Western Ghats, India

A 3,500-acre retreat in the Western Ghats of India, the Shillim Retreat conserves fragile forest and mountain ecologies. The Retreat includes a 100-room lodge, a spa with 12 villas, a spiritual retreat, horseback riding and climbing, and numerous hiking and riding trails. All revolve around the Shillim Institute, dedicated to sustainable development, supported by cultural programming demonstrating the role of the music, art and literature in promoting a sustainable way of life.

The site encompasses a great range of different landscapes, from high ridge to dense forest to savannah to farm fields.  Wildlife includes barking deer and the occasional panther; plant life is incredibly diverse, and includes one herbaceous species found nowhere else

The planning and design went against resort conventions at the time, dispersing the program through roughly 350 acres rather than ganging program to economize on services.  The team chose distinct existing landscapes in which to site the suites and villas, the spa, the club, the Institute, the riding centre, and the spiritual retreat.  The architecture of each grew out of the specific landscape, from forest to village to farm field.

The team revegetated the slopes, cutting thousands of meters of contour trenches to recharge groundwater and cultivate new grasslands, shrubland and forest.  A nursery was begun in 2003, to provide new plantings for the retreat, as well as additional income from sales;  the nursery has grown over 100,000 plants.  Organic farming practices were established in 2004.

Shillim pioneered the concept of “the new luxury” in resort planning and design:  That is, the luxury is in being out in the landscape, reconnecting with nature, and connecting with the people who live there.