Holiday at Varkala, Gateway Taj

Sometimes you don't know what you want in a lazy holiday. You want the holiday, but you don't want the stress. Or the planning. Just to lie down. And then to fight the temptation to go around sight seeing. Especially when going with friends after a really really long time. You know the picture that sort of shows how there are a million people during the planning stage, but you end up alone on a holiday? This wasn't exactly like that. 3 couples planned to do nothing.

Our choice was narrowed down to the Gateway Taj at Varkala. Sitting atop a cliff, the rooms give you a fantastic view of both the gardens, the rooms, the cliff and the sea. Since it is on top of a cliff, no two rooms are on the same floor, but a few steps below/above the other. An email to the hotel requesting our rooms to be close to each other was met and off we went.

View from my room

And did nothing really. The hotel is not an activity centre, which sort of worked for us, but there was the little feeling during check out that we should have tried some action sports. There was a fuzzball game which kept us three guys entertained along with the shuttle court. For a property that has only 30 rooms, a tennis court was a surprise. The pool is small and shaped like a cashew nut, so it is for lazing around, not to work out your muscles. The rooms have a nice little balcony and two rooms have an extra space below the balcony. Ask for Room 207!

The best part of the hotel was the spa. Now, I was expecting Taj's JIVA spa, but they did the right thing by going with an Ayurvedic Spa instead of their in-house brand and being in Kerala, it is quite difficult to compete with the experts. The therapist was fantastic and knew what he was doing, while clearly staying away from what he didn't know. When he found out later that I was a wellness doctor myself, he was glad that he did not blabber stuff, something that I am used to hearing from spa therapists around India, who, after finding out my profession, end up in silence or spoiling the spa. Here, there was no such thing and I came out perfectly relaxed.

The walk to the beach is like passing through a little forest. On a single walk path, the six of us toed down the cliff to the road via this beautiful green patch of forest, past a few homes and restaurants. It is a 5-7 min walk, but an interesting one at that. From the road, the beach is about 20 seconds by foot, but there is nothing much about the Papanasam beach. You can do some people watching with a lot of expats practicing yoga or stretching or getting a tan. There are a lot of beach side food huts, but I suggest you hold your hunger.

The interesting part of the beach is the cliff on the opposite side. Its beautiful with sea on one side and the red cliff on the other and my phone's photograph is not going to do any justice. I asked you to hold your hunger because you need to make a 60 feet climb via steep steps up the cliff. Its worth it. At the top, you will reach another beautiful setting. Atop the cliff with views of the sea and a battery of restaurants to choose, each fighting for a better view than the other. I'm guessing the food is the same in most places, but its the view that is the hero here.

Breakfast at the hotel was the only disappointment for us. It is not a great spread and there was nothing from Kerala, really on the menu. The wellness section with a bunch of smoothies and 'health' drinks added a nice touch, but didn't really make up for the average breakfast. What did make it up though was the lunch.

Being inside a hotel for 3 days, you will get bored of the food, so a good idea would be to talk to the chef or manager there, give your budget and ask them to give you a nice lunch/dinner. They will. The chef almost welcomes every guest and goes around to make them happy, so they set up a fabulous meal for us. Every single dish, except maybe the dessert, was excellent. Starting with the mushroom soup, the beautiful sea food platter that followed and the pasta with seer fish. OK, the pasta didn't really go well with the fish and the flavours were rather confusing and didn't seem to marry. The starter platter with tiger prawns, squid and fish was fantastic though. This was followed by Kerala Style Beef preparation that went well with the naan and the Lamb Gravy, Kerala style was excellent. The dessert platter was blah. Room service was excellent and we loved the Nasi Goreng and ended up ordering that two nights to keep the 'spirits' high!!!

To and From the airport takes about an hour and a half, so keep this in mind while flying. All in all, we had a nice relaxing trip and came up fresher than we left Chennai. Our rooms cost us Rs 19950 for three nights in a superior sea facing room, spa starts at Rs 1500 and goes all the way up to 6k, while food is typically a Gateway priced and a meal for two could be about Rs. 1000. The special lunch/dinner can be set up based on your preferences from Rs. 1k per person for an elaborate meal with beef and tiger prawns etc.