Just after ten o clock in the morning on the edge of a clifftop in Varkala, India, there’s a small group of people enjoying breakfast, swapping stories and coffee, sharing anecdotes and monkey jam, full of food and free of worries. Look quickly and you’d think this was a group of close friends, family even. Look closer and you’ll see it’s a mixed group; guests and staff, Europeans and Indians, surfers and yogis. Strangers yes, but Soul and Surf’s specialty lies in making strangers feel like friends and their resort like a home where everyone is welcome.
It’s a rare thing with accommodation. In the balancing scale of atmosphere vs luxury, you can usually peg hostels weighing down the atmosphere side and hotels tipping the luxury side. Soul and Surf sits perfectly in the middle, balancing both with ease and a confidence that comes from 5 years of extremely happy guests and 5-star reviews (check out their Facebook and Tripadvisor).
It’s this welcoming atmosphere that makes it a perfect place for solo travellers, especially first-time solo travellers like myself. I was surprised that the majority of the guests were solo women, which ceased any fears of being alone or surrounded by couples all week. As soon as I arrived I was given a fresh coconut and invited out for dinner with the other guests that night, though the real bonding comes from the early morning surf lessons.
6.45am and you’re off to the beach in one of Soul and Surf’s brightly coloured trucks. Any sleepiness is erased by the sea, each wave forcing you to wake up like a (very wet) slap to the face. Having never tried surfing – and not being someone who enjoys swimming in the sea – I was nervous about the lessons, but they ended up being the most fun I’ve had in a long time (see face above.) The surf instructors are great at making you feel at ease; they even had me getting in despite the jellyfish which is saying something.
The soul part of Soul and Surf comes from the yoga and meditation classes that take place on the rooftop at sunset and the massage treatments that are available on site. The Soul Food Cafe provides a lot of nourishment too – the plantain tacos were a dream – but the real soul comes from the people and the atmosphere. With one of the managers assigned the title of ‘Head of Vibes’, you know you’re going to have a good time. Breakfast is always eaten together after surfing, while the evenings include movie and pizza nights on the cliff-top on Tuesday’s and Saturday’s plus BBQ and bonfire night on Thursday’s. The staff go above and beyond to make sure they get to know everyone and the guests follow suit; it’s a simple thing, but just by being friendly and keeping it personal, Soul and Surf is unlike anywhere else you will stay.
Surf photos by @stevebadgercoombes
Update: Some of my pictures below of Soul and Surf.