On the half-hour ride from the airport to the Royal Orchid Resort-Galaxy in Salcette, Goa, casual natter with the courteous, liveried driver — who was also the bearer of cold water, cold towels and the morning paper — wound up being an education on why south Goa is infinitely more charming than overcrowded, hippiefied north Goa. I smiled, unconvinced, until we veered off the freeway and scuttled down the narrower coconut tree-lined roads that seemed in no hurry to get anywhere. I had only just recovered from the shock of the hot, humid Goan ‘winter’ outside my AC bubble, and the sea of fields stretching languidly on either side, punctuated by fish ponds, looked unreal and impossibly cool. I almost thought I heard the man at the wheel say, “I told you so, I told you so.”
At the hotel, the short, sheltered walkway that led to the foyer revealed itself to be a natural extension of the bucolic prospects we had just left behind — a buffed timber path hemmed in by lily- and fish-filled water channels, shielded from the afternoon sun by a stacked granite wall. A perfect ploy, like the cleverly designed soothing music in upscale malls, to tame the thrumming pulse, I thought. It turned out that the hotel’s Singapore-based interior designer, Shafee Sajari, had visualised an ambience that would evoke the quiet comfort of the Uma Ubud resort in Bali; so I wasn’t really off the mark there.
Royal Orchid-Galaxy’s open-plan lobby had Southeast Asian leanings, too — water hyacinth furniture flown in from Thailand, paired with a few antique Goan pieces for relief, quirky bowling pin-like wicker accents and a dramatic wall with a flock of three-dimensional polished steel birds in flight that added further flourish.
This four-star (aspiring to be five) property is flanked by a clover-shaped pool with a sunken bar and frangipani in full bloom. Stunning as that is, the highpoint of the resort is the view from the renovated deck of the restaurant, perched above the lobby— just beyond the rambling lawns is the frothing, pitching ocean. The two parallel rows of double-storey cottages followed suit, reaching out to the beryl sea and the Uttorda beach, less than 400m away. Little wonder then that the staff kept up their ‘location, location, location’ spiel throughout my stay.
A closer look though, found this four-year-old hotel still moulting; a process spurred in April last year when the Bengaluru-based Royal Orchid Group took over management from Galaxy Hotels. While the entrance, foyer, restaurant and about half the rooms had already got a makeover, the spa, conference halls, gym and other bits and bobs were still awaiting their turn for the sea change. Plans of a lush open-air spa and a beach-fronted gym had been put on hold until summer though, in anticipation of a better, brisker season. (The last winter had been weighed down by the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and the recession.) I had arrived months before the coming-out ball. What was equally disappointing was the food — a rotating menu that, barring a few local Goan delicacies, had little to recommend itself.
On a brighter note, if the décor and layout of my room in the renovated wing were any indication of things to come, Royal Orchid would soon give the five-star heavyweights in its neighbourhood sleepless nights. It was already threatening to hijack the steady year-round traffic of business travellers — who shuttle between the south Goa resorts and Verna Industrial Area 12km away — completely. Besides, the muted furnishings (bottle-greens, beiges, greys, khakis and whites), mahogany brown furniture, LCD televisions and sparkling chrome fittings in the bathroom consciously strove to distance the hotel from its over-the-top Galaxy past. Even the quaint verandahs, with wicker chairs and plunge pools or jacuzzis (in some cases), tied in with this modish new Big Picture.
But the one thing that Royal Orchid would do well to retain is the service. For those followed by hushed whispers in hotels they review, it’s easy to take good service for granted. But I suspect that the friendly smiles of the gardener, janitor and others not privy to the intent of this pen- and paper-wielding apparition are also freely given to the average punter.
Extraordinary? No. Ordinary? Certainly not. But a middling, honest place where you’re unlikely to overstay your welcome.
Location Uttorda Beach, Salcette, Goa
Accommodation 2 premium suites, 55 suites, 44 deluxe rooms
Contact 0832-2884400, www.royalorchidhotels.com