Off beach

Off beach
Exteriors of Alila Diwa in Goa,

Beyond the 'beach paradise' cliché, Goa's quieter heartland has a different story to tell

Mridula Gandhi
June 30 , 2014
05 Min Read

Do we really need another story on Goa? About its teeming shack-lined beaches, sea-facing resorts and moonlit, hippie-filled carnivals? Maybe not. But beyond the ‘beach paradise’ cliché, Goa’s quieter heartland — with its quaint villages, colonial architecture and historic churches — has a different story to tell. One that you can be a part of if you visit the months-old Alila Diwa Goa, the first of several that luxury brand Alila Hotels and Resorts is launching in India.

 

I was anticipating a beachfront property, more specifically a room with a picturesque ocean view. Well, picturesque it was, ocean view it wasn’t. Wedged discreetly between two villages — Majorda and Betalbatim — in southern Goa, Alila Diwa at first glance could be mistaken for one of the capacious homes on the leafy, undisturbed lane on which it resides; an intended characteristic, as I will discover. Unassuming wrought-iron gates open to reveal a low-slung compound, shaded by tall coconut palms. That an effort has been made to architecturally adhere to the traditional Goan aesthetic is at once obvious — from the austere whitewashed façade crowned by sloping clay-tiled roofs to the rustic burnt-red pillars of laterite. “Alila’s philosophy is that each of its properties should incorporate elements of the local architecture of the place it belongs to, thus ensuring that no two properties look alike. We have attempted to give Alila Diwa the feel of an old Goan home,” assistant front office manager Amarendra Kumar informs me as he greets me in the lobby. ‘Home’ is definitely the operative word at Alila — aside from the architectural references to Goa’s native houses, the emphasis here is solidly on unpretentiousness, which has the effect of immediately rendering you at ease.

The property is deceptively large, an achievement that can be attributed to its clever open-plan layout. The 12-acre space intersperses large, tranquil courtyards abundant with plants, well-tended lawns and glassy water bodies. High ceilings, cool, airy verandas and corridors hung with soaring lanterns of beaten brass for a touch of personality. But the hotel’s sweetest spot by far is the swimming pool: a massive, split-level infinity lido that opens out on to vast, lush paddy plantations. “We were concerned about the lack of sea views here, but this works too,” says Kumar. I agree. With sunken deck beds that let you recline in the water, a glass-fronted bar flanking the water’s edge and that thing we constantly seek — peace — who needs the beach?

 

Ironically, this — the lack of beach — is something that Alila Diwa actually benefits from. Fewer tourists venture inland, consequently preserving the hotel’s privacy; the encircling paddy fields not only proffer greenery and serenity, they bring you closer to rural life in the best possible way and unlike beachside resorts, where the principal source of leisure activities is the water, Alila Diwa keeps its guests occupied by organising a range of outings to nearby spice plantations, the fish market, a well-known pao maker, hidden museums and churches, a potter’s workshop and even a Portuguese-era home where you can savour a true, home-cooked Goan meal. “We’d rather our guests experience Goa than confine them to the hotel,” says Kumar.

 

On the topic of accommodation, the hotel presently has only two wings, with 114 rooms and suites, but next season should see a spanking new section of 35 luxury suites complete with butler service and an exclusive pool as well as a presidential villa. Mine was a comfortable room with clear green views from my balcony. The décor sticks to the tried-and-tested formula of muted shades, clean lines and Balinese wicker furniture — standard, but smart enough. My only real grouse with my otherwise very pleasant stay came at night. Blame it on a crowd of singularly noisy neighbours intent on keeping their party going till 3am or freakishly thin walls, but let’s just say a shared train compartment would have been quieter. Honest.

 

On the food front, the hotel offers limited but well-executed options. Expect no surprises on the all-day dining menu: choices range from classic grilled sandwiches and pastas to predictable Thai preparations. But sometimes comfort food done well — as my yellow prawn curry and juicy papaya salad was — can truly hit the spot. Conversely, their speciality coastal-cuisine restaurant, Spice Studio, which only opens for dinner, allows the kitchen a freer hand and an adventurous menu that travels from Kutch to Kerala shows up. The highlight of my meal here was the chicken cafreal — its tender, gently spiced rendition beat the delicate kingfish, the Malabari prawns and even the chocolate fondant, an old favourite.

 

My brief overnight visit didn’t permit me any excursions, or a chance to go down to the sea, despite the hotel’s comfortable 10-minute access to Majorda beach. But there’s always time for a spa treatment. It’s not much of a spa yet, rather a suite with a view. Within, soft lighting and even softer instrumental music, a pan-Asian-themed décor and a multinational treatment menu. Is it just me or have spas everywhere begun to feel the same? Nonetheless, the hour-long pampering I received was healing, involving as it did a warm foot soak and a body massage.

 

Alila Diwa, like every brand-new hotel, suffers from a few teething issues and isn’t entirely ready yet. Next season may see a slightly different hotel from the one I just visited. But what you can be assured of is warm, enthusiastic service, some serious downtime without the ennui and, overall, an entirely new Goa holiday experience. If this is what you’re looking for, you’re knocking on the right door.

 

 

The information


Location 48/10 Village Majorda, Adao Waddo, Salcette (20mins from Dabolim International Airport)

Accommodation 85 Terrace and Family Terrace Rooms; 21 Loft Rooms; 6 Diwa Suites; and 2 Alila Suites

Tariff Rs 11,700 (Terrace and Family Terrace); Rs 13,400 (Loft); Rs 22,000 (Diwa); Rs 23,400 (Alila). Valid till April 30.

Contact 0832-2746800, www.alilahotels.com

 


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