Mark Nicholls heads to Goa on the western coast of India and a stay at the Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa.
The peace is palpable; just the waves crashing ashore in the distance, the occasional call of a bird, a tiny squirrel hopping across the greenery.
This is the Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa on the coast of north Goa at Candolim.
Not far from the state capital Panjim, it is a world away from the brashness of India, a tranquil oasis within which to relax and unwind.
I stayed in a comfortable one-bedroom villa with a magnificent bathroom, a jacuzzi in a small courtyard and my own personal garden, laid out with a patio table and sunbeds.
The view was priceless…across a mini golf course beneath the coconut palms, and beyond to a vista of small fishing boats out at sea.
It is just a short walk down steps to Sinquerim beach and the golden sands that buffer this coast.
This is an area steeped in history. Indeed, the resort takes its name from Fort Aguada, a once impregnable defence built by the Portuguese in the 17th century.
Its remains are visible today, long walls, high vantage points, a seaward bastion and ramparts against invaders and the elements.
The Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa, with its discreetly laid out villas and history woven into its walls, is paired with its nearby sister resort, the Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa, which has lovely rooms, villas and 17 cottages within grounds set over the higher terrain of the peninsula.
The resort also has the Jiva spa for treatments and therapies, gym facilities, and squash and tennis courts, while a new outdoor pool has just opened in the Village complex to complement the existing pools in each resort.
While the Hotel and Village resort are connected by road, it feels more comfortable to walk along the beach between the two.
“All restaurants and facilities are available for use by guests of both resorts,” explained Sanchita Banerjee Rodrigues from the resort, which has stunning views across the Arabian Sea.
The Village resort showcases elegant Indo-Portuguese architectural heritage through Romanesque arches, pillared verandas and sunny courtyards, with the terracotta-roofed suites and villas delivering contemporary luxury within the landscaped gardens.
Meanwhile, the individual cottages at the Taj Fort Aguada Hotel & Spa have a special history as they were originally created for heads of state when India hosted a congress of 17 international Prime Ministers during the premiership of Indira Gandhi.
“She asked the then Taj owner, Mr Tata, about accommodating the visiting dignitaries and he offered to build individual cottages for each – even to their specific tastes.
“The UK Prime Minister at the time was Mrs Thatcher, and there are people who specifically ask to be accommodated in the cottage she used.”
Global cuisine is a theme of the resorts, with restaurants offering a range of traditional local and international dishes.
I enjoyed the Thai menu at the Banyan Tree, dining on Pad Thai and delicious red snapper, while the emphasis on Goan fish dishes at Morisco was irresistible.
I chose the Goan Morisco grill of half lobster, king prawn and a fillet of pomfret with coconut rice and spinach foogath, having started with the sopa de Marisco with shrimps, calamari and sea bass.
Morisco draws on all elements of the traditional Goan cuisine for its dishes, focusing on the four elements of sweet, sour, spice and savoury.
It combines the Hindu Goan style using tamarind and kokum, with the Christian cuisine, which is heavily influenced by Portuguese cooking. It is, after all, the Portuguese we have to thank for vindaloo, which in its original format is spicy and vinegary.
Rice, coconut milk, fish and with local spices feature strongly, along with red chillies and cashew nuts.
Also on the menu are magnificent meat or vegetable thalis, plus a seafood thali which includes prawn curry with kokum, crab xec-xec (curry), rawa fried King fish and dry shrimp kishmur. You can also dine on pork vindaloo, chicken cafreal (whole green masala roasted chicken served with poie bread), beef assad (roasted tenderloin with spices).
Elsewhere, Caravela is a delightful spot to have breakfast – Indian or European – on the terrace overlooking the beach while Paper Moon, with its Italian menu, underlines the international cuisine of the resort.
Executive chef Dibyendu Roy said:
“Goa is like a food hub; people travelling here like to try something different, which is why we have such a diverse range of restaurants.”
He revealed that the Taj group plans to open more Paper Moon restaurants at its resorts across India offering a delicious Italian menu with dishes including tomato and mozzarella, squid and king prawns, aubergine and ravioli stuffed with cheese and truffle sauce, sea bass and sumptuous desserts – ever thought about pineapple ravioli?
Additionally, there is SFX for informal dining – the letters stand for St Francis Xavier, Goa’s patron saint – or the exclusive Hermitage Lounge.
While the resort is so relaxing, and it may be tempting not to venture far, there is a lot to see in Goa. Enjoy the wonderful beaches and the warm sea; venture along the strip at Candolim to shop for souvenirs and artefacts; or take a trip into Panjim.
Here, you can wander around the Latin quarter with its Portuguese era houses, see the Church of Our Lady, or enjoy the easy-going atmosphere of the state capital.
A must-see is Old Goa. Once the capital, it was abandoned in the 18th century due to plague, prompting the Portuguese to relocate to Panjim.
But what remains at Old Goa are magnificent churches such as the Cathedral of Bom Jesus, an edifice supported by huge flying buttresses, which currently holds the relics and remains of St Francis Xavier, which are visible in a glass coffin.
Opposite, is the Se Cathedral and the Convent of St Francis of Assisi and just beyond is the Church of St Cajetan – less visited but a magnificent structure, modelled on St Peter’s in Rome and built in the second half of the 17th century by Italian Friars.
Nearby are the remains of the Church of St Augustine and what is left of its 46-metre-high tower, which collapsed in the 1930s after a period of neglect.
With its proximity to Old Goa, Panjim, local markets and stunning beaches, there’s much to see and do, with the knowledge of being able to retreat to the peace and tranquillity of the Taj resorts for wonderful dining experiences, first class accommodation in a lovely natural setting, and pure relaxation.
Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa, Sinquerim, Candolim, Goa, 403 525, India.
Tel: +91 832-664 5858
Set within 28 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens with a large outdoor pool, tennis courts and spa, the resort is located in north Goa at Candolim and fronts onto the splendid Sinquerim beach. Goa Airport is located in Dabolim about 35km (22 miles) and can be easily reached in about 45 minutes by taxi or hotel transfer.
Type of Hotel: 5-Star Hotel and Beach Resort
Number of Rooms: 143 villas, while the Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa has 143 villas and rooms, including 17 cottages. Guests and families can stay at either resort for as long as they wish, with packages tailored to individual needs and requirements.
Price Band: Medium to High
Insider Tip: Check out the lunchtime and evening menus from the diverse choice of restaurants and international dining experiences at the resort to ensure you don’t miss out on your favourite dishes.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
Mark Nicholls is an award-winning freelance travel writer and author, based in the UK and has written for a range of national titles, specialist magazines and international websites and operated as a war correspondent in locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Photographs courtesy of Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa and by Mark Nicholls