Srinivasan Iyer checks into a new "business" hotel in Goa and finds it perfect for a relaxing holiday.
Hotel Insider: Vivanta by Taj, Panaji
After a 13-hour overnight journey from Abu Dhabi, all I wanted was a comfortable bed. But first there was hotel security to get through - the Taj Group introduced strict security measures across all its properties after its iconic Mumbai hotel was targeted in terrorist attacks three years ago. At the Vivanta's main gate, guards inspected every part of the car, including the underside. Alighting outside the main door, my bags were rummaged through, then handed back with apologetic smiles. But once past the metal detectors, I was ushered into the cool, high-ceilinged lobby and offered a cold towel and fresh watermelon juice. Check-in took exactly 30 seconds even though I had forgotten to carry a print-out of my booking.
A little more than a year old, the Vivanta is positioned as a business hotel, justifying its location in central Panaji; it's close to the business district and off a leafy boulevard that is home to Kala Academy, Goa's arts and drama centre. The surroundings - low-rise residential buildings and rows of small shops - might not be exclusive but the hotel is the perfect base from which to explore the city. A 20-minute walk will bring you to handicraft boutiques, small restaurants serving local staples such as fish curry and rice, and Panaji's pride and joy, the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
On the other side, towards Kala Academy, is the Mandovi River, full of barges, fishing boats and the odd moored yacht. Nearby is Miramar Beach, busy with ice-cream carts, balloon vendors and residents out for a stroll. The beach is bordered on one side by a lush park, its beauty somewhat marred by the "no littering" signs put up everywhere.
The Vivanta has 170 rooms, ranging from the basic "superior charm" rooms to the sumptuous "presidential nirvana suite". I was given a third-floor suite away from the noise of the central atrium, the location of the all-day restaurant, Latitude. My suite was fairly spacious, with standard beige-and-brown decor and furniture and a few interesting black-and-white sketches of old, Portuguese-style villas. The wall-to-wall windows in the living room and bedroom, sadly, didn't offer much of a view - all I could see were the tops of trees and the hotel's parking lot. The bed was comfortable and the pillow menu quite extensive. The bathroom had a large tub, surprisingly luxurious for a business hotel, and the wash stand was stocked with everything from rose water to herbal hair oil.
Top-notch, as expected of a Taj hotel. Room service was prompt, despite the hotel being being fully booked. Requests made to housekeeping were attended within seconds. The restaurants were run by friendly staff who knew the food and anticipated every want without being cloying.
On the recommendation of one of the hotel's junior executives, I skipped the buffet dinner at Latitude and ordered a Goan spread. My mouth still waters at the memory of what was the best meal I had during my week-long stay in Goa - surmai rechado (kingfish marinated and fried in a paste of spices, locally made vinegar and dried red chillies), lamb vindaloo, fiery prawn curry, warm sanna, or steamed rice cakes, and poye, freshly baked bread (dinner for two costs about 2,400 Indian rupees [Dh167], including taxes).
The following night I tried out Tamari, the south-east Asian restaurant, and opted for green curry, shrimp dim sum and chicken satay. I was surprised at how good everything was, my only complaint being that the dishes came with long-grained rice instead of the sticky Jasmine variety (a two-course meal for two costs about 2,700 rupees [Dh188], including taxes).
When I visited in November the hotel was full of tourists as well as businessmen. Every morning the breakfast buffet at Latitude was set upon by droves of suit-clad men in a tearing hurry and young families, both Indian and foreign, armed with maps and beach gear. The bright lobby, with its sea-themed decor, was always full of people arriving or leaving. The pool on the rooftop was strangely empty, though, save for the lifeguard and the bar attendant, and most nights I was left alone to enjoy my drink and the magnificent views over Panaji.
The excellent food and the laid-back atmosphere, which belies the hotel's "business" tag.
The constant security checks. On one particular day, I had to make a few trips back to the hotel and ended up being frisked half-a-dozen times, although the guards were extremely apologetic about it.
A small, well-located hotel with the Taj stamp of hospitality, efficiency and quality. I can't wait to return.
The bottom line
A double room costs from 12,100 rupees (Dh843) per night, including breakfast and taxes. Vivanta by Taj, Panaji, Off DB Bandodkar Road, Goa 403 001, India (www.vivantabytaj.com; 00 91 832 663 3636).