‘Paradise’ is an overused word in our trade, but in this case we don’t hesitate – paradise it most definitely is. The natural beauty of the place is mesmerising. The untouched tropical two-mile swathe that is Radhanagar Beach Number 7 slopes into calm crystal-clear waters rich in marine life, such as manta rays and the leatherback turtle we saw before. It’s a total no-brainer why this was recently voted Asia’s best beach. It feels as if we’ve stumbled upon a secret castaway island and, like the characters in Alex Garland’s The Beach, our initial instinct was to keep it to ourselves. But it’s a secret we’re letting you in on, as well as that of the magnificent Taj Exotica Resort & Spa.
The resort’s villas were inspired by an architectural form adopted by the indigenous Jarawa people, which allows the structures to nestle in the lush, green landscape. The subtle, understated exterior of each one is in stark contrast to the luxurious space inside. We fell instantly in love with our Grand Luxury Two Bedroom Pool Villa, a stilted structure spread over nearly 3,000 sq ft, with a private pool overlooking perfectly landscaped gardens from a private deck. From the pool, through a wall of sliding glass doors, we stepped in on to a floor of polished coconut wood that kept us connected to nature throughout the space. And the fragrance… Everywhere we ventured in this sprawling villa, we could smell the forest. We often talked about bottling it and taking it home with us.
The modernist interiors enhanced the feeling of calm. Leaving the sumptuous comfort of our heavenly four-poster bed each morning was a challenge and showering in the luxury en-suites that were attached to both the villa’s bedrooms felt like being at one with nature.
Nestled in the cultivated forest within a forest is a seductive, Olympic-size infinity pool. Shaded by the natural canopy, it’s set on a sprawling elevated deck that looks out to the beach and is home to the Turtle House bar and grill – a great place for poolside meals and cocktails.
For a more intimate meal, The Settlers is a private dining experience that took our tastebuds on a gastronomic tour of the Andaman Islands and the diverse populations that have settled here over the years. The menu features dishes from Tamil, Bengali, Bihari and Keralan cuisines, as well as some influenced by migrants from Burma and Indonesia. Even the food here is experiential, it seems.
Our favourite place of all was the shoreline restaurant, set on a deck with views out towards the ocean. Fish curries from the Indian mainland, shellfish so fresh it tasted as if it had just been caught and desserts made from fruit grown in the garden are all served up with a generous helping of refreshing sea breeze.
Venture to Swaraj Dweep bazaar – also called market number three – is definitely worth experiencing and provides a snapshot of local, Andaman Islands life. As you wander around, pick from the array of street-food, then wash it down with sweet chai.