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Jalakara hotel and spa review

Josephine Price heads to the Andaman Islands for a week of relaxation in the jungle

The hotel
‘We’re not a hotel, we’re a homestay,’ Varun, the manager tells us as we arrive. “Sure,” I think. That’s a great strapline. But after five days, I’m spouting it myself. This is not like any hotel I’ve ever encountered. Perched on top of a hill in the jungle, there are just seven rooms scattered around the verdant surroundings. I could stay and happily slope around here all day in a kimono; all week in fact, but there’s too much to do. Fishing, diving, hiking, and kayaking: the island is a natural playground and Varun is keen to make sure you see the most of it. After all, the Andaman Islands are notoriously tricky to get to, so you’ve got to see as much as you can once you get here. Whatever adventures each day holds, the evenings are spent sprawled out on the sofas watching the sunset and listening to tales of these illusive islands.

The spa
Rosie, my therapist, fetches me from the pool and we walk up to the spa. I say spa but it’s not your conventional wellness retreat. Here there are just two walls and a ceiling housing a single massage bed. It’s a sanctuary in the middle of the jungle. The squawks and calls of the tropical forest drown out the unnecessary stereotypical spa music and we chat to add to the cacophony. Rosie is from the border up by Myanmar and she giggles as she tells me of diving mishaps, crab fishing and living with no wi-fi on the islands. Apparently we can be heard chattering away throughout the session. As I leave, I go to step away from the path and take my own shortcut back to my room. Rosie is firm: “No, no — it’s a jungle out there; keep to the path”. She’s not joking. It’s wonderful, but wild.

The treatment
The menu tells me my Balinese massage includes yogic stretches alongside the classic oil treatment. And yogic it is. Rosie stands on the bed as she lifts my thigh up and twists my arms back (not at the same time). I’m pulled in all directions and in between, before I have a chance to relish in the chance to lie flat, she kneads and irons out my uneasy shoulders, back and calves. The pressure’s firm and fast. I jump as she attacks the shoulder blades. “You have big knots,” she tells me as she prods them. This is nothing new but her remedying recommendation is one I haven’t heard before. She recommends regular massages — ‘one a week’ to be precise. This is unattainable, but exciting. Maybe I won’t leave after all.

Eat and drink
Think Indian meets island life. Dishes are light and inventive yet pay heed to the mainland classics. There are thalis on the menu but you’ll also find fresh fish and delicious momos. There’s a shared kitchen if you’d like to cook your catch of the day or any market finds, but tearing yourself away from the chef’s delicious dishes isn’t an easy decision. The hotel didn’t have a licence during my stay — the island has a turbulent history with alcohol including tales of fire-wielding wives —but it is now in possession of one. The bar team have an impressive selection of gin sours, coffee coolers, holy basil mojitos, lime and cucumber gins and more in their repertoire.

Sleep
The Sunset Green suite is heaven. It’s as if someone has poured concrete into a mould of my perfect bedroom. Huge wooden doors give out on to the shaded terrace and there are hammered brass trays, carved wooden trunks, white bedding and House of Hackney prints galore. The bed is huge and waking up to an unadulterated view of the jungle is impossible to tear myself away from. Though, wherever you are in the hotel, the jungle both dwarfs and amazes in equal measure.

Verdict
This is the jungle spa of your dreams. Forget the gowns, glow and gurus promised in some retreats. This is genuine and glorious. Perfect for adventurers who want to escape, but not quite switch off.

Essentials

Rooms start from £151 per night. Spa treatments from £37.
jalakara.info

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