Flying Solo At A Yoga Retreat…

Until last month I’d never been on a Yoga Retreat before. I’d worked at one – Soul & Surf, Kerala in southern India – but I hadn’t been a guest fully immersing myself in the zen.

Nor had I ever been to Ibiza. – So when my first & favourite Yoga Teacher, Steffy White, announced her 2017 summer retreat, I jumped on in.

I say ‘jumped on in’, but was probably a little more hesitant that that.

Not because I was unsure about Steffy’s yoga (I go to 2 or 3 classes with her most weeks so I know how much I love the Yang and Yin she offers). And I need zero persuasion to be get to the beach. The hesitation was the idea of going on holiday on my own…

Steffy was totally encouraging when I asked her about going at it alone and sharing a room with strangers-who-inevitably-turned-friends; reassuring that lots of people fly solo on a retreat – and that I’d be spending a week with like-minded souls, all there for a similar reason.

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So with that I booked my first ever solo holiday.

It was a totally liberating moment, knowing that I’d worked hard enough over the year to be able to treat myself to a trip that was all my own. A chance to spend hours practicing what I love doing most, delving deeper into my practice, relaxing and re-energising – and all with a teacher that I admire and really resonate with…

And of course knowing that I’d be heading off to Ibiza was pretty amazing as well!

Down to the details…

The Retreat was through Steffy’s company White Light Yoga

The theme, Journeying Through The Chakras...

Sharing Steff’s fascination with the subtle energy system of the body and the way in which we can use yoga (yin and yang) breathing and meditation to unblock and rebalance ourselves – the theme of her Ibiza retreat more than resonated with what I am (and my teaching) is about.

I recently furthered my teacher training with a 20-hour course in Mandala Flow & The Elements with The Yoga People. (I will be going on to take the full 100-hour Mandala & Shamanism Course in Goa next March). But thanks to my 20-hour introduction to Jamie and Dulce’s Mandala training, I have some understanding, and come to feel the benefit, of creating yoga and meditation practices and classes centered around the connection between each Element and its corresponding Chakra.

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My key learning from the training, and what I most looked forward to (and subsequently, absolutely loved about Steffy’s retreat) was delving into Chakra and Elemental focused yoga practice and understanding how this offers up an intention to bring healing to our first four energy centres (the lower four Chakras / the lower parts of the physical body), of which each is connected to an element (Earth, Water, Fire, Air).

I knew we would be working deeply (both physically and spiritually), to connect the breath with a still mind and the subtle energies of the body, via creatively sequenced, inspiring dynamic and soothing practices. – With a teacher I couldn’t trust and love to learn from more.

So, what was included?…

Where we stayed

We were so lucky with our villa. Steffy found the most perfect home at the stunning Casa Lakshmi Luz. Casa Lakshmi Luz is a true oasis, a heavenly space that holds the group energy, amidst the peace and tranquility of the beautiful Ibizan countryside.

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The interior is bright, spacious, welcoming and tranquil. A home from home where you can fully relax, unwind and breathe into your retreat.

Step outside onto the pool terraces and chill-out gardens and outdoor yoga deck, with Moroccan influences, there are many spaces to rest your head, siesta, relax and dream – choose from sun or shade, comfy sun lounger or colourful hammock.

Casa Lakshmi Luz is located ten minutes from the golden sands and turquoise waters of Cala Nova and only a 15 minute drive from (now) one of my most favourite beaches in the world, Benirras.

The yoga

We woke up around 7am each morning an honoured a silent hour (Vipasana) – it’s amazing. Spending the first hour of your day with yourself, in silence. Perhaps meditating, perhaps writing your journal by the pool; perhaps making yourself a giant Quinoa Milk Latte and sitting in the hazy early morning sun smiling – rather than sleepily and mindlessly chatting – to your fellow retreaters.

It’s beautiful. Peaceful smiles and morning nods of the head to acknowledge each other, while you’re with yourself and a slow morning mind as you pick up your mat, bolsters and blocks to make your way over to the stunning Shala for 2 hours of insanely amazing dynamic flow.

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I’ve tried at home to keep the Vipasana up with Jamie – just 10-15 minutes of silent acknowledgement in the mornings to meditate, set intentions for the day – and enjoy coffee in bed in peace – sometimes we manage…

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Every morning with the exception of a rest-day mid week, we practiced a two-hour dynamic, creative Vinyasa and Mandala Flow; focused on a particular chakra (moving from root to crown) connected to its corresponding element.

The classes were amazing, inspiring and pushed you (in a kind way) to try the things the mind will often tell you you can’t do – but when in the breath and an open space – the body might just take you.

We played with inversions, closed with Yin and enjoyed a long, sweaty savasana before an amazing breakfast buffet feast of plant based goodness was served.

In the evening we luxuriated into long-hold Yin practices, working with the same chakra. It was intense, soothing and hazy – quieting the mind and surrounding to a deep restorative pose for minutes at a time is the perfect balance to the morning’s yang – leaving you feeling pretty stoned.

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Steffy’s practices are creative, soulful, well prepared, fun, functional and spiritual.

The food

The food was off the chain! Staying with us was Sarah of Bondi Kitchen – who when she isn’t feeding grateful retreaters her homemade Lifechanging Loaf (a vegan, gluten free loaf using seeds), clean, raw peanut butter cups, baked granola, falafel and watermelon gazpacho; is the on-set chef for the likes of Wonder Woman – giving her that paleo power, or cooking at home for Will Smith.

We were utterly spoiled with nourishing, vegan, seasonal, plant-based, locally sourced, heavenly brunches, lunches, snacks and dinners.

The Bondi Kitchen is launching in Wholefoods soon with resealable protein balls – def worth checking out!

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Typical Schedule

  • 7.30am: Teas, coffees and juices
  • 8-10am: Dynamic Elemental flow
  • 10am: Breakfast
  • Free time: beach/nap/sunbathe/pool/journal/explore/book in for massages and therapies/ do whatever your heart desires!
  • On some of the afternoons there were optional inversion workshops, a workshop on creating your own self-practice at home, Reiki massages and a Gong bath.
  • 6-7.30pm Yin yoga
  • 7.30pm: Dinner

During the days we either chilled by the pool, visited the old town or headed to beaches to sunbath (we hired a couple of cars between us to get around). On the last night we watched the sun set with cocktails at Experimental Beach Club.

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I honestly had the best time. In the middle of the week I took myself off to Benirras beach and spent a solid 10 hours moving from sand to sea. (I had aggravated an old injury in my back so wasn’t allowed to yoga for a day).

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I think it was the first day of the entire year that I didn’t have something to do or somewhere to be and while floating around in the sea a whole lot of everything was dropped. It was my favourite day of the year. Utter bliss.

The week was amazing. I’d recommend booking onto one of Steffy’s retreats, either with friends, your lover, yourself – dropping any expectation and being open to everything you delve into on the way.

2018 Retreats will be listed here soon

 

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I’m It won’t take long for the murky waters of Sihanoukville’s backpacker beaches to fade into the horizon as Palm Beach’s private long tail boat skims the tops of tiny ocean peaks towards Cambodia’s beautiful, and largest, island of Koh Rong; an azure promise land of pure shores and pristine white beaches.

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Often described as one of Southeast Asia’s most divine stretches of coastline, backpackers heading to Koh Rong will tend to stay on the fairly generic Saloem Beach ; where shack-style bars and beds for the night line up along a sandy stretch occupied by flame throwers, hooller-hoopers & paradise seekers.

Those seeking a more peaceful paradise should opt to stay on Palm Beach, a private beach dipping softly into crystal-clear water, so clean you can count the blankets of tiny tropical fish meander pass your ankles as you wade into the sea; set against a backdrop of dense forest, under the cover of all encompassing heat and the occasional relief of its gentle off shore breeze.

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Here, dotted along the beach and hidden back into the jungle are 38 thatched bungalows each with private balconies. In a range of different sizes and offering varying levels of luxury, Palm Beach accommodates for budgeting backpackers, families, friends and honeymooners taking that step a little further off the beaten path.

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The living is easy at Palm Beach:
Sun-lounger or Swing? Snorkel or Swim? Mai Tai or Margarita? Are among the decisions you’ll be faced with during your time (which you’ll no doubt request to extend) here. All of which can be languidly fit into your lazy days thanks to the help of Rick and his friendly, dedicated team.

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On arrival, we eagerly stepped off the resort’s private ferry and on to Palm Beach’s jetty, tasting the salty sea air on our lips with our hedonistic-home-for-the-week in sight.

Your bags will be spirited away to their rightful home as guests are guided to Palm Beach’s Bar & Restaurant and handed their signature Welcome Drink (espresso shot, condensed milk, vanilla & ‘A LOT’ of whiskey).

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Extending our welcome further was the psychedelic sounds of The Beatles, their discography to be that afternoon and evening’s soundtrack, complementing the call of the quiet call of the jungle and the gentle movement of the tide.

That afternoon, the lyrics to the likes of I’ve Just Seen a Face and Drive My Car played out to many a round of Welcome Drink ($3.50) setting the bar for the calibre of playlists at Palm Beach – a definite relief for anyone who has spent their fair share of time in Asia with a zero tolerance policy for psytrance or Justin Beiber!

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After a brief introduction to Palm Beach and all it has to offer, how you choose to spend your time here is up to you:

Creative types while away days on their balconies or rocking under palm trees to sketch, paint or write.
Sun worshippers bask in the unbroken glare of the 30 degree heat, glistening in the island’s home made coconut oil ($3.50)

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The more adventurous (or those inclined for life in the shade) will trek into the private jungle to seek out vine-covered hideaways, meeting locals on route to Prek Svay fishing village on their path.

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Visits to Prek Svay, to join the locals on their fishing trips, can be arranged along with spectacular sunset snorkelling and fishing trips on offer every afternoon for $15 per person (weather permitting, but this doesn’t tend to present any problems in Koh Rong) and should you need anything else, all you need to do is ask.

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What you won’t find yourself doing here is checking emails, insta-bragging or idly scrolling through Facebook (missing the beauty that surrounds you) thanks to Palm Beach’s decision not to offer wifi* throughout the island, suggesting (via a blackboard over the bar) that guests talk to each other instead.

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*There is a small hotspot behind the bar for those needing to check-in with anything or anyone online.

Thanks to the digital detox, instead you’ll pass your evenings in Palm Beach’s bar and restaurant, gravitating towards new friends for fresh fish barbecues, cold beers and back-to-back rounds of Jenga, Polker, Uno…and conversation!

Breakfast and lunch are also served here, with predominantly western options on the menu and all very reasonably priced.

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If the lure of that day’s beating sun and the cocktails on tap haven’t sent you to sleep by 9pm; night dwellers can sneak off for a midnight swim in shores sparkling with plankton under unbroken starlit skies. Making for very special secret memories to last a lifetime.

Surrounded by turquoise seas and living in total freedom, you won’t want your spell on the magical Palm Beach to end – but as the saying goes, all good things must…

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Check-out and the reality of totalling your bar tab is an early 8:30am start with Palm Beach’s ferry leaving the island at 9:30am – in plenty of time to return with that day’s lucky arrivals for their fair share of paradise.

Koh Rong being the same size as Hong Kong, and Palm Beach being the opposite end of the island to Paradise beach means guests must book a return journey to Palm Beach’s on its private ferry; which can be done from their office on Serendipity Beach ($25 return / person).

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As there’s always one who thinks they can outsmart this slightly higher ferry fee (usually $10) by jumping on a cheaper boat and making their own way to Palm Beach, be warned now:
This attempt will leave you on the wrong side of Koh Rong, seven hours away from the resort with the only options of reaching Palm Beach being a $50 slow taxi boat, or one long trek (backpack in tow) through the jungle.

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Like going the extra mile(s) to reach Palm Beach, the private boat is also worth the extras; marking the start of your journey to the edge of the world, sharing the ferry with new friends and the week ahead’s Jenga challengees.

Prices at Palm Beach range from £18 to £45 / night and bookings can be made online here.

Those already in Sihanoukville can also pop into the Palm Beach office, next door to Mick & Craig’s, and chance availability for that night or the next.

Thank you so much to Roy, Rick and the whole team at Palm Beach for having us. Our (twice) extended stay was very special.

Bangkok has its media-fed familiarity: Backpackers staggering down the Khoa San Road, seedy ‘Patpong’ floor shows and sizzling street vendors’ serving everything from fresh papaya to fried scorpion.

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But today’s Bangkok smacks of sophistication, boasting some of the world’s best blues bars, hidden bohemian corners and a beguiling boat community.

From the banks of the river Bangkok’s visitors can watch the world go by as countless brightly coloured river taxis and floating markets tear across town; or opt to use this frantic, fast paced service to take you from one end of the city to another – still for as little as 3pence per person!

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Despite its sophistication, the mix of no-money and new-money is rife, as luxury hotels and sparkling Starbucks’ share area codes with shanti slums; however from high society to grass roots, how you choose to explore Bangkok is entirely up to you…

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Creative culture vultures and coffee connoisseurs may wish to start their day with a coffee (Indian Chai and traditional Sri Lankan Tea also available) at the infamous Erawan Tea Room, overlooking the Erawan Shrine and a favourite haunt of Jackie Kennedy.

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Caffein fuelled and ready to explore, travellers can take a spacious tuktuk (or a rip roaring river boat) to visit Wat Arun, dubbed ‘Temple of the Dawn’ because of the way sunlight dances off its porcelain surface.

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For a taste of contemporary art and design, visit the publicly funded BACC. Reminiscent to The Guggenheim, here art lovers can peruse locally produced handicrafts alongside internationally acclaimed artwork.

For us it was about chasing old Bangkok Bohemia, and the best of the Blues Bars, so our adventure started on Rambuttri Street – just a stones throw from the Khoa San Road.

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Despite its proximity to backpacker hell, Soi Ram Buttri’s ratio of GoGo Bars and Sexpats to vintage boutiques and tree-lined coffee shops is lower than you’d imagine, with THE perfect breakfast, pit-stop or dinner spot in the form of Madame Munsur.

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A laid-back, low-slung labour of love, created by the gorgeous and ambitious, Chaing Mai native, Nong (known as ‘Patch’ to her friends); Madame Munsur, with its bamboo swings, brightly cushioned day beds and intertwined floral and fairy light interior, is a homely all-day dining spot, with a delicious menu taking special care and inspiration from Patch’s proud northern heritage.

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While we all know and love Pad Thai or a good Green Curry; sway away from these dishes and into the history behind Thailand’s northern cuisine; well worth exploring – and all of which can be done without the 12 hour trek to Chaing Mai – and at Madame Munsur’s in fact.

Heavily influenced by the best of Burmese cuisine, Northern Thai food incorporates spices and herbs traditionally selected by ‘Sala Mongs’ (Guru Healers) and are used as much in their cooking as they are in their medicines.

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If visiting Bangkok and in need of authentic flavours beyond the call of the high-street hawkers, visit Madam Munsur and tuck in to a hearty Kaeng Hang Le, a fragrant stewed pork curry with tamarind juice, ginger, peanuts, garlic and a unique blend of healing Hang Le Powder. Or dine true northern Thai family style and share the Larb Moo, tapas style dishes using local organic vegetables and spicy Thai salami.

Steeped in tradition it may be, with black and white photography of the King and Queen of Thailand prominently placed on the wall; these photos sit alongside psychedelic modern art, just like the food sits alongside sharp Martinis and expertly blended Mojitos.

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And if you don’t slip into Thailand’s bohemian hippy roots as you swing in your chair and sip on your Singha; just ‘ask for Patch’ and get swept up in her tales of all things 70s…

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Of course the heart of Bangkok’s Bohemia lies within leafy Soi Ari, where you’ll find WTF Gallery & Cafe, an independent shophouse where “in the know creatives” gather for poetry readings, pop-up menus and exhibitions from local artists.

If like me, you were born with the blues, ain’t nothin but the best of the blues than at Bangkok’s speak easy, Bamboo Bar; an elegant and authentic jazz and blues hotspot, where daily, live musicians play under chandeliers as award winning cocktails are served.

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Housed in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, to mark its 140th anniversary, this week The Bamboo Bar’s award winning Mixologist, Khun Ball, has launched an exclusive series of signature cocktails inspired by the invigorating and refreshing essences of Thai flowers, fruits, herbs and spices.

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Hardened travellers rest assured. Although Bangkok’s sophistication levels are on the up, with artists, musicians and creative architecture gentrifying areas of the city; meandering through local markets or navigating riverside alleys, perhaps not even batting an eyelid at the buckets of live snakes, eels and scorpions on every corner, is all still possible.

 

 

“Thou art of the Jungle and not of the Jungle,” wrote Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book; as though setting the scene for north Kerala’s densely green Wayanard Region, where those in the know will find Greenex Farms, a unique eco-retreat tucked among almost impenetrable jungles, set against the backdrop of the state’s second highest mountain, Chembra Peak

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A far cry from the well-trodden backpacker path, Jamie and I took the decision to take on the 3 hour death-defying (local) bus ride through winding mountainous roads to the tiny town of Chundale; followed by endless bouncing through vast tea and coffee plantations in a 4×4 to the secluded Greenex Farms, where so much more than just the bear necessities of life were waiting for us.

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On the tip of the Nilgiri hills, south India, towering 2,600ft above sea level and smiling down over ‘Gods own country,’ is where you’ll find Greenex Farms. At one with its natural habitat and under a sky-high canopy of palm trees; this is a true nature-lovers’s retreat where you won’t come closer to playing Swiss Family Robinson, while genuinely rejuvenating your soul.

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Sharing your surroundings with every exotic bird imaginable, cheeky monkeys, friendly frogs, traditonal tea-pickers, brightly coloured coffee beans, peppercorn trees – and the occasional huntsman spider – at Greenex Farms you can expect 360 degree jaw dropping jungle views played out to the cacophony of natures private coversation; be it from a stay in the tree-house for the brave, the sunflower cottage for the romancers, or the plush orchid house for those splashing out (as Jamie, Ben, Lauren and I did!)

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While the Wayanard Region serves as the jumping off point to conquer Chembra Peak mountain (check ✅) the Meenmutty waterfalls and Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary; Greenex Farms itself has more than enough to keep you occupied with its three nature trails (Tortoise, Monkey and Rabbit), bird watching spots, bamboo rafts, badminton court and natural spring pool.

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imageLike a modern day Tarzan and Jane (one of us had binoculars, magnifying glass and “expedition attire” packed), a leisurely day was spend wandering the exotic fauna of our emerald surroundings.

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Languidly we moved from successful completion of the Monkey Trail to working up a sweat on the badminton court, swinging in hammocks, dipping in the spring water pool (sharing our swimming space with only the frogs), bamboo rafting and finally curling up in our queensize bed as one of Kerala’s tropical monsoon unleashed itself on us as the sun started setting. – A perfect way to spend a day.

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For those looking to stay a few nights here exploring everything that the Wayanard region has to offer, the incredibly helpful and attentive team at Greenex Farms will do all they can to help plan your day and arrange your transport – always a ferocious 4X4 to bound through PG-tip topped hills and take on the rugged routes of south India’s mountains.

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Also arranged around your schedule are delicious, organic – and of course homegrown – meals. Breakfast can be arranged from 6:30am for early birds with Indiana-action-packed days, and as late as 10:30am for those sleeping late in their fluffy queen size beds and spending the day on site.

Dinner can be arranged to be served the moment you return to Greenex, after a hard day’s trek. A soul-warming Vegetable Birinani and a Potato-Stuffed Paratha quicker than you can say “The Jungle Book;” yes please!

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Breakfast and lunch are served in the “Arivia” restaurant, while dinner is served either in Arivia, the jungle fire-pit (monsoon dependant) or in your room with a small service charge of £1 /100IRS.

The menu offers two options for all three meals: buffet (£4 for breakfast and £7 for both lunch and dinner) and a-la-carte.

As a couple on an Indian backpacker budget, the thought of spending £42 a day on food was a little too hard to stomach. However, in reality (and to everyone reading this in Europe), this is a fair price for generous quantities of delicious, vegetarian and ethically sourced meals – each accompanied by warm Ayeuverdic mineral water.

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Swerving the buffet in favour of a la carte gives guests the option of paying standard rate prices for very good food; spicy Masala Omlettes come in at £1.20, as does a stack of Coconut Sugar Pancakes, and dinner will work out at about £6 for a couple.

Hoping not to deter any backpackers looking for a walk on the wild side, Greenex Farms offers an eco tent and dorm room accommodation at £16 a night, scaling itself up to tree houses and cottages, with the most lavish option being its four Orchid apartments at around £50 a night.

A gem of a tip for anyone travelling India is to book accommodation via ClearTrip on a Thursday as on this day of the week, discounts of up to 70% are offered! – Thanks to Lauren and Ben for that bit of advice.

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The only downside a backpacker might find with a stay at Greenex farms is that the hotel doesn’t provide Internet, and the nearest town with small wifi cafe is a 40 minute walk or £2.50, pre-arranged 4×4 journey away; meaning that arranging the next leg of your journey can’t be pre-booked with ease.

It’s a very minor downside though, and I know we were happier to live a slice of life in the jungle without Facebook at our fingertips – making going blind to our next destination that little bit more adventurous. – and I’ll always have Indiana Lance by my side every step of the way…

Thank you again to Greenex Farms for a truly wonderful stay. A magical and remote home-away-from-home. We would recommend a stay here to everyone.

 

 

Mumbai is a city of dreams; the home of Bollywood bling and bumper-to-bumper traffic. At its most southern tip overlooking the Arabian Sea, tucked behind the colossal structure and one of India’s most unique landmark’s, The Gateway to India, lies Mumbai’s unofficial tourist district, Colaba.

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It is here you’ll stumble upon Colaba’s hippest hotel, Boutique Abode, a tranquil haven of beautiful design and luxurious accommodation, taking inspiration from the city and celebrating its magic with chic, modern interpretations of historical features, paying subtle homage its heritage and bohemian past.

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Here, 20 airy, comfortable rooms with sumptuous beds, high bright ceilings and original artwork become your stylish home-from-home as you explore Mumbai’s mesmerizing labyrinth of slum dog millionaires, kicking off in colourful Colaba.

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Aptly located a stones throw from The Gateway to India, built in 1924 to welcome the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay, expect to be warmly greeted by Abode’s friendly staff in the stylish and homely lobby,  library and breakfast area, decked in a delightful mix of antique and up cycled furniture, some of which is available to buy.

It’s in here, between 8.00am and midday that a breakfast of fresh fruit, serve-your-own rice dishes, do-it-yourself toast with local honeys, jams (and Nutella), and eggs made to order, are served with fresh watermelon juice, masala chai and fresh coffee. Also available is a 24-hour light menu serving salads and light meals inspired by Mumbai’s street food with the option of enjoying in your room.

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With fluffy cloud-like beds, tranquil shower rooms or stylish stand-alone bathtubs, a peaceful treatment room and the option to have dumbbells, yoga mats and exercise balls delivered to your room; you could be forgive for never leaving Boutique Abode, treating the place like a heavenly homestay and soaking up the best of Bombay via its carefully curated shop and inspired interior.

However, being located in the vibrant and colourful neighbourhood of Colaba, experiencing a grand renaissance (Indian-style) with new cafes, restaurants and bars opening every week, its definitely worth spending some time getting to know the area as well.

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There are four types of room at Abodo Boutique, starting with a ‘Basic’ room at £40/night ranging to a ‘Superior Luxury’ room at £126/night.

All of the rooms are well appointed with eclectic furnishings made by local craftsmen, with additional luxuries offered the more superior your room. A stay in a ‘Basic’ room will guarantee that you enjoy the distinctive charm of the hotel, with breakfast included, whereas a ‘Superior Luxury’ room offers everything from a writing desk and a free standing bathtub through to a rain shower and luxury bathroom products.

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Much more than just a luxury hotel, Boutique Abode is committed to positively impacting on its local area and supporting its home country. For example, their car service is provided by women from Mumbai (who in many cases are single parents and the sole earners in the family) with Boutique Abode helping them source their own cars and encouraging them to be self sufficient. If staying here you can opt to book your own taxis, but for a little more money it’s worth supporting the women’s car service and giving a little back.

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Similarly, Boutique Abode works with a school for the bind with whom they set up fantastic and trustworthy massage therapy. Blind people in India often face discrimination and massage is a stable job which enables them to earn a living, so by booking a treatment through Boutique Abode, you are doing your bit to give back.

Recycling is a challenge in India, but Boutique Abode do their bit. Stylish, and refillable, stainless steel bottles are used in the bathrooms for shampoo, conditioner and shower gel to reduce wastage, and any leftover soaps are donated to a local NGO for under-privilegded women. For more information on their many initiatives you can contact impact@abodeboutiquehotels.com

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To book a stay here contact: enquiries@boutiquehotels.com / +918080234066

First Floor, Lansdowne House, M.B. Marg (near Regal Cinema),
Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai, Maharastra, India, 400001