Goa: a place synonymous with raves and parties, and a name capable of generating either a smile or a snarl from travelers. For some it is the continent’s Mecca; a perfect place to unwind in unpredictable India. For others it is the epitome of Western influence on the East; a state so infiltrated and dirtied by tourism that its coastline doesn’t bare any resemblance to the beautiful shores that once attracted so many visitors in the first place. Either way, I was fascinated by Goa, and I arrived on its sunny shores last week hoping to find out if there was more to it than meets the ever-critical traveler’s eye.
Arriving in the North of Goa, I rented a bike and toured the local beaches. I was disappointed to find a crowd of inebriated and insalubrious package holiday-makers and aging hippies. Just as I was starting to lose all hope, I came across something quite different altogether…
Just a short drive from the popular and increasingly seedy beaches of Arambol and Baga is a resort which has earned itself quite a different reputation. “Elsewhere” is a luxury hideaway that, true to its name, seems to be somewhere else completely. Tucked away in a secret location among acres of palm trees overlooking a quiet and idyllic beach, the Elsewhere Resort has been host to such notable names as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Salman Rushdie.
Arriving at Elsewhere, I was greeted like family and guided over a bridge that seemed to lead straight into paradise. Spread out over sand dunes, the resort is made up of old Colonial buildings that once belonged to the current owner’s great-grand uncle in 1886. With a nostalgic memory of summer holiday’s spent at the property, the owner – a prominent fashion photographer from Mumbai – opened the place up as a resort, and added his own creative twists. Whilst the buildings are still structurally the same, Elsewhere has been thoughtfully renovated with a chic old Europe/modern India design. The owner’s artist’s eye and attention to detail reign supreme in Elsewhere, where the word ‘beautiful’ does not even begin to describe it.
Before being shown to my room, I lingered in the restaurant and was handed a deliciously fresh coconut with a straw poking out of it that had been plucked straight from one of the many coconut trees scattered out across the grounds. Open to the elements, the restaurant overlooked a large part of the grounds and as I dug my feet in the sand, I stared out at my heavenly surroundings. Long grass and dense dune vegetation swayed gently in the not-so-distant sea breeze. Large colourful butterflies floated gracefully through the air. Coconut and cashew trees reared up in every direction. But more than that…I felt a strange sense of peace that at first I couldn’t quite understand. I looked around me but saw no one, the waiter had disappeared back inside the kitchen, Barbara, my wonderful host for the weekend, had gone to sort out my room, and although the entire resort was full, the rooms were so spread out, I couldn’t see another person. All I could hear was the soft static of strands of grass brushing together as they moved slowly in the wind. A crowdless, noiseless India was a new experience for me, and it made shivers run up my spine with happiness.
Once I’d finished my coconut, Barbara lead me to my room, an impressive and luxurious tent backing onto a picturesque jade-green bracken creek. Inside the tent, the roof, which was made from pale, white fabric held in the middle by a wooden totem pole, let the sunlight stream into the room. A large four-poster bed boasted pillows and a mattress so soft that you could really sink into them. In the corner, a small mini bar offered champagne and a choice selection of wines. And thoughtful additions such as postcards, a writing desk, artsy wooden furnishings, and fancy toiletries gave the place a more hotel-like touch.
“Since the environmental protection laws don’t let us build new concrete buildings in Goa, we designed these tents in the style of African safari camping,” Barbara told me as we walked around the edge of my olive-green home for the weekend. I could immediately see the resemblance, and quickly understood the link. In many ways Elsewhere was like a safari. On a past trip in Sri Lanka, I was lucky enough to spend two night’s at a luxury safari camp in Yala National Park. The Elsewhere experience was not a far cry from this. Birds chirped cheerfully from every tree, butterflies circled my doorway, and Barbara informed me that there were many otters living in the creek.
“You can see turtles on our beach,” Barbara told me, when I inquired about the name of my tent (Olive Riddley). “We had one on our beach just a few days before and went out to protect the eggs. We’re actively involved in turtle conservation here at Elsewhere.”
But turtles aren’t the only thing Elsewhere is helping to conserve. The entire resort is helping to protect and develop the local community. Everything from the food to the staff to the furniture is locally sourced. And the smiling waiters and friendly management team are testament to the resort’s good nature.
With the comfortable knowledge that Elsewhere’s food comes guilt-free, I decided to indulge myself over the weekend. Fresh fish, local curries, tandoori specials, a few Western staples, and some sinful desserts are all on the surprisingly cheap – and unsurprisingly creative – menu. For less than $20 I dined on fresh-grilled calamari, a tangy side salad, dark chocolate mousse, and a ice-cold small bottle of wine in the beautiful outdoor restaurant.
The evenings at Elsewhere are a romantic, candlelit affair, and in some ways it felt quite strange to be there alone. This is definitely a retreat for couples and solo travelers who are really serious about taking some time away from the world. I was told by Barbara that the resort is popular with writers, and with nothing to disturb me as I settled down to some of my own writing in the evening, I could easily feel the pulse of inspiration in the air.
But I didn’t feel lonely as I tapped away at my keyboard and let the warmth of the evening, the gentle inebriation of the wine, and the the happiness of the staff and guests rub off on me. “That is the essence of Elsewhere” explained Barbara “we create a family here.” And after all, that was how Elsewhere started, as a family home in which summer holidays were spent and would forever be lovingly remembered by the owner. This is what he set out to recreate, and let me tell you – he achieved it.
This trip was kindly sponsored by Elsewhere. If you would like to find out more please visit their website.