Far from bustling tourist hotspots, hippy communes and the trance-loving crowds of Goa, you’ll find Ashiyana - a magical place full of yogic wonder and serenity.
A must-stay for yoga rookies and experts alike, this English owned and managed resort is unique in its offering. Health is at the heart of the resort, which has been lovingly curated to sooth, tune and detoxify. No alcohol or smoking is permitted, there is no room service, mini bar or comforts that are typically fitting for a resort of this calibre. But that’s what makes it so perfect.
The resort is set amongst peaceful palms overlooking the Mandrem River. Within the resort there are a variety of reflection areas and a natural swimming pool for guests to enjoy and the beach is only a two-minute walk away.
Ashiyana is one of the most serene resorts I’ve ever come across. It offers a distinctive kind of luxury that’s likely the envy of other resorts. Admittedly, this is one of my favourite places in the world, so I am pretty biased. But it really is special; the staff are exceptionally friendly, and the vegetarian and vegan food is so incredibly delicious you don’t even miss meat.
Choose from a selection of peaceful accommodation options
Ashiyana’s accommodation is designed to cater to a variety of budgets from the simple to the sublime, including Shahi Suites, Raj Luxury, Raj Doubles, Palm Grove, Lodges, Riverview and Beach Huts. Prices vary but all rooms are en-suite and for those enjoying a Yoga Holiday, the tariff is priced per person per day and includes room, two meals and two yoga classes daily.
Unwind at the Ashiyana Spa and Treatment Centre
Ashiyana offers a comprehensive list of treatments including Ayurvedic head and foot massages, aromatherapy and nutritional. Classic Swedish massages and deep tissue are also available in addition to yoga massage, Shiatsu, Reiki and even Re-birthing.
One-to-one private yoga and meditation sessions are also on offer to revitalise and heal. Their Urban Antidote Rejuvenation Retreat is well worth exploring.
Experience yogic bliss at its best
Ashiyana has some of the most accomplished yoga teachers in the business, mostly from across Europe and India. Each class suits all levels and they offer a plethora of yoga genres to ensure there is something for everyone.
Imagine practicing yoga in a wonderful oak-floored shala while the sun rises, the rainforest wakes with birds and a variety of wildlife welcome the beginning of a new day as a cool breeze drifts in. Once you’ve experienced this kind of enchanting, immersive yoga, it’s difficult to enjoy doing yoga in an enclosed indoor space with fluorescent lights.
Ashiyana offers yoga holidays that include flexible drop-in classes twice daily, plus yoga retreats and certified yoga teacher training courses. Because the annual Monsoon rains prevent Ashiyana opening all year round, its season runs from 1st October until 30th April. They are closed between May and September.
Tuck into delicious and healthy vegetarian and vegan cuisine
Meals are buffet style and guests can choose from a selection of different areas to dine in depending on their mood; from family areas, silent areas, tree huts or large communal tables for those who fancy meeting new people to share their stories from the day.
I loved both the food and the people I met during my visit. It’s rare to go on holiday and want to share moments that could last a lifetime with complete strangers but at Ashiyana this level of friendly intimacy is commonplace and I’m still in contact with people I met there a few years ago.
New this season, Ashiyana has employed a restaurant manager to help expand their menu and oversee their diet plans and detoxes. Nutrition is central to everything they do, so you never have to feel guilty about indulging!
The beachfront is the epitome of raw beauty, and the gorgeous sea is bath temperature by dawn. Along the beach there are around 10 different beach cafes, restaurants and shacks offering a variety of food and drinks. There are also lots of persuasive women selling wraps, beads and other gifts. Don’t be annoyed by this, though, some of the best conversations in Goa happen here. From my experience, the vendors are well mannered, articulate and most have a great sense of humour.
Mandrem Village & Surrounding Area
Mandrem is a simple village. Its main street offers various shops, shacks, cafes, hotels and street vendors. The technicolour night markets are also a short taxi ride away. The capital of North Goa, Panjim, is slightly further afield, but well worth exploring. Its Portuguese influence adds a unique charm. Here visitors will find glorious temples and churches and family-owned homestays and guesthouses for those wishing to stay overnight.
Ashiyana, which means ‘home’ in Hindi does exactly what it sets out to do – helping people to truly relax, something we are eternally grateful for. So, treat yourself to a unique yoga experience in Goa and make it your home away from home.
Pricing differs according to season and is based on availability.
*All views and opinions are my own.
Cosying up at The Colloden
Tucked in amongst a mountain of fluffy pillows is the way autumn mornings are meant to be spent. As I drew back the curtains, greeted by the mist rising over Belfast Lough, it was difficult to comprehend extricating myself from my cosy suite at the Culloden Estate & Spa.
I’d checked in on a drizzly evening the previous night after picking up my hire car at Belfast International Airport. Despite the weather, I was looking forward to two days of exploring Northern Ireland and retreating to the comforting estate with its welcoming log fire in the bar.
The Culloden sits just a few miles outside of Belfast city centre, a majestic gothic mansion set back from the road to Bangor. The 105 rooms are spread across the main house and more modern garden wings, with many featuring original high ceilings and the Junior Suites feature views of either the manicured gardens or Belfast Lough. I was pleased to discover mine had the latter.
This year the property received a £5m refurbishment, resulting in a new facade to one wing, larger rooms, a complete redesign of the Mitre restaurant and an upgraded spa.
Exploring the main house will lead you downstairs where you’ll find roaring fires, plenty of armchairs and sofas to curl up in with a book, and a snug drawing room with views of those vistas across the water for a post dinner round of chess.
The property has two onsite restaurants. I’d booked in to dine at The Mitre, the fine dining option within the main house as opposed to The Cultra Inn in the grounds, more of a pub/brasserie atmosphere and menu. I’m thankful I did, though more on that in a minute.
If there’s one thing The Culloden and its parent company Hastings Hotels is big on, it’s gastronomy, with as many ingredients as possible used in their dishes which are sourced from local suppliers. Something they’re understandably proud of, each table is graced with a little booklet defining the heritage of what’s used in its kitchens. From the award-winning Gracehill black and white puddings served at breakfast sourced locally in County Antrim, to free range eggs from Clements Eggs in Carrowdore, vegetables from Strangford Lough’s Willowbrook Farm and venison from the Baronscourt Estate in County Tyrone, the provenance of your plate is in front of you in black and white.
In my opinion, dinner should always begin with freshly baked bread - this time sourced from a family at the heart of the local bakery industry for three generations no less - which didn’t disappoint. An amuse bouche of smoked salmon, with capers and an English mustard emulsion did exactly what it was designed to, awakening the tastebuds for what was to come. For a starter, soft mounds of whipped goat’s cheese were accompanied by juicy slices of beetroot, shallots, pecans and a delicately sweet beetroot meringue. It was followed with some tender, juicy local lamb from the nearby Morne Mountains, with a hearty if a tad filling side of pearl barley and winter vegetables. Seasonal comfort food at its best.
It was after my main had disappeared that I was glad for choosing the table I did at The Mitre, with a window view to ponder, rather than dining down at The Cultra Inn, for I would have missed what happened next. As the sky above Belfast Lough began to turn to fire as the sun sank, I abandoned my dessert and sprinted up the stairs to my room with my camera, where I hovered, perched on my windowsill, for the next half hour as the most breathtaking sunset I’ve ever encountered danced across the sky, changing every moment from fiery reds and oranges to majestic shades of purple and rich pinks. It was a dazzling display I shall always remember.
After returning to my abandoned meal to finish my wine, the lure of the Crozier Bar’s log fire proved too much, and I found myself drawn to an armchair with my book to see out the rest of my evening, before the lure of my bathtub and king size bed became too much.
Breakfast at The Culloden
The following morning, as I pondered how many of the pillows I could realistically fit in the tiny boot of my hire car, there was a knock at the door, signaling the arrival of my breakfast trolley; a spread of the locally-sourced foods calling out to be eaten in bed, while swaddled in a bathrobe as I listened to the morning radio.
With a day of exploring the streets of Belfast and the rugged Irish coastline ahead of me, a full Irish breakfast of eggs, tomatoes, sausages et al. really was the only option. Accompanied by freshly squeezed juice, a pot of coffee and a bowl of sweet, crunchy homemade granola with yoghurt and fruit compote, my hunger was satisfyingly quelled.
Before heading out for my day, there was the Culloden’s spa facilities, which awaited me. While there is a gym and fitness class timetable for those who might be interested (not me) I was more enticed by the swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room and treatment menu, which boasted an indulgent menu of ESPA treatments and spa packages that fuse advanced techniques with ancient therapies. Tempting as it was to stay in a cycle of spa-time for the rest of my trip, I somehow managed to lure myself away.
Despite being mere minutes from the city centre and located on one of Belfast’s busiest roads, The Culloden has a knack for making you feel like you’re a world away from, well, the rest of the world. As we hurdle towards winter, a spa break staycation weekend of hibernation and delicious food should be high on everyone’s agenda. I might just start a campaign for it to be recognised as a treatment on the NHS, such is its powers of revival and restoration.
Double rooms at The Culloden Estate and Spa start from £230, room only. Spa treatments start from £40.
The Culloden Estate and Spa
*During this trip I was hosted by the lovely team at The Culloden. All words and opinions are my own.
Get There in Style via Cross Country Trains
For my weekend escape to The Principal, one of Manchester’s most iconic Victorian hotels, I used Cross Country Trains, which transported me from my home town of Bournemouth to Manchester.
One of the UK’s most extensive rail networks, Cross Country rail calls at more than 100 stations and stretches from Aberdeen to Penzance and from Stansted to Cardiff. Given my journey was nearly five hours, I decided to travel first class – a treat that was well worth the investment as it meant that I’d arrive at my destination refreshed and ready to explore the city. Key highlights of the journey included fresh food offerings - not a pre-made processed wrapper in sight – and endless green tea and scrummy stem ginger and fruit and lemon biscuits. They also had a decent free WI-FI signal too, a well-appreciated rarity. I'll definitely be travelling with Cross Country Trains again when the opportunity presents itself.
The Principal Hotel in Manchester is a place of architectural wonder. Centrally located only a short taxi ride or a 10-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station, it stands proud in the North of England’s ‘capital of cool’.
From the exterior, its Art Deco signage and striking clock tower gives onlookers a glimpse of its opulence. Inside, guests are greeted with a spellbinding reception foyer, which recently received a £25 million refurbishment. One of the key focal points within the foyer is a striking bronze stallion, which stands in the space that was once a turning circle for horses and carriages in years bygone.
The hotel was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1891, the same architect behind my favourite building, The Natural History Museum, in London. The expansive hotel has 270 guest rooms, 17 conference suites, a business centre, private dining spaces, and one of the largest ballrooms in Northern England that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. At every turn guests are treated to enchanting Victorian splendour thanks to the exquisite décor in the public areas, bars, restaurants and the lobby, which features decadent design touches such as stained glass, marble and bronze.
Given the hotel’s large size, it lacks the charm of smaller hotels or a B&B, however, the staff are incredibly polite and efficient, nonetheless. What really makes the hotel stand out are its distinctive character and the grandeur it radiates, which make it easy to fall in love with the place. Handy services for guests to enjoy include a concierge, dry cleaning and 24-hour room service.
In addition to its facilities reserved for hotel residents, The Principal also offers non-residents an array of standout venues, including the Winter Garden, a restaurant within a conservatory, which was full of lovely indoor trees and palms lit with white fairy lights to create a magical atmosphere.
For guests who love a sophisticated cocktail bar, The Refuge by Volta, which serves an extensive menu of drinks and simple plates, is a great space to relax with a tipple. For bar-games enthusiasts, there’s The Den, which offers table-football and pool.
The Director’s Penthouse Suite
Upon my arrival I was greeted with a complimentary gin and tonic delightfully presented in a mini corked bottle complete with a cloth-covered lemon, and a delicious vanilla custard tart topped with fresh raspberries – a truly memorable welcome!
The suite itself was huge and fit for a king, or a director of a substantial financial firm, as a nod to its heritage. The room’s impressive 30-foot ceilings and traditional oak-panelling set the scene for a luxurious stay. Furnishings included a three-piece sofa, a coffee table, a 4-seater dining area, a bureau and a large flat screen TV.
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