I was initially slated to visit the Novotel Goa Resort & Spa (an erstwhile Grand Mercure) but, by the time I got round to it, some nice new rooms had opened at its sister hotel, the Novotel Goa Shrem Hotel, so curiosity got the better of me. From a breezy reception (it’s covered but not enclosed), I was ushered to the new block at the back of the property and into my smart and spacious room. The open-air balcony attached to the room overlooked a faux natural pool, which seemed to be attracting a lot of patrons. But my attention quickly gravitated to a nifty, and edible, display. On my desk an assortment of cocktail glasses stood in a neat row, overflowing with goodies: macaroons and mocha truffles, marinated olives and chilli coconut kachoris. A good first impression. And it only got better.
The hotel is all about “location, location, location”, sitting on the main Candolim Road, with the beach just minutes away. It’s a vibrant neighbourhood, bursting with restaurants and shops, including the Mario Gallery, which showcases the work of the late cartoonist Mario Miranda, as well as popular nightspots like Cohiba and SinQ. Holiday Street, which leads up to quieter Calangute beach, is a short walk, while Fort Aguada is a short drive.
F&B offerings at the hotel include Square, the catch-all all-day diner that we’ve come to expect at hotels and a swim up poolside bar that I thought was cool. The Novotel Resort has the superior offerings, though, and that’s where I headed for my afternoon repast. At Food Exchange, their main outlet, Chef Ganapathy Mallya, F&B Director, rustled up a saraswat thali for me, using family recipes that have been handed down the generations. The selection included rava-fried fish, sol kadi, mung bean sprouts, red amaranth saag, calamari masala, prawn curry and chicken xacuti. I know, I know—pure sin. So I washed it all down with a fenito, a heady cocktail based on Goa’s favourite tipple that pretty much knocked me out.
After my siesta, I returned to the resort for a look-see. There is the standard tower block, but beyond it the resort reveals softer contours. Pride of place goes to a venerable banyan tree that presides over the pool area. Tucked away in a corner, is Vero Cibo, a scenic dinner-only restaurant, which offers soothing views of hills and paddy fields. (That’s the thing about Goa, the rural and the modern are constantly colliding, to dashing effect.) But just then I had spa on my mind. While the ‘hotel’ has gone contemporary with the Elle Salon and Spa, the ‘resort’ boasts the 20,000 sq ft Warren Tricomi Spa, a New York-based grooming brand which has reincarnated as a Balinese spa here. The treatment rooms are scattered across several chalets in a Balinese garden setting. Their signature offering is the hammam (and a couple hammam, at that). I signed up for a blissful hour of this ritual, then followed it up with another hour of an aromatherapy massage. The therapists are well trained, so the treatments are truly relaxing.
My strenuous exertions at the spa had left me hungry, and, after that triumphant lunch, my expectations were running high. Therefore, for dinner, I grabbed a table at Vero Cibo, the resort’s fine-dining joint. The Italian and Mediterranean restaurant is helmed by Executive Sous Chef Siddarth Noronha, who joined me over heaving platters of grilled prawns, lobsters and fish, and wines to match. With an emphasis on fresh produce, Vero Cibo’s regular menu is supplemented with a chef’s chalkboard menu that changes daily depending on the catch. Simple ingredients, cooked flawlessly—it was easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Chef Noronha buys his produce himself, so I was glad to be his partner in crime when he headed to the Mapusa Market next morning. Possibly everything under the sun can be found at North Goa’s biggest market. Just the varieties of fish will make you slaver. And if, like me, you’re fond of shopping for localised ingredients to stock your pantry, this is heaven—everything from black stone flowers to sausage casings are available. Don’t forget to stop by the St Francis Bakery for beef cutlets. The Mapusa Market visit is just one of those intimate, insider-y experiences that the Novotel offers its guests (another is a visit to a traditional Goan Bakery). And that’s what elevates these twin hotels above the cookie cutter variety and makes for memorable holiday experiences.
Location: Novotel Goa Shrem Hotel: Anna Waddo, Main Candolim Road, Bardez, Goa. 37km/1hr from Dabolim airport, 48km/1.5hr from Madgaon station. Novotel Goa Resort and Spa: Pinto Waddo, Off Candolim Road, Candolim, Bardez, Goa. Frequent shuttles run between the two properties.
Accommodation: Ranges from superior rooms to suites
Tariff: From ₹7,000/9,000 (off-season/ in season) at the hotel, from ₹7,500/9,500 (off-season/in season) at the resort
Contact: +91-832-2494949 (hotel), +91- 832-2494848 (resort), novotel.com