Ahilya By The Sea

Nerul (Bardez), Goa, India Book from

Reviewed by Kate Darnton
A perfect place to unwind: antique-filled rooms or full villas for 8-10 set amidst lush gardens and swimming pools, overlooking Dolphin Bay
Staying at Ahilya is like visiting the home of that wealthy, eccentric and extremely tasteful aunt you always wished you had. Three graceful, Balinese-style villas are stuffed to the gills with the most fabulous treasures, carefully curated from the owner’s lifetime of exotic travels: African masks, Hindu statuettes, Burmese bowls, a gilded altarpiece. Every nook holds something old and beautiful to be admired. The villas - each with 1, 3 or 4 airy rooms - are tucked amidst lush, tropical gardens, but give out onto the wide-open bay, where fishermen work and cetaceans play. (We watched dolphins as we sipped our sundowners.) Two crystal-clear swimming pools provide cool retreat from the strong Goan sun.

The food is inventive and delicious, produced with painstaking attention to each guest’s individual needs and preferences. Service could not be more gracious. If it’s adventure you crave, there are plenty of attractions outside Ahilya’s bougainvillea-covered walls: sturdy, colonial-era forts and churches, flashy new art galleries and museums, glittering night markets. But you'll be relieved to return to Ahilya in the evening - a serene, intimate and elegant retreat for the most discerning guests.


  • The peace, tucked away from Goa's tourist hordes
  • All the fine touches and impeccable service of a top-class hotel, yet the warmth and intimacy of a family homestay
  • A gorgeous infinity pool and a treehouse spa offering massages
  • Great for all - couples, friends, a family or a small group. You can request 1 room, 1 villa, even the whole place, depending on your needs
  • Feels like an Ali Baba’s cave, filled with handsome antiques, handicrafts and wall art


  • Don’t come for the local beaches. The nearest is a working fishermen's beach - it’s scenic (from a distance) but dirty. Decent ones are a day trip away
  • With such personalised service, menus are planned well in advance; lunches and dinners have to be requested with 2 hours' notice
  • The outdoor dining area can get very hot (though eating indoors, under the AC, is an option)
  • A strict payment and cancellation policy

Best time to go

Goa’s peak season begins in late November and runs until mid-February. Weather-wise, that’s the nicest time to visit - but also the busiest. Perhaps the best time is mid-January, once the throngs of tourists have left but the weather is still fine. That said, with its air-conditioned rooms, swimming pools and sea breezes, Ahilya can manage summer better than many Goan properties. It is closed during the monsoons (July and August).

Our top tips

Ahilya's sister property, Ahilya Fort in Madhya Pradesh, is equally idiosyncratic and special. Many people visit both during a trip around India.

Great for...

  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 9
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 1 Jul 2017 - 31 Aug 2017
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym


Ahilya’s 3 Balinese-style villas (Sunset, Sunrise and Leela) are made of hand-carved laterite stone, festooned with fanciful wooden trim. They are beautiful. Downstairs are the common areas: a dining area in Sunrise; and a dining area, comfy couches and tables in Sunset. Upstairs are the double/twin rooms, which are large but feel intimate, perhaps because of the extraordinary décor that makes Ahilya so utterly unique: twig chairs from Africa mix with hand-painted plates from Istanbul and gilded relics from old Goan churches. It’s an utterly eclectic style and it works.

We stayed in one of Sunset's rooms, which we loved for its sage-coloured plantation shutters offering sweeping views of Dolphin Bay. But every room at Ahilya has a breathtaking view, so you can’t go wrong. The most private is Florentina in Sunset. Annalia and Barcos (Sunrise) have high brick ceilings and interesting antiques. An added bonus in Sunrise: a lovely reading alcove tucked high above the stairs, with an enormous bay window onto the sea.

The Trinidade Suite is the only room in Leela so a good option for a honeymoon. It overlooks the garden and infinity pool, and has a private living area plus 2 sea-view balconies. If the hotel is full, you can stay in Arjun's Treehouse Suite: a small studio in the magical, multi-storied treehouse set in a massive banyan tree at the end of the property. Ideal for a single traveller, too.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi


Exceptional care is lavished on the food. A fruit salad might have 10 different ingredients, including a little surprise (in this case, blanched almonds). Our breakfast was a feast: fresh-pressed juices, hung curd yoghurt with homemade granola, crepes, and eggs made to order, including Meheshwari-style (scrambled with turmeric) and 'Loulou’s favorite' (oeufs en cocotte with onions and fresh herbs). Prefer Indian? Then try the extraordinary podi dosa with fresh mint chutney. You’ll thank us later.

Lunch is lighter - mainly fresh salads and sandwiches; you’re still working off your breakfast, after all - but it’s dinner where Ahilya really stands out. Our advice: focus on the Goan specialities - shrimp curry, spicy pomfret wrapped in banana leaf, or the mixed Goan thali, which has a bit of everything. The atmosphere couldn’t be more magical. Candles line the seawall and infinity pool, and tables are set up in private nooks throughout the gardens. Service is attentive, never obtrusive.

There's a good Goan restaurant 15 minutes' walk away by the sea, and great options in Candolim (12-20 mins by car) and Panjim (30 mins by car); you'll find a list of recommendations in your room.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Sink into a sun lounger by a pool, on a veranda, or in the garden under the shade of an ancient banyan tree. If you're lucky, you'll spot dolphins in the sea as you laze
  • Take a dip in one of the 2 sparkling pools
  • Book a massage in the treehouse spa
  • Day-trip to Turtle Beach for basking on golden sands and swimming in the ocean
  • Tour old forts and whitewashed churches - graceful colonial relics from Goa’s Portuguese past. Ahilya can organise history talks and heritage walks with a local expert
  • For contemporary art, visit a gallery in Panjim or the Museum of Goa in nearby Pilerne
  • Don't miss Ingo’s famous Saturday Night Market at Arpora Village for fabulous food, clothing and jewellery, live music, and dancing late into the night

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Ayurveda
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being


The hotel was originally built as a family retreat and it has retained that warm, family-friendly feel. While the general atmosphere is one of gracious serenity, children are welcomed and looked after. (We brought ours. When one cut her foot, plasters with cartoon characters immediately appeared, as well as a mug of warm milk laced with turmeric, a home remedy.) Children will go nuts over the pools, and the gardens, with their wandering paths, tropical flowers and hidden statuettes, provide hours of distraction.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

A baby cot or extra mattress can be added to Florentina and Minestrel (Large Doubles) and the Trinidade Suite.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots and high chairs on request

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

Staff are happy to whip up child-friendly meals

Families Should Know:

The pools are not fenced and the property is open to the seafront


  • Airport: 1 hour
  • Shops: 10 minutes
Kid Friendly:

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