This was much needed. How bad I hadn’t realised till I was face to face with it. And then, all of the defences melted, chatter flowed, a spontaneous reconnect with lost conversations and understandings. Was it the endless champagne that dissolved the mental inhibitions? Or, the cocoon-like caress of wild, lush Nature all around you creating a safe-in-the-womb Eden of luxury.
ESCAPE TO COCO SHAMBHALA
Open your eyes and feel with your spirit is the unsung epiphany of Coco Shambhala — an exquisitely created, curated, hand-crafted romantic, barefoot retreat so hidden from the rest of Goa, and India, that you wonder how did they manage keeping this beauty under wraps for so long. “Eight years precisely,” I’m told by Lumen D’Souza, the charismatic Manager of this tropical, Mediterranean inspired luxury Villa property retreat, nestled into the lazy hillsides of Nerul, Goa.
Nothing prepares you for first impressions. Beginning my journey from the humdrum meandering drive from Panjim, the capital city of Goa, to Nerul across the chaotic Mandovi bridge battling traffic, stray cattle, city rushes and directionless tourists. Then, a sudden turn into a grotto of Nerul’s villages, twisting roads, hillside woods, I’m wondering, `Where are we going,’ when we finally arrive at a Gate. Yes, literally. A no-fuss, simple compound gate on the turn of a road with a little stone plate that announces `Coco Shambhala.’ `Am I at the right address?’ I wonder. Like arriving at some Goan friend’s house who happens to live in a village. The gate opens and a gravel stone pathway winds through a corridor, and then you see it….If you feel your heart skip a beat, trust it. Intuitively it has already decided that it’s okay to slow down a bit. Sprawling jungle gardens with a vibrancy and aura of thriving Life seeps under your skin, even as you take in the full vista of what you have just stepped into. It is, what Lumen tells me, the `Shambhala Experience.’ Is that why her face is so radiant? I’m about to find out.
BELIEVE THERE IS HEAVEN
If Peace could be bought off the shelf, I would beg a life-time membership.
Shambhala – a place of peace, happiness and tranquillity…
Spread across 4000 sq m with a winding lagoon pool designed around beautiful Spanish- Mediterranean inspired architecture, are four bespoke villas. Each Villa a resonance of luxury, with its own outstretched outdoor verandas for lounging, dining, long no hurry lunches, upholstered with vacation inspired tropical interiors and Indian textiles, vintage furniture, inner private plunge jet pools for privacy, sprawling bedrooms and outdoor shower areas. Even a bookcase with thrillers and philosophy. Quaint!!
Each of the Four Villas named with reverence to Sanskrit texts – Ashvini (the usherer of dawn), Ashlesha (a constellation of stars), Rohini (the embodiment of female energy) Bharini (accomplished and stable)—embody personal spaces with amenities designed with great, minute, attention to detail, comfort, functionality and complete privacy from the outside world. Yes, including its own staff. Nuances of modern and references to heritage showcase that this has been a construction with a mission. All personally, excruciatingly laid out in detail and planning by Giles Knapton, Director, a nonchalant grounded British wanderlust-er who stumbled across the globe and found his nirvana here.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH ENLIGHTENMENT
My own abode `Ashlesha’ meaning the embrace of a constellation of stars, was everything I had imagined by own dream villa to be. Open hearted, free and pure of thought. A two bedroom otherwise ideal for couples looking for a romantic getaway, with one bedroom on the ground floor and the second bedroom situated on the first floor of the villa. A lovely corner of the property encourages an all night sit out with endless supply of Champagne making notes to self, or conservations with a romantic interest, cuddle into cushions, or star gaze and philosophise, undisturbed. Mornings wake to fresh breakfast laid out on your outdoor patio, followed by quick laps in the pool and a skip to the in-house spa.
THE WAY TO MY HEART IS THROUGH MY STOMACH
What makes a world of a difference when you decide to wind down, is who you wind down with. Giles, the master-mind of this escape stopover, has already had it apprehended and resolved for you. Having travelled his whole life and encountering all kinds of situations, Giles believes and lives by the philosophy that how you treat your guest, is how you would want to be treated yourself. With respect, personal space and personal attention. From doorstep to threshold and thereafter right through my stay, every service, each meal and dining experience is curated to your personal taste and your food freshly sourced directly from the market for the day. No pre-conceived menus are available, but chefs who personally discuss your food with you with an intimate `so, what does your heart desire today?’ Wouldn’t you wish your spouse or boyfriend took the trouble to ask you this?
I advise, when you forget to eat to feed your soul, and instead eat just to get by for the hurried day, hurry to Coco Shambhala.
A Mezze platter of assorted dips, breads, hummus and home-crafted Shambhala Sangria greets you at your Villa. The in-house kitchen is a pleasure to live in, an enabler of sorts for your sudden desire to experiment a self-created Master Chef episode, just to indulge your culinary interests. Thanks to every piece of crockery, glassware and pot-pans you discover in the kitchen cabinets and a fridge stocked with beverages (this is what I mean by personal attention to detail. Bravo). However, the chefs have already taken you by surprise being two steps ahead of you. A long lunch awaits. Spread outdoors of your Villa patio, a table full of comfort food and nourishment. Tangy fresh Goan Prawn Curry with kokum, organic local Goan red rice, crumb fried fish, bowls of Sprout Salad with Raw Mango and Goan marinated Chicken Cafreal. My stomach is singing her hosannas…
As evening sets in, snacks of hummus dips with Goan poie, Crispy Zucchini, Beetroot and Carrot juice infused Tequila cocktails are set in the living area. Basil and Garlic fresh, succulent prawns in oyster shells, its juices infused in butter and lemon, desiring an instant food blog on the spot, lest you lose its sensory and visual seduction when the climax is done with. I’m told the magic is all courtesy Director of Cuisine, Shagun Mehra, who crafts new menus each season tailored to preferences and palate.
For sure, the Chef is clearly was not done with us. Seeing the afterglow on faces that had seen the light, dinner sprawls late into night with a feast of Mediterranean flavours. Spinach and Mushroom Ravioli with sage and burnt butter sauce sets off scents even my olfactory nerves have opened to. Fresh Fettuccine in Tomato Basil sauce, the subtle crunch of Pomegranate and Feta Salad with sesame oil and Lime juice still fresh on my taste buds even as I write this.
Even crimes of passion can be forgiven when someone woos you with such tasteful ardour. The sweet promise of everlasting love arrives, cajoling you to give in, just let go woman… Food can be quite the turn-on, trust me. Servings of Gazpacho Granita and Strawberry Granita, each a flavour so uniquely stunning that I’m wondering could I seriously indulge myself to believe that I could perhaps one day attempt food critiquing? Each ingredient suddenly makes distinct sense. As if asking you to feel and acknowledge their presence. I’m no cook for sure, but this poetry, so all presented without fuss, pretence, and la-di-lah nonsense, is sensual and earthy. Not to forget healthy, wholesome food created by healthy, smiling, homely people. Giles, Lumen and team, bravo again.
The craft of genuine hospitality comes from the heart, and not from text books, Giles shares. Which explains why Coco Shambhala guests stay on, sometimes for months, renting a villa as their India holiday home stay. I would too, can I, Giles?
Exhausted with pleasure (yes, there is such a thing), the Chocolate Chill Ganache with Plum Sauce and Basil crumbs, and Cinnamon Churros become my late night companions washed down with Champagne and star gazing. The outdoor patio silently listening to apologies and confessions of the year’s misdemeanours. I can’t believe I’ve denied myself indulgence from a year of back-breaking work gruels. My 2017 resolution to change that for sure.
When pleasure finds you, I beg you, succumb to it…
Not many days in a working woman’s professional life will Spa opportunities fit into your work calendar. I implore you, change it now. No man-made, rat-race stress is worth a sacrifice of your time on this Planet. Everything is temporary.
Hidden within the Coco Shambhala gardens, the Spa is an integral gem of this jewel, and a necessary component of the Shambhala experience. Partnered with Forest Essentials –another of my favourite Luxurious Ayurveda brand which I launched in Goa in 2016 –the head therapist sorts out my life, literally. Make that twisted back muscles you didn’t even know existed, bearing the burdens of your rush and neglect. Signature treatments for massages, scrubs, facials, firming and toning, detox and body polishes – all products Forest Essentials only ladies and gents –are now also available as Day Packages for local guests who can avail Spa sessions, indulge in a 3 course wine lunch and enjoy the Villa for a day. Ideal for a Ladies Day Out, to-be-Wed couples, a Date-Out or Family Days (book in advance and call 9372267182 / 8554998462) Smart!
Body nourished, spirit rejuvenated and my back spring-boarding to action, it’s a heavy heart and very reluctant feet dragging myself out of this oasis and back to the bustle. A sentiment Team Coco Shambhala are all familiar with, and hence the experience cleverly crafted to make you come back. Which you will, I will, and we must. Again.
My stay pics hosted on https://www.instagram.com/etheldacosta/
Address: Coco Shambhala, Coco Beach, Nerul, Bardez, Goa, India
Telephone: +91 (0) 9372267182/ +91 (0) 8554998462
Day Spa Bookings on atleast 3 days prior notice: 9372267182 / 8554998462
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