Tucked away in a rural village in the northern province of Goa, hidden behind a majestic mango tree, is the Graham’s Indian bolthole. A generous old Portuguese villa, G&G founder Antonia Graham first spotted it fifteen years ago.
“We always go somewhere for a couple of days at the end of a buying trip, to explore,” says Antonia. “Jamie went down to the beach in South Goa and I went to see a friend in the north of Goa. Her village was really lovely. There were no for sale signs – estate agents don’t really exist in India – but I saw this house with the shutters falling off. It just looked like it needed rescuing.”
Jamie came up to take a look, the two managed to secure a meeting with the owner in Bombay, and apart from a hiccup involving Air India having lost the deeds in a monsoon, the house was theirs.
The house, which still had its mud floors, needed a lot of work to restore it to life. Today it has three airy bedrooms, each with a colonial fourposter, a fabulous shady courtyard for dining, lounging and general hanging out, and is decorated with the Grahams’ signature relaxed eclectic chic (with a touch of Bollywood).
‘We were helped by an architect called Arvind de Souza, who redesigned the inside of the house – we realised it needed to be put together in a different way. He’s done it very nicely and when you are in the house, you have the feeling of being in a properly designed space.”
One of the presiding spirits in the house is Shyam, who joined the family at a young age. “Originally from Kanartaka, with previous experience working in a local guesthouse, Shyam has been part of the family for many years and now really runs the place for us. He lives in the cottage in the grounds with his lovely wife and two sweet little boys, and loves to help any guests to the villa. We also work with an old friend Vish Baindur, who is a retired hotelier and knows a thing or two about hosting. So when you are there, you are surrounded by good people.”
These days, the long thin village, its streets lined with more Portuguese villas than any other in Goa, is attracting young entrepreneurs, enjoying the respite from the city – or just Goa’s more frenzied coastline. While Assagao is still undisputedly mellow, now there are local restaurants such as Gunpowder, which serves wonderful southern Indian food (‘people come from miles around’), and The Project Café, a restaurant/ art space which, Antonia says, ‘attracts all sorts of interesting people’. In the monsoon months it is a popular spot for yoga retreats.
And then there are Goa’s famous beaches. The house is four miles from the nearest beach, and just twenty minutes by car you can find Morjim and Ashvem, beaches favoured by the discerning traveller (Ashvem has some wonderful beach huts where you can stay all day). Hourly buses run to the beach resorts of Anjuna and Vagator
When you are there, the house – and Goa – work a peculiar kind of magic. “I always had this idea I might end up in Goa…” says Antonia. “There’s a wonderful soft atmosphere… I can’t quite explain it. It has a very laid-back holiday feel…It’s a place to let your hair down.”
Casa Tota is available to rent all year round, click here to find out more.