science, Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda. Her retreats explore the 8 limbs or yoga sutras from ancient yogic texts as well as offering asanas and meditation.
Therapists come from a local spa and offer a menu of treatments from restorative deep tissue massage to head massage and reflexology. The retreat’s two grass-covered therapy rooms are found towards the back of the retreat garden. Everyone that sampled a treatment was very happy with the experience. Prices are very reasonable too – around £12 for an hour massage on our visit.
With one yoga-free afternoon and one yoga-free morning mid-week, there’s time to visit Mapusa market in the morning or Anjuna’s night market in the evening, both about 30-min taxi ride away. These aren’t so much formal excursions, but the Banyan Tree will organise taxis.
If markets aren’t your idea of fun, visit the historic Fort Tiracol, a former fortified fortress belonging to the Portuguese, which is now a Heritage Hotel and restaurant. The fort is perched high on a cliff with stunning views of the sea from the restaurant, which offers decent Indian and Western dishes.
There are 15 eco-huts tucked away midst the palms, ensuring your privacy. 10 are large, five are small, and all have double beds. They are made completely from sustainable materials gathered in grounds, and have a wonderful natural feel. The roof is made from grass, while the walls are made from bamboo and clay, with windows of hexagonal patterned blocks filtering a pretty interplay of light.
The bed resides behind a mosquito net curtain and you can also relax on a built-in sofa scattered with colourful silk cushions. Or if you’d rather sit outside, each hut has its own balcony. You can hang your clothes on a bamboo rack in the dressing area which leads to the outdoor en-suite bathroom. Your room is cleaned and the bed made daily.
Showering outside is wonderful, but you might want to wait until the sun is up as the water isn’t heated (on our visit they were saving for solar panelling). There’s a squat eco loo which you ‘flush’ with a either a cup of water from a bowl or a cup of sawdust. And in case you’re wondering: no it doesn’t smell.
Bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper as the local dogs can be noisy. Come a couple of days early to adjust to the time difference. Set your email to out of office and embrace the digital detox – if you really must get online the retreat will let you use their hotspot.
When to Go
The retreat runs a few times a year in January, February and March. January and February are great months to visit. You can expect hot, dry, sunny weather with highs of 31 degrees centigrade in Jan and Feb and minimal rain (one day in the month on average). March is hotter with highs of 33 degrees centigrade, again with little or no rainfall.
The vegetarian food at the Banyan Tree is a real highlight of this retreat, eaten in an open-sided dining room at two communal tables with bamboo chairs and three low tables where you can sit cross-legged on cushions. The food is laid out on a central table.
For breakfast you’ll help yourself to tropical fruits, natural yogurt and muesli made from cornflakes and coconut, which is served with tea, chai or coffee. There always one hot dish for breakfast, such as deep fried potatoes served with a yoghurt dip.
Lunch isn’t included in the price of the retreat, but you can order from a selection of from vegetable soups, veggie burgers, omelettes, pakora or paratha.
In the evening you can feast on a selection of Indian dishes and an organic salad (washed in filtered water). The chef does a stellar job of turning out a delicious dishes night after night. Think coriander rice, tomatoes in a cashew nut sauce, okra masala, roti and fried cabbage or spinach pakora. Recipes come courtesy of Banyan Tree’s co-founder Annu and while they are Indian they are not overly-spicy.
It’s alcohol free, but there’s coffee at meal times, as well as herbal tea or chai. Filtered water is available all day for free, and smoothies and fresh juices at an extra cost.
The Banyan Tree is built from sustainable materials such as clay, cow dung, bamboo and grass. though you’ll find concrete on floors of the shower and bedrooms. They offer complimentary filtered water on tap, so you won’t see a plastic bottle on site.
Waste from the eco-loos is used for compost in the vegetable garden and traded with local farmers in return for cow dung which they use as a building material. They also grow their own rice, cashews which form the basis of many of the stews and some of their own vegetables. Instead of spraying toxins, staff deal with mosquitos by burning charcoal and incense.
Near Ashvem Football Ground, Mandrem, North Goa, Goa, 403512, India
Transfer time: 1.5 hours