I'm writing this about 15 feet from the sea in a breezy thatched roof restaurant. Beautiful Indian classical tunes meld with the rise and fall of the surf. If I turn my head, I can see a swathe of swaying coconut palms. If there is a postcard for coastal Goa, here it comes to life.
The restaurant by the sea
The organic feel of the wooden table feels good on my skin. The Chorizo Poi and Bebinca I ate sit comfortably in my tummy. The only reason I'm not with my feet up and eyes shut sosegade-style is because I want to capture this moment in all its perfection for you.
This is a different pace from my usual Goan holiday, where I'm trying to savour many different experiences within the span of a few days. This beach, that restaurant, this spa, that sport, this drink, that dish... It's what we do in the big city and find hard to divest ourselves of when we travel.
This time, I've decided to stay in one place and let the peace seep into my pores. I'm here at this beautiful boutique property called Bay 15 on Odxel Beach, close to central Goa. Just two kilometres from Dona Paula and about 10-minutes-drive from Panaji. So close to all the bustle of those touristy spots and yet so serene in its seclusion. It's the perfect place for couples and families who are done with the frenetic fraternising of North Goa and don't want to travel almost till the Karnataka border for their fix of gorgeous South Goa. I think it would make the perfect venue for an intimate destination wedding or family reunion. I find it's also a super retreat for creative people. Come here if you want to commune with your musical or artistic genius, get away from writer's block or uncork a magnum of movie magic.
Bay 15 has 15 (of course!) charming pine-wood cabanas each with its own spacious wooden deck with slatted wood chairs and tables. Some look onto the sea, some onto the splash pool and some (like mine does) onto the curve of the bay.
The beautiful wooden deck facing the bay
Every time I draw the curtains, I see a different mood of the ocean. Nature's theatre is full of surprises. When I first arrived, late in the afternoon, the vista was peaceful, with fishermen mending their nets on the sliver of beach, a serpent eagle making multiple sorties on a black and white dog that was gambolling unperturbed in the waves. The monsoon clouds gave the scene a sombre air. It was a very different picture when the sun came out to play, though. Every part of the landscape was lighted up, like an old film redone in rich technicolour. The depth of hues was astonishing... the emerald of the forest that edged the bay. The red-brown of the rocks in the middle of the water. The azure of the sea and sky. This morning, I meandered out at the crack of dawn to witness a greyscape with a turgid sea, waves crashing on big rocks, feel a light drizzle on my face and hear a peacock calling from the forest on the far shore.
The cosy cabana
Apart from watching the changeable sea (which can literally be a full-time occupation here!), the resort does offer other distractions. The fantastic food on offer is certainly one of them. I have a tough time planning each meal, going through three distinct food menus. There's one for Mediterranean, one pan-Indian and one dedicated to purely Goan delicacies. Each has clearly been put together with a lot of attention to detail.
THREE menus to choose from!
I ease into my first meal here with a beautiful Crab and Artichoke Salad and a delightful Crème Brulee with fresh pear by way of dessert. At dinner, I'm bowled over by the local dish of Mutton Sukke, with the tender meat redolent of freshly ground cinnamon and cardamom. Chef Peter Fernandes, who heads the Indian kitchen, is a true-blue Goan but his talent spills across into everything he creates. His bread basket is something to talk about too. I share some fantastic sheermal and creamy textured taftan with my friends at the table. We eat this so eagerly, I land up not having any images to share with you!
The amazingly delicious Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad
On another easy afternoon, Chef MH Raheman, the man behind all the fab menus decides to wow me with a three-course Mediterranean meal by the sea. He takes careful note of my tastes and dietary preferences and pampers me with a Chilled Crab, Mango & Avocado Salad. Sitting pretty on a base of a mango jelly, sweet de-shelled crab, fresh mango and tender and umami avocado are topped with micro greens. What more do I need, I think, as the balmy air ruffles my hair, I sink my toes into the cool sand and take a sip of some chilled Chenin Blanc.
But then comes a delicious grilled pomfret. The sheer pleasure of savouring perfectly done fish freshly caught the same morning from the bay behind my cabana is unmatched. I send a silent thank you to the sea for sharing its bounty. One is never so connected with one's food in the city.
My third course is Baked Yoghurt touched with the smallest bit of fiery chilli to balance the sweetness. Topped with a disc of white chocolate that again bears a minuscule smattering of chilli powder. Complete on its own, I feel that the slivers of apricot and almond that accompany it to give an Indian twist are rather extraneous.
Having said that, the food here is simply splendid and every meal is memorable. Be it the vegetarian Pear, Walnut, Arugula and Camembert Salad with Wine-soaked Raisins and Honey Dressing or the as-non-veg-as-it-gets Buttery Grilled Tiger Prawns with herbed rice, everything is superbly executed. And don't go by my pictures and think it's just about Mediterranean seafood either. They really do have a great spread of Indian veg and non-veg as well as some fab Middle-Eastern options.
A chilled Long Island Iced Tea with a Pear, Walnut, Arugula and Camembert Salad with Wine-soaked Raisins and Honey Dressing
The key to this perfection is the fact that a large part of the team has worked with luxury hotels before and is well-versed with what makes or breaks good hospitality. And they have the right support too. The property, which was welcomed into the fold of the JuSTa hotels chain in April 2015, has strong Goan roots. They have still retained some of the ancient stone steps with curving balustrades on the land, integrating them with the events venue that's been built much more recently. I spent an entire morning photographing colourful caterpillars around this area. Two little girls, also guests at the resort, traded a glimpse of their shell collection for a few hundred views of the videos I had taken!
The splash pool with the rain-protected cabanas
Be it rambling around the property, putting one's feet up in an easy chair on the deck facing the sea, cooling off in the little pool under the palm trees, relaxing in one of the ocean-facing restaurants or enjoying the plushness of the cabanas, Bay15 offers you ample chances to unwind, rejuvenate your soul and rekindle a romance with yourself and your loved ones. You just need to let the pint-sized Paradise work its charm.
Bay 15, Odxel Beach, Dona Paula, Panjim, Goa 403206. Tel: 0832-245 6231
Spectacular sunset at Bay 15