A group of seven to eight men, well into their 40s, are behaving like an eager bunch of teenagers on a flight. Good-natured ribbing and earnest plans for their destination are on as they block the aisle huddled over a row of seats, making the air hostesses blush as they squeeze past. Some rows behind, a couple on their honeymoon mistakenly think they are discreet as they cuddle. A girl gang of three have an air of recklessness as they sit together. It’s a flight that always has smiling faces, an air of anticipation, a happy buzz. It’s a flight to Goa, India’s top holiday destination, where year-end flight fares and hotel tariffs make foreign vacations more lucrative. But the flight is full, and it’s still some weeks to Christmas.
So what makes Goa a destination people apparently never tire of? With an extensive coastline, there are plenty of breathtaking beaches in the country, diverse culture, heritage and food to explore. But there is no other place that signifies ‘fun’ as Goa does. Or relaxation. Everyone knows that those looking for fun, food, shacks, music and adventure on the beach head to north Goa, and for those seeking a few days of peace and quiet by the seaside, there is the south. Something for everyone.
In direct proportion is the interest by the hospitality industry for the place. This year has been especially aggressive in terms of new properties and brands entering the small state. A long overdue entry has been by ITC, which acquired the Park Hyatt property on Arossim beach and within a month, reopened under its own brand name.
Built like a small village, with even a token chapel, a ‘lagoon’ snaking across and a swimming pool that meanders through, the place has a certain charm, especially in its architecture, needing only minor changes to the rooms by the new owners. And the sunset is full value for your money. As is the food, which is what ITC is known for. Not to be missed is chef Sarita’s Goan home food served at the Tempero. With a menu that brings forth the best of Portuguese and Goud Saraswat dishes, be it the homely khatkhate or the extremely delicious prawn curry, chef Sarita is justified in her claim that her food is among the best to be found in Goa. There is no attempt to glamourise the food to make it ‘restaurant worthy’, with the chef insisting that what she cooks at home is what she cooks here. There is clearly no need, too, as the robust flavours speak for themselves.
A sprawling premises with over 200 rooms, extensive gardens and a beach that is more or less private, it has clearly been worth the wait for the hotel brand.