First, a bit of history. Goa’s landmark Fort Aquada was built by the Portuguese in 1612 to guard against the Dutch and other marauders, and today it still dominates the beautiful beach south of Candolim, near the Mandovi River in North Goa. Look down at it, as in the photo above, from the amazing 42 acres of steeply sloping gardens that form a unique feature of one of Goa’s most serene luxury hotels, Taj Fort Aquada Beach Resort & Spa. Its two main blocks of bedrooms were built, down by the pool, in 1974. Three floors, without elevators, and still none, says the gal. The local antiquities people have ‘do not change anything’ at the top of their agenda, though it is said they will now allow one, external, elevator.
That was not always so. In 1983 the Commonwealth Heads of Government were coming to meet in Goa, and this Taj-owned hotel added 17 beautiful little bungalows nestled into the gorgeous gardens. See number 512, a two-room villa (not really an Indian term – unlike the word bungalow, ‘belonging to Bengal’, which originated here in the 17th century). Villa 512 is where Mrs Thatcher stayed, and it must have made her feel very much at home. I have stayed in exquisite intimate hotel-houses before and, honestly, this is one of the most agreeable, and serene, that I remember. David Edwards recently re-did all the villa interiors and I especially like his blue colour-palette.
Wood-look ceramic-plank floors are inset with Portuguese-style blue-and-white tiles. Most walls are gentian blue, with white outlining, and all art works, throw cushions, bed throws, and even the fabric blinds at the total-21 windows around the suite fit into the colour scheme. The result is a genuine stage set, if that is not a contradiction in terms. An entire stay here is really enjoyable, and villa guests will be even more delighted when a dedicated (villas-only) lounge with full dining, and a pool, opens in a couple of months’ time. I did venture down the hill, a good ten minutes’ hike back to the main gateway and through to the gym, spa and tennis: I also headed down for a walk to the Fort’s ramparts, and for breakfast on the all-day restaurant’s outer terrace, sensibly completely netted over to keep greedy crows out.
Dinner had been poolside, at Mosco grill where you choose your just-in catch, in my case giant king prawns, cooked to order. The soft sound of gently breaking waves made this a memorable evening, especially as I was with Ravi Nischal, a charming would-be doctor who, like so many of the best hoteliers, fell into hospitality ‘by accident’. Stay at this particular luxury hotel, by the way, and you have the advantage of signing privileges at Vivanta Holiday Village Resort & Spa, five minutes by shuttle (this, explained that property’s GM Ranju Singh, is indeed village-like, with lots of space between colourful units that reminded me a bit of Guanahani on St Barth’s). My advice, honestly, is stay here, and simply do not go off-campus. Goa has two major challenges, for which read opportunities. One is to do something about the airport and its passenger experience. The other is to get rid, somehow, of the cartel that runs the white ‘taxis’ – no meters, take your chance on quality of vehicle and even more on the driver’s skills. NOW SEE VIDEOS FIRST OF MY WELCOME, THEN THE INSIDE OF VILLA 512