As our ferry inched closer towards Alibaug, my husband threw me a question, “So what made Mandwa famous?” Luckily this piece of Bollywood trivia had not escaped me and I immediately shouted out, “Vijay Deenanath Chauhan.” And indeed, this iconic character played by Amitabh Bachchan in the 1990 cult film Agneepath propelled this coastal village into the public imagination, albeit as the setting for a bloody drama of revenge.
Alighting from the ferry at Mandwa jetty, the scene that greeted us was a far cry from anything gruesome. As the closest jetty to Alibaug, it was packed with families and groups of friends on a weekend getaway. Easily accessed by a short 50-minute ferry ride from the Gateway of India, coastal Alibaug in Raigad district is a convenient beach retreat just south of Mumbai. From the jetty, the Alibaug-Revas Road runs through a patchwork of different villages before reaching Alibaug town. The road is fringed by the Western Ghats on the left, and beaches on the right. Dotted with beautiful villas and coconut palms, Alibaug has a slowness that’s perfect for those looking to unwind from the city’s pace. It’s a place where the rustling of leaves is often the loudest sound that floats in through the windows.
Alibaug has an interesting history, glimpses of which can be seen in the crumbling remains of forts and cemeteries scattered around the area. The most notable admiral of the Maratha navy, Kanhoji Angre was in charge of the offshore 17th-century Kolaba Fort, which is about two kilometres from Alibaug beach. It was from here that Angre launched several attacks on approaching British and Portuguese ships. At low tide it’s possible to walk to the fort, while boats can take visitors there during high tide. Among the ruins, there is a functioning Siddhivinayak Temple, apparently dating back to Angre’s time.
At Revdanda village, 19 kilometres south of Alibaug, visit the ruins of a 16th-century Portuguese fort by the sea, flanked by coconut trees that seem to reach for the sky. Inside, there is a chapel where St. Francis Xavier is said to have delivered one of his first few sermons in India.
Alibaug was also home to one of the largest Jewish communities in India. It is believed that the Bene Israeli Jews arrived in Alibaug and established a presence here after their ship sank off the Konkan coast over 2,000 years ago. There is a street called Israel Ali, meaning Israel lane, in the centre of town along with a still-functioning Jewish synagogue. Only a handful of Jews remain today, with most having migrated to Israel. There is also a Jewish cemetery at Navgaon, nine kilometres south of Alibaug.
Whether it’s the proximity to Mumbai or the laid-back vibe that promotes creativity, Alibaug has some interesting museums and galleries. The Guild, a large art gallery run by Shalini Sawhney, is a ten-minute drive from the Mandwa jetty. It showcases contemporary art and photography. An offshoot of her nearly two-decade-old art gallery in Mumbai’s Colaba neighbourhood, this airy bungalow is located in the midst of paddy fields and coconut trees. On the afternoon I visited, I was the only person there, but low footfalls are something that Sawhney is prepared for. She is confident that in time people will make the journey to see interesting works of art in a breezy rural setting. Don’t leave without looking at the Collectibles section which has some fabulous pieces of furniture on sale (Mandwa Alibaug Road; 02141-247847; guildindia.com; open 10 a.m.-6.30 p.m.; entry free).
Architect and designer Pinakin Patel moved to Alibaug in 2000, choosing to live and work from his sprawling bungalow in Chondi village. He set up the Dashrath Patel Museum dedicated to his friend who was a renowned artist and founding director of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Patel worked with the likes of Charles Eames, Louis Kahn, and photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson but rarely exhibited his art. Visit the museum for a chance to see his body of work spanning six decades. A café and store on the property allow visitors a chance to linger longer in the beautiful building overlooking gnarled mango trees (Chondi Naka; 02141-232360; dashrath.in; open Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry free).
Driving through narrow lanes past pigtailed schoolgirls on cycles, I arrived at the home of sculptor and Padma Shri awardee Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar in Sasawne village, 18.5 kilometres north of Alibaug town. There was not a soul in sight and statues stood guard in the garden of the well-maintained villa. Sunlight filtered in through the glass-panelled ceiling of the room where the sculptor’s works are on display. These include a sculpture of Shivaji on a horse, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jamsetji Tata, amongst others (Sasawane; open 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; entry ₹10).
Slowness is infectious and if Alibaug’s characteristic mellow pace does draw you in, sign up for a yoga or pottery course, the perfect excuse for a longer stay. Artist Anjali Aney spends days away from her family in Mumbai working with clay in her home-cum-studio in a corner of Alibaug. She conducts pottery courses for beginners and those looking to take their skills with clay to the next level (Chorande village; 02141-202092, 98702 07774; matimoksha.weebly.com; 2-hr sessions start from ₹1,000).
For those who are interested in yoga, Yogacara’s retreats are highly recommended. They are held at the Mango Beach House, which is located in the midst of a serene coconut plantation. In between sessions, take a dip in the pool, laze in the garden, or cycle around the village. Retreats stretch from two to four days and the package includes fees for the course, stay, and meals (Awas; 98331 98371; yogacara.in; doubles from ₹15,900 for a two-day weekend course).
Spend a few days at Nyasa with Sajidarjuna Peerbhoy and Niloufer Patel, long-time Alibaug residents. The couple offer customised corporate training programmes in a beautifully designed space, which is an extension of their home and expansive garden. Drawing on disciplines such as yoga, Sufism, and Zen Buddhism, their tailor-made programmes aim to improve the overall efficiency and productivity in an individual (98201 32405; nyasatraining.com).
Since Alibaug has a long coastline, beach hopping is easy and makes for a fun family excursion. Different stretches have varied colours and textures of sand, but they all guarantee a spectacular sunset. The rocky but picturesque Kihim beach is popular with locals but can get very crowded on weekends. It is fringed by woods filled with casuarinas, coconut, and Indian tulip trees where one can spot a variety of birds like plovers, sandpipers, and white-breasted kingfishers. No wonder the late ornithologist Salim Ali chose to make this place his home for a while in the 1930s.
Of all the stretches we visited, we found our little piece of paradise on Awas beach. Tall casuarinas swayed in the breeze as the sun changed colour and disappeared into a vast pink horizon. We enjoyed the moment along with a handful of local boys playing football.
The busy Mandwa beach near the jetty is perfect for those who want to try their hand at water sports. A range of activities such as banana boat rides, jet skiing, stand up paddle boarding, and ATV and bumper boat rides are on offer. Kayaking and sailing are also popular. There are numerous operators offering these activities (try Pioneer Adventure Sports; alibagwatersports.com; 98503 03031/95520 01007).
Be prepared to wait when dining at Hotel Sanman, a popular seafood eatery located in the middle of Alibaug town. It is entirely worth the effort. Their fish thalis are the main draw, but also order a side dish of crabs, mussels, or oysters cooked in a trademark masala. Poornima Mhatre, who runs the place with her husband Mangesh, is the only one who knows the secret masala recipe, prepared fresh daily. Their vegetarian thali packs in a punch too, and the special thali ends with a steamed ukadiche modak (388, Israel Ali; 02141-222314; open 11.30 a.m.-4 p.m. and 7.30 p.m.-10.30 p.m., closed Thursday evenings except during May and end-Dec; a meal for two starts at ₹500).
Another favourite in town is Mayur Bakery on Tilak Road. Located in a large white building that resembles a primary school, the 40-year-old bakery does brisk business. The extensive menu features flaky kharis in a variety of flavours, and date and cashew cakes (Tilak Road, Opposite State Bank of India; 02141-224189; open Mon-Sat 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; 200 gm of khari biscuits cost ₹25).
Those looking for a romantic meal by the sea can book a table at Boardwalk by Flamboyante, which is located right on the water’s edge at Mandwa jetty. Many Mumbaikars take the ferry and hop over for a meal here, so it’s best to book a table well in advance. Enjoy breathtaking views while noshing on wood-fired pizzas and seafood specials. The white and blue decor gives the restaurant a characteristic Mediterranean vibe (flamboyante.in; meals for two from ₹1,500).
There are privately owned villas of all sizes and styles across Alibaug and many owners rent them out. There are also big brands as well as boutique properties to choose from.
Unwind in style at the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa that offers 156 rooms and villas near Varsoli beach in Alibaug. The highlight here is a 20,000-square-foot spa featuring Ayurvedic and western aromatherapy treatments (02141-302400; radissonblu.com/en/hotel-alibaug; doubles from ₹5,950).
Mango Beach House offers a boutique homestay experience at two properties in the area. The Retreat @ Kihim is set in a lush tropical garden and offers a full-service spa (www.mangoalibaug.com; Sep-May doubles from ₹7,500 on weekdays and ₹8,500 on weekends). The Getaway @ Awas is located in the midst of a coconut grove and all rooms face a large swimming pool (www.mangoalibaug.com; Sep-May doubles from ₹7,500 on weekdays and ₹9,000 on weekends).
For a unique experience stay in one of ten luxury tents at Bohemyan Blue Stay in Chondi. This is glamping in style as the tents are done up in gorgeous furnishings and offer all modern comforts including air-conditioning and en-suite bathrooms (98234 81829; bohemyanblue.com; doubles from ₹6,000).
To experience the villa life, stay at Ccaza Ccomodore, a homestay with five double rooms. Book the whole villa or rent individual rooms and gorge on fabulous food cooked by the in-house chef (98201 32158; doubles from ₹12,000 inclusive of all meals, children between 5-12 ₹1,700; www.ccazaccomodore.in/amore.html).
Located 98 kilometres south of Mumbai, Alibaug is a coastal town and municipal council in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. Neighbouring villages such as Zirad, Kihim, Chondi, Sasawne, Aakshi, and Awas are also loosely referred to as Alibaug.
Road From Mumbai, Alibaug is about 2 hrs 45 minutes by road via the Mumbai-Goa NH-66. Follow the road till Wadhkal and then turn right towards Alibaug.
Sea A ferry from the Gateway of India to Mandwa jetty is the fastest way to get to Alibaug. Ferries operate daily from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. except during the monsoon (Jun-Sep). The trip takes anywhere from 45 to 55 minutes depending on the type of ferry. There are four ferry operators—Ajanta, Maldar, and PNP that have daily fixed departures. Ferry operators run shuttle buses to Alibaug town (from approx ₹125 one-way; shuttle bus fare included in the ticket price). Speedboats further reduce travel time to 20-25 minutes and can be booked in advance from Jetty No. 5, opposite the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai (from ₹15,000 for a day trip, for up to 12 people).
From Mandwa jetty, take an auto rickshaw or shared auto rickshaw to get to the centre of town or your hotel. To go to the different beaches and historical sites, it is best to hire a taxi from a local operator (writer used V. Amale Travels; 98231 81230; ₹1,700 for 8 hours).
A coastal town, Alibaug is warm year round. Monsoons are wet and humid. During winter (Dec-Feb) days are warm and dry, and nights cool.
Chaitali Patel is the former Associate Editor, Special Projects at National Geographic Traveller India. She's partial to nature, history and the arts. She believes that every trip is as much a journey within as it is one outside.