As a rule, hotels in India tend to come in two varieties: backpacker hostel with a shower and toilet of questionable efficacy, and luxury hotel. Vivanta by Taj at Fort Aguada, situated in North Goa, slots unquestionably into the latter category; an old-fashioned but elegant spot catering to its well-heeled guests with charm and enthusiasm. But don’t expect fussy décor, ultra formal dining rooms and busts of governor-generals past: despite having 145 rooms, it has the relaxed feel of a boutique hotel.
The chilled-out feel also provides a welcome respite from another part of the Indian experience; the frenetic streets that can become overwhelming for the uninitiated. North Goa is no longer the preserve of the hippy wanderer in search of relaxation beside the waves, instead, much of India’s smallest state is dominated by noisy beachfront bars and clubs packed with enthusiastic Indian and Russian patrons – hardly the most calming environment. But at the Vivanta, you won’t notice any of that, whether you are relaxing in your room or sipping a honeydew melon Martini in the Morisco Bar.
My room – a beach-view with a balcony – was comfortably light and bright with an enormous bed, endless towels, plenty of storage, and spacious enough to include a proper sitting area. From there, not a peep from the main resorts could be heard, replaced instead with the sound of lapping waves and the odd raucous bird call. Lovely though the bedroom is, the bathroom was slightly frayed around the edges, and within hours the sink was leaking, although this was swiftly patched up by a beaming member of staff.
But Goa is too gorgeous to spend all day in your room and mine were spent lazing by the hotel’s clear blue infinity pool, enjoying an Ayurveda massage at the plush spa in the neighbouring Vivanta holiday resort and watching people wander past from a hammock slung between two palm trees in the lush gardens. Evenings were spent in one of the hotel’s three restaurants, which offer a choice of Indian, Italian or international fare, or enjoying sundowners from a perch overlooking the Arabian Sea.
By Indian standards, Vivanta by Taj is astonishingly expensive, although outside of the Christmas season prices drop substantially. But once there, it’s relatively affordable; an artisan martini is half the price of any European hotel, and poolside snacks are very reasonably priced (although watch out for the hefty taxes that are added to your bill). But it’s the small touches, from the unlimited bottles of ice water by the pool to free yoga sessions and attentive staff who will reserve your sunbathing spot each day, or complimentary airport transfers, that make it a special place to be.
We spent a long weekend there, rounding off a trip through Southern India, and loved the little dose of luxury it offered after weeks of backpacker hostels. It’s not what Lonely Planet would class as truly ‘authentic’ – for that, you’re better off with a basic beach hut in Palolem. But for a relaxing, luxurious break of sun, sea, and good food, you’d be hard pressed to do better than this.
IN THE AREA…
You can’t go to Goa without heading to the beach and the Vivanta is right on the shoreline with direct access to the sand below. Think picture perfect golden sand and translucent turquoise sea, although you will be promptly accosted by men selling boat rides, jet ski turns and other beach adventures as soon as you set foot on it. Along the beach, which stretches several kilometres to the north, there are beach bars and shacks offering cheap food and a great view. Also worth a visit is Fort Aguada, just across the bay from the Vivanta, which was once used by the Portuguese to see off Dutch invaders. Jutting out into the sea, it’s a gorgeous spot from which to enjoy the sunset or watch local fishermen pulling in the day’s catch.
Doubles from £171 per night including breakfast. See vivantabytaj.com for more information and to book. Flights to Goa Dambolin airport via Mumbai (one hour away) with Jet Airways start at £602.25 return from London Heathrow. See jetairways.com for more information.