Soul & Surf, Varkala, Kerala
Varghese, the resident ‘beefcake’ and surf instructor, has some sage advice for budding surfers: “Remember two things: look straight ahead at the beach, and empty your mind.” Pretty deep for the Indian equivalent of Johnny Bravo, who looks like he could snap a surfboard in half with his pinky. But, at Soul & Surf in Varkala, it’s all about body and mind.
The brainchild of Sofie and Ed Templeton, a couple of Brits who quit their day jobs to do something different, this little property is where you come for a holistic reboot. Early-morning surf lessons on Varkala’s remarkably pristine beaches give your body a rigorous workout, while the twice-day by yoga sessions help ease the mind and soul (although admittedly, they’re quite strenuous and combined with same-day surfing, require a fair amount of fortitude). But more on that later.
Created with the intent of supporting the local community and surf industry, Soul & Surf started out small, but quickly gained popularity. Now visitors come from all over the world to soak up the chill vibe, catch some waves and meet folks of the same ilk as they share a meal at the communal breakfast tables or struggle collectively to hold the Downward Dog position for five breaths.
Perched on a cliff that overlooks the gloriously secluded Golden Beach, the property includes the original 150-year-old Kerala-style home (with a paint job that makes it look like a Mediterranean holiday home), a newer building that houses most of the rooms and the rooftop yoga studio, an amazing garden café overlooking the cliff, multi-cultural staff (and guests), a pista-green jeep and a delightful light pink Ambassador that resembles a marshmallow. All the elements come together quite nicely and, once you’re inside, it’s almost as though you’ve landed in another country.
A typical day at Soul & Surf begins early in the morning with a surf lesson. Everyone grabs a board and climbs down the steps to the beach where, after a quick warm-up game and theory class, it’s time to take the plunge. One of the ISA (International Surfing Association) instructors from the property will show you how it’s done and then it’s just practise, practise, practise till you get it right. Falling flat on your face is a given, but, with enough practice, you’ll see yourself beginning to improve, and, when you do, you’ll be beaming from ear to sandy ear.
Soon after your lesson is over, your muscles will begin to ache (trust us on this) and you might be in need of a massage. The good news, is you can get yourself one and let the masseur work away your pain.
In the evening, head up to the terrace of the new building for a sun set yoga class. Depending on what day it is, you could take part in Pranayama, Yin, Slow Flow, Vinayasa Flow or meditation. Soothing music plays in the background as the instructor calmly tells you to contort your body in unthinkable ways. There are varying levels of intensity, and some of the more rigorous poses can really get your heart pumping and your brow sweating.
But, as the sun sets in the distance, lighting up the sky and the water in the distance, you really don’t mind the fact that you’re exercising on your vacation because everything seems right with the world.
Bangalore, Mangalore, Cochin, Trivandrum, Madurai and Coimbatore
A mix of action and relaxation
As the waves are perfect for beginners
Soul & Surf, Varkala, Kerala – Fact Sheet
Closest metro: Bangalore (682km)
Closest city: Thiruvananthapuram (42km)
Closest airport: Trivandrum International Airport (40 km) is the closest airport. Jet Airways, Air India, Vistara and IndiGo offer flights from Bangalore. The resort can arrange for a car to pick you up and drop you off at the airport.
Closest railhead: Varkala Sivajiri Railway Station (VAK; 3km). There are direct trains from Bangalore City Junction Railway Station (SBC) to VAK. Take the 16526 Kanyakumari Express, and, on your way back, take the 16525 Bangalore Express.
Getting around: Varkala is relatively small, and most places are walking distance from Soul & Surf. You can also hail an auto or ask the resort to call you one for a slightly higher place.
WHERE TO STAY:
Soul & Surf: There are 15 rooms divided into three categories, Quite Nice, which are non-AC, Nice and Really Nice. While the Kerala- style house has a few rooms that look out onto the garden, most are located in the larger block at the back of the property.
The rooms are simple, but clean and charming with a pleasant seaside-cottage vibe.
WHERE TO EAT:
Soul & Surf has a lovely little cliff-top garden café, with shaded tables and sheltered alcoves, which looks out over the Arabian Sea and is one of the best places in town from which to catch the sunset. The menu is limited but the options are all healthy and tasty, made from local produce and a hearty dose of coconut. Try the quesadilla, bursting with cheese and other goodies wrapped in a tortilla. Tuesdays and Thursdays are pizza and BBQ nights, respectively (breakfast from 8.30am, lunch: 1pm-4pm, dinner. 7pm-9pm Mon -Sat). For continental food and a change of scene, head to North Cliff (the more touristy part of town) for a variety of cuisines, including Tibetan, Italian and even some Indian.
ABBA Restaurant & Everest German Bakery has great views of the sea and does a decent seafood sizzler. For local South Indian delicacies, head to Varkala town – Hotel Dwaraka does an excellent beef roast and thalis.
WHAT TO PACK:
A one-piece swimsuit (bikinis are generally frowned upon on the public beaches), sunscreen, board shorts (if you don’t have any, Soul & Surf can lend you a pair), flip-flops, a hat, mosquito repellent, loose cotton clothing.
CLEAN LOO GUIDE:
The drive from Trivandrum airport to the property is pretty short, so you won’t need one.
Basic beach safety applies here. Varkala’s main beach is manned by lifeguards but the smaller beaches are not. Make sure not to swim out too far as the currents can get strong. Pay attention to your surf guide’s safety instructions. Solo women travellers should avoid venturing out alone late at night.
Soul & Surf provides basic first-aid for minor injuries. Sivagiri Sreenarayana Medical Mission Hospital (3km) is well-equipped to handle medical emergencies.
Children under the age of six are not allowed to take surf lessons here. If surfing isn’t on your agenda, the beach is perfectly safe for kids, provided they are supervised at all times.
A tiny section of the reception area at the property is dedicated to shopping. You can buy T-shirts, coffee beans, postcards and rash vests here.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Soul & Surf is closed from mid-May to the beginning of October. The sea currents are pretty strong in October and November and May and June.
Check-in at Soul & Surf is 3pm,and check out is at 11am, so if you’re planning on taking surf lessons on your last day here, plan accordingly as you might not have time to freshen up after your lesson and before you check out.