Not many people can say that their backyard is the Goa backwaters. However, Savio and Pirkko Fernandes (and their two lovely children) are among the lucky ones who can. And, fortunately for the rest of us, they decided to start sharing their patch of paradise by opening a homestay in 2010.
Olaulim Backyards borders the backwaters and is full of tropical jungle. As you can imagine, it's no ordinary homestay. The accommodations match the uniqueness of the property too. Read on to find out more about it and why you'll love it there.
What Makes Olaulim Backyards Special
There are four cottages, with the newest one made out of rammed earth. Two of the cottages, Hornbill and Golden Oriole, are perched on the ridge at the rear of the property. Rather than destroy nature to construct the cottages, Savio and Pirkko designed them to be built around it.
When tidying up the area, they discovered that many huge rocks formed part of the landscape. Instead of removing them, the rocks have become features inside the cottages. The cottages themselves are so divinely enveloped by nature and vegetation that they truly feel a part of it.
The other cottage, Sunbird, is located on the edge of a paddy field just steps away from the serene backwaters and swimming pool.
The cottages are aptly named after local birds. While I was there a sunbird was busy building a nest outside its namesake cottage. Much to my delight, I also saw a hornbill flying overhead.
What's really inspiring is the extent that Savio and Pirkko have gone to to make their homestay eco-friendly. They compost and recycle, clean with bio-degradable agents, cook with organic ingredients, heat the water with solar panels, and have used reclamation building materials.
As they say, the cottages have "more soul than luxury". And, this is what makes them so special. Their open air bathrooms with rain showers are a highlight. During the monsoon season, it feels like the water could indeed be real rain. The provision of natural herbal soap, shampoo and hand wash, handmade by rural women, is a thoughtful touch (and the products are so fragrant and wholesome, they smell good enough to eat). The cottages also have semi-transparent roofs to let an abundance of natural light in.
Sunbird Cottage at Olaulim Backyards
The elegant and rather romantic Sunbird cottage is decorated in warm tones and furnished with antique ancestral furniture, complete with canopied four-poster bed.
It can comfortably accommodate three people, and is particularly suited to guests who lack mobility and would have difficultly walking uphill to the other cottages.
Hornbill Cottage at Olaulim Backyards
The ambiance of Hornbill cottage feels like a remarkable combination of cave and tree house, due to the large rocks inside it and deck amongst the foliage.
This cottage is spacious enough for a family of four. It has a king-size double bed and another bed in a loft in the rock for children to sleep on.
It's a particular delight during the monsoon season, as you'll be serenaded by the patter of rain on the roof, and surrounded by flourishing trees and the smell of moist nature.
Golden Oriole Cottage at Olaulim Backyards
Golden Oriole is the smallest of the cottages. It's best suited to a mobile young couple as it's situated at the highest point on the property, giving it privacy but also requiring a certain degree of fitness to reach. The bathroom is also located down a small outdoor staircase.
The stand-out feature of this cute and cozy cottage is its windows at the front, which slide fully to the side, opening the cottage right up to nature.
Indian Pitta Cottage at Olaulim Backyards
The newest cottage, made out of rammed earth, India Pitta has a double bed and two extra beds. It sits facing the lake and fields, for a peaceful view. There's even a small garden in the bathroom!
Food at Olaulim Backyards
Like everything else at Olaulim Backyards, the food is cooked with natural, locally sourced ingredients and is packed full of flavor. It consists mainly of simple Goan fare, often with a twist. While I was there, for dinner I dined on delicious river prawns lightly cooked in spices, cilantro chicken curry, a dill-based salad preparation, a hearty lentil dish, and local rice (which is so much better than the supermarket stuff).
Breakfast was a medley of fresh fruit, locally baked bread, omelet, and filter coffee. I was intrigued by the pomelo, a curious giant citrus fruit that grows on the property. It tastes rather bitter, like a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit.
Savio and his neighbor even brew their own feni, Goa's renowned spirit, with home grown cashews. I made, what I initially though was a mistake, of inquiring after it. After all, the branded, mass-produced cashew feni is an odorous substance that had completely turned me off the drink in the past.
However, Savo's feni, which he stores in an unobtrusive barrel in the kitchen and quickly produced in flurry, was pleasingly different and not at all offensive. Mixed the local way, it was admittedly actually very good -- a must-try!
Pets at Olaulim Backyards
Another thing that sets Olaulim Backyards apart is its oddball menagerie of pets that roam around the property. There are two goats, three dogs, a cat called Richard Parker, and a donkey called Mantra. Many of them were rescued by Savio and Pirkko. They have such quirky personalities and are so enthusiastic in their quests for attention, you can't help but love them.
The pets are friendly and very used to being around children, and they provide a wonderful opportunity for city kids to spend time with animals.
Activities at Olaulim Backyards
One of the simple pleasures at Olaulim Backyards is lazing around, whether by the swimming pool (or poolside bar) in the coconut grove, or sitting out in front of your cottage. Yet, if you feel like being more active, you'll find a variety of activities to keep you occupied. Savio and Pirkko emphasize the deliberate lack of gadgets at the property, including no TVs, to encourage guests to explore and enjoy time in the great outdoors.
A village walk in the unpolluted air, which the whole family may accompany you on, is a recommended and fascinating way of acquainting yourself with the neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone. You'll get to stroll past colorful traditional Goan houses and churches. There are hills full of dancing peacocks, local enthusiasts to fish with, birds to watch, quiet roads to cycle through, and waterways to canoe along. Kids will love the tree house on the property.
Further afield, it's possible to go scuba diving, and also river rafting during the monsoon season (July to September). If you're interested in pottery, you can visit the studio of a local artist and take lessons.
Tours to many of Goa's popular attractions are arranged as well.
The Bottom Line
Olaulim Backyards, one Goa's top homestays, is an all-year-round destination that's appealing for both couples and families. For me, it's a place with heart that I know I'll return to again and again. Having grown up in the country, I feel like I've discovered a laid back, tranquil oasis that I can retreat to and be at home. Savio and Pirkko (who's originally from Finland but has been living in India for more than 20 years) are relaxed, sociable, attentive but non-intrusive hosts, whom I felt very comfortable spending time with. The property offers a unique opportunity to get off the beaten track and experience a different side of Goa (that you probably didn't know existed), and be soothed and enlivened by nature.
Olaulim Backyards is located near Aldona, in the Goan hinterland around 15 minutes from Mapusa and 30 minutes from capital Panjim.
Cottages cost 6,000 rupees per night for a double from October to May, and 4,500 rupees per night from June to September. From December 18 to January 5, rates increase to 9,500 rupees per night. Breakfast and all in-house activities are included. Tax is additional.
Children below three years old stay free. Children aged 3 to 10 years, 700 rupees per night. Children older than 10 years, 1,400 rupees per night.
Special rates are given for long stays.
More information is available on the Olaulim Backyards website.
You can also see my photos of Olaulim Backyards on Facebook.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, Tripsavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.