It began in 1999-2000, when Prince Richard Holkar decided to transform his family fort, built by his ancestor, the warrior-queen Ahilyabai, into one of the most soulful heritage hotels in the country. “My sister and I had left for college. The Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar (Madhya Pradesh) is massive, and when you don’t use a space for a long time, it starts to fall apart. My father’s philosophy has always been to use Maheshwar as a platform to keep the culture and traditions alive. So once we left, he started the hotel with five rooms and his intent was to just bring all his passions together under a single roof,” says Yeshwant Rao Holkar, son of Prince Richard Holkar. He adds, “The restoration of the fort was a constant process and with time the number of rooms increased, and eventually, Ahilya Fort Maheshwar turned into a full-fledged boutique heritage hotel.”
Originally owned by India-born New York-based Mary Leela Rao Ellis, Ahilya by the Sea (ABTS) was a series of villas that was given to Mary as a part of her inheritance. She also happens to be Yeshwant Rao Holkar’s sister’s mother-in-law. Yeshwant adds, “When Mary Leela returned to India in 2004, post the demise of her husband, she decided to reconnect with her Goan roots and rebuild these seaside villas. However, with passing years, she started spending more and more time away from Goa and didn’t know what to do with these villas. I had just come back to India after completing my business school in 2013 and my brother-in-law reached out to me with the idea of turning the place into a boutique hotel, an extension of Ahilya Fort Maheshwar. I think the stars aligned and as they say, the rest is history.”
Located on north Goa’s Coco Beach, ABTS is a quaint little gem hidden away in the by-lanes of Nerul, only minutes away from the bustling Calangute, Candolim and Baga beaches. The property has three villas—Leela, Sunset and Sunrise, and across these are a total of nine tastefully decorated rooms, with no two rooms being the same. They have a story of their own and are filled with artefacts and accessories that bring out the authentic Portuguese and Goan charm. The interiors have been left untouched and are exactly the way Mary Leela had designed them. Each element has her personal stamp and the artifacts that one
sees have been handpicked by her during her travels to Morocco, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, etc.
The whole idea of ABTS is to allow the guest to reconnect with themselves and take the much-need pause in life. So while you will see that glamorous glass bathrooms, room service and fancy gadgets are purposefully absent, you will definitely appreciate the breathtaking sea views and the understated luxury of the property. Built in Portuguese style, the three villas stand facing two infinity pools and the gorgeous sea beyond.
“ABTS was my pet project. It gave me an opportunity to carry forward the legacy, culture and traditions that my father stands for,” Yeshwant continues the story. “What we have tried to do with ABTS is to create an environment that nudges a person to just ground themselves and take a breather. We didn’t want to do it consciously and that’s why there is nothing explicit and in your face. But the surrounding environment and vibe is such that it makes you want to live in the moment and connect with nature and oneself. Our goal is to pique someone’s curiosity but not force them to a certain narrative. We keep things understated because we feel that’s where the magic lies and it also allows a visitor to discover things at their own pace.”
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