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Portuguese, Hindu and Colonial Heritage
Vivenda dos Palhacos is an immaculately restored heritage property, tucked away in peaceful south Goa's Majorda village only a few minutes from the beach. Nostalgic, intimate, and eclectic, it's perfect for discerning guests who want to experience a different side of Goa. Stay there and take a trip down memory lane.
The property's Portuguese name, meaning House of Clowns, adds instant intrigue -- and it certainly doesn't disappoint. The house was rescued from dereliction by owner Simon Hayward, who saw it while on a short vacation from his advertising job in Mumbai in 2003. A couple of years of extensive restoration works followed, during which time Simon took up residence in the garage (subsequently converted to guest accommodations named Darjeeling). He now runs the property with sister Charlotte, who also lives nearby.
History and Restoration
The sprawling 100 year old Indo-Portuguese house is made up of two parts -- the Portuguese front part built in 1929 out of laterite stone, and the older rammed earth Hindu back part. This type of fusion house represented the evolution of Goan society, and conversion to Catholicism, during the extended period of Portuguese rule.
As part of the restoration, the house's rafters were completely replaced, except for the main beams. The back veranda was turned into a new kitchen, while the old kitchen became a guest room named Ooty. There used to be a traditional Goan pig toilet where the Ballygunge guest room now stands. And, the chicken coop made way for an in-ground swimming pool.
The concrete Altar Table is a feature of the outdoor space near the swimming pool. It had to be reinforced to withstand raucous tabletop dancing, although apparently there hasn't been any for a while. These days, according to Simon, the threat of yoga taking place on the table is more real. (Simon is a witty fellow, which is immediately obvious upon reading his "A to Z" information guide about the property).
Inside, the house is furnished with antiques, sourced from places such as Chor Bazaar in Mumbai and Simon's trusted antique dealer. It's also filled with personal Colonial memorabilia. Simon and Charlotte were born in India. Their British grandfather founded the Haywards brand of liquor (these days famous for its iconic Haywards 5000 beer) near Calcutta in the early 1900s, while their father was a leader in the British business community in India.
But what about the clowns?
You'll find a jester's hat on the property's coat of arms. It was adopted from a similar hat that appears on a family heirloom -- the brass suit buttons from an old British club in Calcutta. Although, as Simon informed me, the hat on the buttons turned out to be a French revolution hat. Clowns aside, "Palhacos" was also chosen as a play on words, as it sounds like palace. Many guests will agree that it's undoubtedly fitting!Continue to 2 of 6 below.
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Location and Setting
People are often surprised to discover that Goa isn't just all beach and parties. There is a peaceful, undeveloped, traditional side of Goa, and Vivenda dos Palhacos is one place where it's still possible to experience it.
The property is located in Majorda village, around 30 minutes from Goa airport. It's nestled down a leafy lane that's easy to miss, even when you're looking for it.
In the early morning, it's magical sitting on the front porch and waking up to village life -- the crow of a rooster, the wind whispering in the trees, the distant clack of train tracks and whistle of a train, a flower seller pulling a handcart laden with plants, and buffaloes being herded down the road from their pen next door to the house.
Do note that two pet dogs live at the property. They're laid-back and non-threatening, but it's something to be aware of if you're not an animal lover.
The beach is approximately a kilometers (0.6 miles) away. Get there by riding one of the bicycles provided to guests, or be dropped there in the property's private customized auto-rickshaw!Continue to 3 of 6 below.
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Vivenda dos Palhacos has seven air-conditioned guest rooms and a luxury tent spread out over the property. Each one is unique and meaningfully named after a place in India (Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) where the Haywards lived and which holds special memories.
For old-world charm, choose either Konnager or Alipore in the front Portuguese part of the house. The very spacious Konnager, named after the family's stately country home near their distillery, comes with private veranda, four-poster antique bed, and large white cast iron bathtub that was salvaged from the Royal Bombay Yacht Club.
There are three more rooms in the rear Hindu part of the house -- Madras, Ooty, and Ballygunge. The elegant and modern Madras has an open-air bathroom and French doors leading to the garden, while the white-washed Ooty used to be the house's kitchen and its entrance opens to the small interior courtyard. Ballygunge is bright and rustic, with twin beds.
The remaining accommodations are separately situated around the property. The fully-plumbed luxury tent, called Champara, is fitted out with family camping furniture. It has its own garden and entrance by the pool. Nearby is a large self-contained cottage called The Chummery. And, of course, there is Darjeeling -- the converted garage that owner Simon once lived in. It has a mezzanine floor with extra sleeping space.
Do note that none of the rooms have TVs, although there is one with a DVD player in the sitting room.
Rates and Reservations
Rates vary depending on the season, and start from 4,400 rupees per night for the Ballygunge and Ooty rooms. The whole property can be rented from 37,050 rupees per night.
Book and Get the Best Rates on Tripzuki. Tripzuki lists India's best boutique hotels and they personally visit each one to ensure high standards.Continue to 4 of 6 below.
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Since Vivenda dos Palhacos is an intimate property, frequent encounters with the other guests are to be expected. What better way to get to know them than at dinner! The evening communal "dinner parties", where guests eat together with Simon or Charlotte at the long wooden dining table, have become rather infamous. And, they work well to break the ice and create familiarity.
While staying there, I met a diverse variety of people from Germany, Australia, and England. We ended up chatting and sharing stories long after the meal was over. However, there's no obligation to join in. Some guests prefer to go out to a restaurant, while others like to dine in private in other areas of the property (including near the pool or on the porch).
A good dinner party would be incomplete without delicious food, and the cuisine at Vivenda dos Palhacos is definitely a highlight. The professionally-run kitchen serves up elaborate three course dinners, with the menu changing daily. There's usually Goan curry on Sunday nights and Bengali curry on Thursday nights. Alternatively, guests can order individual items from the extensive menu.
The complimentary breakfast is equally satisfying. It includes eggs, pancakes, bread, fruit, the finest tea from Darjeeling, and coffee from south India.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Lorry Back Bar
If there's one thing that defines Vivenda dos Palhacos, its the lively Lorry Back Bar. Look carefully and you may notice that it's handmade from the back of a truck! Its colorful shutter, which is always open (this is Goa, after all), was painted especially by a lorry body shop in Mumbai.
The bar is stocked with a fine selection of alcohol, including the impossible-to-miss bottles of "family produce" (Haywards 5000 beer) lined up. There are drinking records (eight bottles of beer for women and 13 for men) and anyone who can beat them gets the beer free. Not very many people seem keen to try though! It's a strong beer, with around 8% alcohol, that packs quite a punch.
The bar is a popular place to read the newspaper or relax and have a tipple before dinner.Continue to 6 of 6 below.
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Things to Do
Whiling away the day by the pool or getting an Ayurvedic massage is very tempting. Private yoga classes are also possible. Otherwise, select a book from the comprehensive collection in cabinets around the property and sequester yourself in a cozy nook.
To add to the personal flavor, Charlotte has items of handpicked jewelry on display and sale.
Dine locally at Martin's Corner, one of the top Goan cuisine restaurants. Zeebop, on the beach at Utorda, is also recommended for seafood.
The surrounding beaches (Utorda, Majorda, Betalbatim and Sunset Beach) are all quite pristine with just a handful of shacks on them.
If you're interested in Goa's heritage, don't miss visiting the magnificent restored Portuguese mansions in the area.
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As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.