Your first taste of Goa is that salty sea smell that assails you immediately as you make your way out of the airport. But driving by the little villages gives you a sense of peace–these are often places of refuge, away from everyday routines, imbued with a sense of freedom cities can never offer. Away from the mostly-favoured sandy beaches, I headed to Assagao, a village that offered my mobile device no reception. It was the beginning of a magical detachment, of a new Goa experience?
While regular travellers to the state will bemoan its increasing commercialisation, Assagao’s old-world bungalows with red oxide floors and balcÃ£os, and quaint mother-of-pearl windows still retain their charm. It’s one of these Portuguese villas, over a century old, that hosts The Project CafÃ©, an experiential design hotel. Everything you see on the property–art, dÃ©cor, furniture, apparel, accessories–is for sale. It’s like staying in a living art gallery.
The Project CafÃ© has collaborated with artists and architects, as well as product lines, who exhibit their wares all over the property. Take my room, for instance. I was greeted by a magnificent four-poster bed and high ceilings. Designed by architect Hiren Patel, the minimalism combined with contemporary designs and an antique feel made me fall into deep slumber with a smile. But a year from now, the space will be completely redesigned and patrons will be offered a new experience.
One doesn’t have to stay the night to experience The Project CafÃ©. Pick up one of the books on display (Roli Books) and park yourself on a comfortable armchair at the Gulmohar Lane lounge. Want to shop? The retail space is a heady mix of perfumes (Bombay Perfumery) and lilies, which entice you to come in and browse Runaway Bicycle’s clothing line on display. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in Jagrut Raval’s art, inspired by the arresting Bismarckia tree on the lawn, which also serves as Aradhana Seth’s inspiration for the outdoor cafÃ©. The art experience isn’t just confined to the walls–the Garden of Sound showcases the Goa-based ceramist Thomas Louis’s modified udu installation. I tried to play, but my musical capabilities lacked the requisite refinement.
Away from the noise of technology, I took a swim in the pool, each stroke making me hungrier than ever. The lunch spread that followed was the stuff of dreams. From steamed snapper to Goan chorizo, duck with plum sauce to prawns and guac, the flavours were bold and clean. It’s just what I needed to recharge on a holiday with no connectivity (WiFi is available throughout the property but wasn’t working while I was visiting). In between bites, I was left enthralled by beautiful handmade maps by Nidhi Khurana that hung all over the restaurant, derived from various maps of Goa.
No trip to Goa is complete without paying homage to a beach, and it was the journey towards Morjim that brought me back to reality. Emails and frantic texts flooded my phone, and I realised that though the accidental digital break had been the best detox, I was looking forward to getting back to the real world.
The Project CafÃ© is at Amalia Villa No. 198, Mazzal Waddo, Assagao, Goa, an hour’s drive from the airport. There are six rooms (five functional), tariffs upwards of â‚¹7,670, inclusive of breakfast and GST, though the rates can change. Contact: +91-9284389271, +91-9663894406; theprojectcafe.in