Some years ago I was sitting with my old friend Altaf Chapri (whose travel company Discovery handles all my Indian tour groups) drinking chai and lamenting the cavalier way Indian hotels treat group bookings. We were contrasting the way they used to be – friendly, personal, co-operative – with the blasé new style of operating that can demand full payment long upfront and then cancel confirmed bookings out of hand when a higher paying customer hoves into view with a wad of dirty notes in hand. ‘You know, we should just open our own hotel’ I said, half-joking. He laughingly agreed. There was a pause of a few seconds and then we looked at each other. ‘You know’ said Altaf, ‘I have been thinking the same thing…’ And thus was born Neeleshwar Hermitage.
If time ever permits, I will write up the saga that ensued. To transform an isolated seaside palm grove into a five-star retreat hotel in a part of communist Kerala that had barely seen Westerners before, has been an extraordinary story: full of incident, drama, setbacks and triumphs. A real roller-coaster, always set against the backdrop of India’s implacable and elephantine bureaucracy. Once the project was planned, it was the team of directors, none of whom had any previous hotel experience, who designed the overall site layout, dimensions of the rooms etc. as well as almost every detail, from the furniture to the swimming pool. Then followed fittings for rooms, restaurant and clinic, plus the ever-ongoing website and publicity material. Everything was done in-house. It was a lengthy and demanding labour of love, and I like to think that this focused attention is reflected in the Hermitage’s integrated and harmonious atmosphere.
The next challenge was marketing – how to get across to an industry that thinks in boxes that The Hermitage is not a typical ‘beach resort’ or ‘luxury hotel’, nor a traditional yoga centre or ashram, but something in-between. How were we to sell a sophisticated and stylish retreat where you can get back in touch with your deeper self in whatever ways you wish – total relaxation, yoga, meditation, ayurveda – and also learn more about India by availing yourself of the ongoing lecture programme, something that no other hotel in India has?
Overall, we are constantly working to create the sort of calm and welcoming atmosphere you would find when visiting home of a dear friend: relaxed, familiar, and nourishing. Catering to clients from all around the word and a great diversity of cultures, we feel we have developed intuition as to what people really want when they come on holiday. Much of the success of this inner voice depends on the unobtrusive yet highly attentive teamwork behind the scenes, operating in such a way as to provide what is wanted before a conscious need is felt. This intuitive way of hosting is only possible by choosing staff who have the potential to grow with us, for all of us together are on a journey that has only just begun.
Little by little though, the market is recognizing who and what we are, and they like it. In fact, we must be doing something right. Within our first year of operation, Conde Nast referred to us as ‘this near perfect haven of peace and pampering’, Vogue has us as one of the top ten eco-hotels in the world, Tatler included us in their ‘Top 101 Hotels’ and The Sunday Telegraph voted us one of the top four Auyurvedic retreats in Kerala. By 2019, we had won a dozen awards. And, more importantly, clients love us and the repeat bookings keep coming in…
Anyway, this is just a little background to The Hermitage. Do visit the site www.neeleshwarhermitage.com and then come and visit us in person. You are assured of a very warm welcome!
One our recent guests, Helen Burford was inspired by her stay at the Neeleshwar to write this beautiful piece of music, please take the time to listen and enjoy.
‘This near perfect haven of peace and pampering’ Conde Nast Traveller
‘An exceptional retreat. Excellent food and peerless staff. Thank you’
Fay Maschler, restaurant critic, London , UK
‘The greeting in Neeleshwar set the tone of the coming week: it was warm, professional, calm and had an understated attention to detail that meant you could completely relax into the arms of the place. Neeleshwar is beautiful, superbly run and the best place I have ever visited for recharging a weary body and mind. By the end of the week I felt 10 years younger.’
Monty Don (TV presenter and gardening expert)
‘Really magnificent, faultless…a place is made by its people and here you have the very best and the kindest’
Ben Elliot, founder of Quintessentially.
‘The perfect distillation of what so many Westerners, from E.M.Forster and Allen Ginsberg to the Beatles, have come to India in an attempt to find: an escape from the pressures and frenzied pace of our lives.’
To find out more about the hotel please click here