Goan tourism has been mutilated in the eyes of many, overrun by sprawling resorts and the fury of dance music enthusiasts. That fabled Old Goa charm seems to exist increasingly independently of the available offerings of luxury. Fortunately, peaceful boutique hotels have thrived under the radar across the state, providing a sweet spot of indulgence and homeliness.
CHAMPAKALI, OLD GOA
Nestled in the heart of Old Goa is Champakali. The leisurely hotel comprises of ‘two homes on a hill by a river.’ The hotel is symbiotic with the surrounding flora and fauna, offering a pleasant replacement to jarring city sounds, with the soft chirp of local birds and the rustle of leaves. Champakali stands apart in its proximity to Goa’s historic natural and cultural sites. Just up the hill is the famous Church of Our Lady of the Mount, and down the hill lie the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the Se Cathedral and the ruins of the Church of Saint Augustine. The hotel offers guides to take you on heritage walks. Champakali also facilitates tours to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, for a bird watching tour, surfing lessons and cycling rides around the old city. The food is a source of pride at Champakali; it is prepared every day by the resident chef with fresh, local ingredients. Breakfast is a consistent, comfortable feast, with homemade muesli, Goan breads, French crepes, and house tea blends.
SIOLIM HOUSE, NORTH GOA
Built in 1675, Casa Palacio Siolim House traces its roots to the earliest era of Portuguese occupation in Goa. A finalist for the UNESCO Heritage Prize, this restored nine-room boutique hotel exudes refinement and authenticity. The stately manor once housed both the governor to Macau and to Mozambique, and then, in its modern iteration, Kate Moss for an entire week. The hotel aims to ‘expose guests to what Goa is really about’; a melting pot of Indo-European culinary, architectural, and societal influences which come together to form a unique experience. It emphasises its family-oriented approach to hospitality, as meals are served in a cozy courtyard, and the staff arranges for everything from ayurvedic massages to cooking lessons.
AHILYA BY THE SEA, DOLPHIN BAY
Ahilya by the Sea features nine rooms spread across three gorgeous, independent villas and two picturesque swimming pools. The sister property of the famous Ahilya Fort in Madhya Pradesh, the coastal Ahilya is rich with understated elegance and homely comfort.While maintaining the service of a full hotel, Ahilya by the Sea is marked by a tasteful individuality, which gives its guests a unique experience. The art is handpicked from all over the world, providing Ahilya with an atmosphere of calm introspection. The property has the Banyan Spa, promulgating an aura of restfulness and rejuvenation in this lush, sun-kissed corner of Goa. The food is extraordinary, with an a la carte menu with elements of Goan, Italian, and French cuisine, using fresh ingredients from local markets. Dining is outdoors at a different spot on the grounds every night.
ELSEWHERE, NORTH GOA
‘Our location is a bit of a secret’ says the Elsewhere website, and the entire property does indeed maintain an air of mystery and adventure. The origins of the hotel date back to 1886, when Anjelo Sequeira bought the land. Today, his great-grandson, the fashion photographer Denzil Sequeira, has adapted his ancestral compound into a fine boutique hotel. To get to Elsewhere, you must cross a 70m long wooden bridge across a creek. What lies beyond is a perfect marriage of classical Goan style and tropical paradise. A little over a kilometer of untouched sands, under the shade of a stretch of coconut palms, seem a world away from the pandemonium that has descended on nearby Calangute and Baga. The other-wordly immersion runs deep in Elsewhere. You can cook your own fish by the fire, explore the grounds and even watch turtles in their nesting season. It may be a bridge you have to cross to reach the property, but it may as well be the rabbit hole which led Alice to Wonderland.
The name Avanaliya comes from the words Avani, which means earth, and Laya, which means abode. The 12 rooms in the hotel are spaced across 24 acres, with less than 3 per cent of the land built up on the property. The grounds slope down toward the scenic waterfront of a Mandovi tributary. The three villas are designed for privacy, meant for honeymooners and other ponderous souls looking to get away. Peacocks frolic about Avanaliya’s expanse, accompanied by flurries of butterflies in an explosion of rare natural beauty. There are no TVs in the roomsinstead, soak and let reality suspend itself as you indulge in the sunken bathtubs which await in every bathroom. The spacious veranda offers dramatic views of the river and surrounding villages, setting the scene to knock back a few while watching the intermittent barges laze by.