Writer Corporation, a service provider in relocation and orientation, foray into hospitality segment in 2013 resulted in the setting up of Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa. The retreat is set in a massive nature conservation site with a focus on sustainability and wellness.
About two and half hour drive from Mumbai is the 320 acres of lush countryside in the Western GhatMountains. About 70 acres of the resort is dedicated to the award-winning spa facility that includes villas with private pools and treatment spaces, suites with private gardens and outdoor showers, relaxation terraces, a yoga pavilion, meditation cave, outdoor Olympic-size pool, and hydrotherapy tubs among other amenities.Visitors can also indulge in activities at the Shilim institute and learning centre that comprises a pottery studio, dance studio, cooking school, organic gardens and an amphitheatre.
The Retreat &Spa was conceptualized as an eco-conservation project by Denzil De Souza -Chairman & Managing Director, Writer Corporation. The land was acquired to preserve the natural beauty and heritage of Shillim and the-retreat was built as a self-sustaining business model.
The Eco Design
Embedded in lush rice fields, bamboo plantations and seasonal creeks of the Shayadri valley, the minimalist retreat is designed and master-planned by Steven Harris Architects from New York and Spain’s Taller de Arquitectura Arcadis while, the interiors of the interiors have been done by New york based Khanna Schultz.
The entry gatehouse provides a transition zone from the world outside to the Shillim experience. It contains a stone and glass pavilion as a reception and small seating area. The cloister-type covered walkway gives the guest a view of the adjacent garden and the valley beyond. Pale natural colours are selected for this space to harmonize with the landscape. The villas that look like sheds from far-off are contemporary in design and have their own garden and swimming pool. The larger structures comprise the restaurants, bar and a tea room.
All the 99 villas with living spaces of 100 to150 square meter shave been constructed using local and natural materials. The designers created the interiors using an ecological sourcing philosophy, focusing on local materials and techniques.The key decor elements are Kota stone, Kadappa stone, black basalt stone and flamed granite for flooring, Shahabad stone for wall cladding, light coloured pebbles in courtyard, cane cube chairs for indoor seating, sleeper wood for doors, benches and desks, mother-of-pearl tile for washrooms, bamboo wall panels at outdoor shower areas, jute rugs, enhancing the earthy palette of surroundings.
The landscape designer Margie Ruddick from Philadelphia emphasized in her design the conservation of wild places. Strong architectural forms and varied roof lines of the buildings have been accented, allowing the guests to focus on the rich landscape of the valley. An atmosphere of calm prevails in the resort, with harmonious selections of local and regional materials. Margie explaining the process said, “It took a long time, we were very much concerned about the scale of the new buildings – 100 rooms plus 20-plus signature buildings and dependent structures. We spent a lot of time walking the site looking at different microclimates, and decided to limit the developments, any building, to the areas that were already compromised or disturbed: the lower slopes, which had been grazed and cut for fuel for years; and the rice fields.”Although, the clubbing of functions could have saved on service, etc., the designers preferred to disperse the program across the site which enables the visitors to experience the feel of being out in a wild landscape, the restorative effects of which are part of the wellness experience.
“There is a tremendous need for creating effective regulations and guidelines to protect the Western Ghats and other precious landscapes in India. It seems that there are many visionary stewards who have established independent sanctuaries, but these cannot make up for the rampant pace at which development is stripping the Ghats of its native vegetation. The Ghats are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Conservation International hotspot – and yet private developers can buy land, strip it of all vegetation, erect a fence, and build. This has to stop.” Landscape designer Margie Ruddick
The Shillim Institute
The Shillim Foundation is an international arm of the Shillim Institute, which is located at the heart of the Shillim Retreat in the Western Ghats. Co-director/Co-founder of Shilim Institute- Margie Ruddick explained the initiatives being taken, “The idea of the retreat is to bring together ecologists, developers, policy makers, designers and artists, to develop a roadmap for conservation. The group will discuss broad issues of private development and conservation as well as the regional issues that affect the Western Ghats. The discussions will be the basis for materials intended to guide landowners on the best conservation practices, both internationally and regionally.
The inaugural retreat title Wild by Design:The Elements will be held at the Shillim Institute and Resort in Maharashtra, India. Artists and conservationists will work side by side, to produce a cross-pollination of ideas, practices, methods, and processes. The artists include a painter, a dancer/choreographer, a photographer and a composer. The works that emerge during the Foundation programs will come to life in performances, exhibitions, books, manuals, and interactive media. We hope that bringing the science and policy together with the art of discovering and safeguarding places will not only give the works of art new layers of meaning, but also recast the practice of conservation as a creative process.”
The institute offers guests a chance to gain insight into the indigenous culture of Western Ghats by means of workshops, courses and excursions. The idea is to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Western Ghats as also to promote discussions on environmental, social and economic sustainability in the region.