Goa, located midway between Mumbai and Kerala on the Arabian Sea, is a place of superlatives: It's the smallest, one of the wealthiest, and boho chic-est state in India. Goa's appeal runs deeper than the gorgeous beaches and scenery and the relaxed hippie vibe (not that we're discounting those), and is enriched by lingering influence of the Portuguese traders who left their mark on the architecture, the churches, and the cuisine. Fiona Caulfield, the mastermind behind the gorgeous Love India series of guide books, which we first discovered in Mumbai, selected these twelve hotels for Fathom from Love Goa. The hotels run from north to south along Goa's 110 kilometers of palm-fringed coastline, and include former Portuguese forts, luxurious villas, a priest's home, and upscale tents for glamping.
Tiracol; open year-round.
The former Portuguese armed fortress is now an intimate and chic hotel that attracts a creative crowd. Perched high on a cliff top, the luxurious rooms overlook the estuary of the Tiracol River and the Arabian Sea. The seven rooms and suites are named after the days of the week. Of the two suites, choose Friday, which has a private sun terrace with a spectacular view. The white 17th century chapel is still in use; a traditional Goan wedding was taking place when I visited. The property does not have a pool yet, but offers guests complimentary transfers to the beach fifteen minutes away.
Mandrem; open from October to January and from March to May.
If I could own any house in Goa, this would be the it. Anders Linnet and his wife Mette Lange have lived between Denmark and Goa for the last twenty years. Anders, an enthusiastic paraglider, spotted this perfect site on a flight. The site is high on a cliff with superb views north to the Tiracol River and the coconut groves that mark the border of Goa with the neighboring state of Maharashtra. Mette, a Danish architect, then created the ideal house for a Goan way of life, using local materials and traditional skills combined with superb Danish design aesthetic. On arrival, you only see a sheer laterite wall, but as you walk through the front door panoramic views open out from the open-air,split-level living spaces. The house has two bedrooms and a separate one-bedroom guest cottage nestled in the tropical garden. A small infinity pool is on the sundeck, just above the BBQ area. Birdwatchers will enjoy the abundant bird life and beach lovers will be pleased that some of Goa's finest and quietest beaches are just ten minutes away. The resident house manager Hari lives in a separate cottage on the property. There's more info on Lazydays, the private villa rental company that manages the home. (Select Kiranpani from the "Property Enquiry Form" on the top menu.) Anders and Mette have also set up Moving School, a charity that helps Goan children.
Ashvem, Vivek; open year-round.
Kaju Varo is the perfect base for a beach holiday. It's a five-minute walk to the beach and ten minutes to the superb La Plage restaurant and glamorous beach boutiques on Ashvem Beach. Vikram and Loise, who created the project, describe the design as minimalist, rooted in functionality and meditative Zen values. The villa complex is on a largely untouched cashew and mango orchard and offers six dwellings constructed from green materials. The project began with a rustic bungalow and two grain lofts that were converted into designer villas. The largest and most private of these is Poilo Gor. Dusro Gor and Tisro Gor are semi-detached cottages with upstairs bedrooms, a common swimming pool, and large dining terrace. Treehouse Shunya Gor is a pre-fab modular unit. Eco Bungalow can be one or two bedrooms and has a private lap pool. The Shunya Suite overlooks the tree canopy and has a spa bath. There's more info on Shunya Villas & Retreats. (Select Shunya Villas, Goa from "Villas & Retreats" on the top menu.)
Ashvem Beach; open from October to April.
Located on two acres of beachfront in a mature coconut grove a few minutes from La Plage, this leafy, mid-budget, twenty-room resort is most famous for the unique dome accommodation, as well as traditional cottages. The eco-friendly pods are made from local materials like lava rock, palm leaves, mango wood, clay, and sand. Yab Yum has a great location and is deservedly popular with travellers of all ages and is family-friendly. Their other property, the Artist's House, has three bedrooms and located nearby in the quiet village of Dandos Wadda.
Mandrem Beach; open from October to May.
A dream location with superb accommodation and one my favorite places, not only in Goa but also in India. Owner Denzil Sequeira restored four ancestral properties, which date back to 1886 and are located on a spit of land between the sea and a salt-water creek. Denzil is highly protective of his guests' privacy: The location is a secret until booking. Elsewhere does not discuss guests, but it is well known that Angelina, Brad, and children stayed here, and many celebrated writers, including Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh, are regulars. The dining shack, a tent without a view, becomes quite a social hub, and firm friendships have been forged here. The Captain's House and The Priest's House have three bedrooms, The Piggery two bedrooms, and The Bakery two bedrooms with separate entrances that can be taken individually. There are also two Otter Creek Tents overlooking the pretty waterway at the rear of the property.
Ashvem Beach; open from November to April.
French business partners Mathieu and Alexandre successfully run three boutique hotels in Delhi. In 2009, they created a chic cluster of four ultra luxurious tents just minutes from the beach in a shady coconut grove behind the beloved La Plage. The sumptuous tents, erected each season, are designed for modern day maharajahs and maharanis, with airconditioning, hot water rain showers, complimentary Wi-Fi, iPod docks, and a personal mobile phone per suite. Amarya serves breakfast and brunch and can arrange room service from nearby restaurants La Plage (French) or Gopals (Indian). Adjacent to reception is the lovely Nana Ki lifestyle boutique with perfect Goa chic clothes and accessoriesrun by Alex's wife Chloe. There is a spa and yoga center with three classes daily and ocean views.
Vagator; suites open year-round, tents open from December to April.
Owners Phil and Juliet run a peaceful and joyful property with a flow of guests and no formal fixed retreat start and stop dates. There is a lightness of touch here, encouraging people to enjoy the experience, be that reading a book beside the beautiful pool or fine tuning their headstand under the guidance of some of the world's best yoga teachers. Also popular is the barefoot boogie, a dance night held every Friday on the lawn under the stars. Seven spacious and supremely comfortable Rajasthani tents are erected in the season and two lavish suites are open year-round. Highlights of my stay included the yoga class by special guest teacher Helen Noakes, the delicious breakfast at the Yoga Magic café and a fabulous massage by Vishnu, who works in a shack on the adjacent rice paddy. Guests speak of a total transformation, which even after just 24 hours I could understand. Perhaps it is the perfect combination of daily yoga, sleeping under canvas, delicious organic food, plenty of Goan sunshine, and literally being grounded to the earth standing on cow dung and mud floors. Over half of the guests are repeat visitors and most are independent travellers. A week here annually would be a wonderful idea.
Juliet has introduced a boutique selling a beautiful range of women's fashion, accessories, and homewares. Highlights include Juliet's own kaftans made using organic cotton, khadi silks and antique saris, and the Ouseko silk cushions and homewares made from vintage fabrics by British designer Philippa Wood.
Siolim; open year-round.
An extravagant and opulent four-bedroom villa located in the heritage village of Siolim. The Portuguese colonial house on beautiful, mature gardens was, until 2011, a private home and remains managed by the Bajaj family and their long-time, discrete staff. Ishavilas is the first Noble Home within India's Neemrana Hotel group. There are three bedrooms in the main house and a separate, one-bedroom poolside dwelling called the Oriental Cottage. The large swimming pool is overlooked by a glitteringglass mosaic Ganesh by Goan resident artist Yahel of Monsoon Heritage and is a perfect setting for grand parties and luxurious lounging. There is a spa room where the excellent in-house masseuse works and the in-house yoga teacher offers daily classes at the adjacent Aum Yogashala.
Vivenda dos Palhacos
Majorda, open year-round.
Since first visiting Simon and Charlotte's place (which is much easier to say, remember, and understand than "Villa of Clowns" in Portuguese), I have become good friends with the brother-and-sister team and have been both charmed and seduced by their eclectic property, a six-bedroom, 100-year-old house that they lovingly restored. Staying here feels like being a guest at a wonderful house party. General manager John effortlessly makes guests comfortable, and the combination of Simon, Charlotte, and Toby (the basset hound) keeps guests entertained. My favourite room is Konnagar, which has a splendid cast iron bath-tub. Located in the village of Majorda, just 30 minutes south of the airport, Vivenda is one kilometer away from the longest beach in Goa and the famous beach shack Zeebop. Vivenda Dos Paisa Puchau includes a charity initiative: 100 rupees per night are added to your bill and matched by Vivenda.
Chaudi; open year-round.
Unquestionably my favorite place to stay in far south Goa. Goan owner Sandesh Prabhu (Sandy), an architect working in Mumbai, restored this wonderful heritage villa and created a charming place to stay. Located in the bustling market town of Chaudi, the property offers a serene stay and is just five minutes from wonderful Patnem Beach. Four comfortable guest rooms are furnished with antique pieces, though they do not yet have air-conditioning or en-suite bathrooms. There are mobile cooler units and each bedroom has a designated luxurious bathroom at the rear of the house. A highlight is the wonderful patio, undoubtedly the place to be, which is charming for breakfast and candlelit dinner. The owners' sister is an Ayurvedic doctor who runs the Turiya Spa in a pavilion in the leafy garden.
Dwarka Eco Beach Resort
Mattimol, Ambelim Beach; open November to April.
Just twenty minutes north of Agonda is one of the most beautifully situated shacks in all of Goa. Owners Clemente and Arlene are location scouts for film shoots and happened upon this remote location. The ten simple thatched cottages overlook a freshwater lagoon and are just steps from the secluded beach that they share with the Blue Lagoon restaurant shack, which is popular with day visitors. The journey here is not for the fainthearted nor for drivers precious about their cars, as the last ten minutes of the track are very bumpy. How remote are you? The fifth table along in the dining shack is the only spot for mobile phone coverage.
Patnem; open November to April.
A few years ago, German fashion photographer Bernd Slotta created the most stylish huts in Goa at Agonda, singlehandedly raising the design bar for shacks in Goa. Turtle has relocated to the Colomb end of Patnem Beach and has two villas on the hillside directly adjacent to the Harmonic Spa and three beach bungalows in a palm grove. The elegant hillside villas have panoramic views, Wi-Fi, and fridges but do not have hot water showers; buckets of hot water can be requested. The spaciousbeach bungalows are beautifully designed, crafted from natural materials and are undoubtedly the most chic beach accommodation in Goa, just a few meters from the shoreline.
WHEN TO GO
Peak season is Christmas and New Year's; prices tend to drop during the monsoon rains between June and September.
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
Love Goa is the author's charming book about the area.