The cheerful Vivenda dos Palhacos lurks on a quiet village lane in Majorda. A model of an original Goan mansion, it boasts a rustic location, alluring aesthetic and fine fare. The boutique hotel is a tribute, a backstreet to Goa’s past, along with unique Indian elements.
Walking out of the Vivenda dos Palhacos took great effort. Over the past day, I felt myself settle into an oasis of calm, and a glance at my travel companion reflected equal seduction. Situated down a quiet village road in Majorda – home to the beach with the most beautiful sand (only a kilometre away) – the Vivenda dos Palhacos is a grand mansion, a smartly renovated tribute to Goan architecture.
As we strolled through the property, and later emerged by the shady pool, the scene was dramatically different to what we had pictured for this time of year. We were caught off guard to see holiday makers doing what they do, while a bevy of staff went about their chores unobtrusively. The atmosphere was particularly engaging, and provided a great combination of a lively watering hole in the otherwise tranquil guesthouse.
Before we settled down to lunch, we savoured our first glasses of chilled Rosé as Charlotte Hayward, co-owner of the Vivenda dos Palhacos, chatted away amiably about how her brother Simon and her stumbled upon the hotel. The brother-sister duo were born and bought up in India; they are the fourth generation of the family to live in the country and spend as much time here as possible. Goa is home; they have nurtured the Vivenda dos Palhacos and are in it for the long haul.
The full kitchen offers an eclectic menu – a Goan Feast, complete with suckling pig and continental specialties like iced gazpacho topped with lobster, drizzled in paprika oil; and steaks on caramelised onions with masala mashed potato on the side.
Lunch turned out to be a four-hour-long affair. We tucked into a platter of grilled fish with fresh beetroot salad in the main dining area, and were accompanied by some of the other guests too. A great concept at this retreat is that you can either decide to enjoy a quiet meal and eat separately or join the other housemates in some friendly banter, buzzing in a family-oriented way.
The staff is also happy to arrange picnic and al fresco lunches on the beach nearby or by the pool. Cocktail eats, snacks and children’s meals flow round the clock.
We faded into our room, exhausted from the sumptuous fare, but well impressed. As we had learned earlier from Charlotte, the Portuguese part of the house – the front building – was built in 1929. The older Hindu house, towards the back of the property, was made from thick rammed earth walls and leads to the main garden and swimming pool.
Each of the seven rooms celebrates a theme and is named after the places the Haywards have lived in and loved, in Bengal and Tamil Nadu. All feature en-suite bathrooms, fans and air-conditioning. However, they don’t have televisions or phones, although they can be rustled up for children or major sporting events.
In the front section of the house, Konnagar, the master bedroom, has an antique four-poster and a private balcony. A cast iron bath tub saved from the Royal Bombay Yacht Club is a unique touch. Alipore features a window seat that is either a love seat or prayer spot, overlooking the coconut plantation.
In the older Hindu part of the house, Madras is a large double room with French doors leading out to the garden from its open-air bathroom, while Ballygunge has two large single beds in it that can be pushed together, and also houses a distinctly Gujarati bathroom.
Ooty, with its private entrance from the courtyard, has a built-in double bed, sitting area and a mirrored secret bathroom. Chanpara is a huge tent, with old camping furniture, including a Thunder Box and an early version of a mini-bar. It has a private entrance and a flourishing garden. Ours was the Chummery (formerly the outhouse) – a self-contained cottage overlooking the poolwith great décor, a good-size room, small kitchen, two verandas and packed library.
Typically, the first thing I look for on arrival is the in-house manual to check what is on offer. We were delighted to unearth an A-Z hardback of what to do and equally what not to attempt. A couple of risky and adventurous activities, some of which flirt with the law, also find their way into the book. Besides, Charlotte and Simon are always happy to share tips, suggest and help organise side trips and places to stay around Goa as well as in the rest of the country.
We were, however, simply happy to hibernate, even if that meant we had only a few more hours to go. The next morning our bags were packed and we were ready to hit the road.
I had forged a personal connection with the Vivenda dos Palhacos, where the view is of “blue skies and coconuts; where cocks, crow; chickens, cluck; pigs, grunt; children, play; parents, grumble; dogs, bark; Christians, sing and church bells ring amid all the other signs of life you would expect in a south Goan village” – an apt description on the hotel’s website.