Grand Goa

Hitani Kaur        Print Edition: May 13, 2012

Sometime in the 17th century, a very wealthy Portuguese merchant sailed to Goa in search of spices. He found himself so enthralled by the beauty of the land that he built a palace and made it his home. As the years progressed, additional 'guest houses' were constructed around the main palace to accommodate the merchant's family and friends, consolidating the stately property across 28 acres of lush greenery along the beachfront of Bambolim Bay.

A skylight at the Main Palace
A skylight at the Main Palace
Ok, honestly, there was no Portuguese merchant, but the 'palace' does exist. It was completed last August after four years of construction. This fictional tale was spun to provide the architect of the Grand Hyatt, Goa, with a concept for the property. Walking along its meandering mud pathways, I'd say he understood the brief perfectly. What hits you square in the face as you drive through the beautiful mahogany gates with creeping vines, are the imposing, stately structures that stand proud and strong. Currently comprising seven distinct 'guest houses' (management frowns on the use of the term 'blocks'), each building is true to the Portuguese fable. Yet, it is unique from its sisters with distinct elements to reflect the era it was supposedly completed in. Built in the local Indo-Portuguese style, the property is a collective maze of redtiled sloping roofs, and a cream body of concrete punctuated by tall wooden window frames. At the entrance, is a circular porch displaying an iconic Madonna with child sculpture; a symbolic promise extended to nurture and protect guests as they cross over the threshold.

Shamana Spa
Shamana Spa
The interiors of the Grand Hyatt are taken from a neutral palette. The drapes, upholstery and wall elements are dressed in shades of beige, cream, and rust. A glass skylight forms a pyramid at the centre of the main palace and lends a greenhouse-like feel to the flowing water elements, staircase and hallways within. The floors covered in handmade tiles add local flavour to each space. Another striking element scattered generously in and around the hotel's décor, is the use of Capiz shells found on the property's beachfront. Glimpses of these are seen in the ivory-coloured window blinds, and dangling from the ceiling as chandeliers or sweeping drapes reaching the floor. The main palace houses the restaurants, bar and banquet halls (the largest you'll find anywhere in Goa) while guest rooms are dispersed amongst the six remaining guest houses across the property. Currently, a total of 314 rooms and suites are functional, with more being built for later.

It isn't a large property. I managed to take all of it in within 24 hours, albeit at a brisk pace. My room was small but sufficient, equipped with all the usual amenities and the added perk of a private balcony with a view of the gardens and the tranquil sea in the distance. I managed to catch sunset at the pool bar and grill, sipping on a passion fruit margarita exquisitely served in a swirl of orange ice.

One of the Grand Room
One of the Grand Room
After working up my appetite I proceeded for dinner to Chulha, the Indian restaurant. Ranging from street food to Goan favourites, the menu is well stocked. A must-try here is the Goan fish curry which is nothing like anything you've tasted before. Also try their version of Sev Puri which accommodates flavours of the north Indian Gol Gappa into the signature Maharashtrian snack.

The cooks selected by the chef are best at what they do and have been transported from around the country to this five-star kitchen. If you have any space once you're done, round off your meal with something from the Confeitaria below, which stocks the most darling cupcakes, tarts, meringues and colourful candy.

Reserve another meal for The Verandah. This restaurant opens only for dinner and dishes out superb seafood specialties, delivered fresh by the hotel's exclusive fisherman. Everything on the menu is seasonal. After years of experience, including a six-year stint at the Burj Al Arab, chef Etienne Karner definitely knows his way around the kitchen. I got to watch and learn firsthand, as he whisked, fried and flambéd his way through the preparation of a fabulous four-course meal; adding his definitive flavour to the Middle Eastern and Asian menu. Alternatively, if you're in the mood for something hot off the grill or the wok, The Dining Room offers a delicious buffet. But to stir things up, pick up the pace at the Capiz Bar. Open late into the night, this is where you can shake off your slumber over music and drinks.

Be sure you set aside enough time for a leisurely swim in the outdoor pool at the heart of the hotel. Styled in a manner unlike most, the pool here stretches languorously in assymetric adjacent squares. Bordered along its irregular length by steps disappearing into the water, it resembles an ancient Roman bath, and creates a relaxed atmosphere for guests to acquaint themselves with one another.

Catch up on work while sipping a glass of wine at the Bay View Lounge
Catch up on work while sipping a glass of wine at the Bay View Lounge
There's no better way to start, or even end your day, than with a session at the Shamana spa. Housed within a standalone structure, the spa offers 19 private suites and a range of therapies. I would recommend the Balinese oil massage, which I received over 90 blissful minutes from my aptly-named masseuse Mercy. Everything about the spa reverberates with serenity; the music is maintained at the right volume, the interiors are warm and comforting, and the masseurs know their way around your muscles like the back of their own (silky smooth) hand.

The one thing that lingers even after you check-out, is the friendly, forthcoming nature of the staff. Right from the General Manager, down to the bellboy, they play the part of gracious hosts to the T. So the next time you're in Goa for a dose of sun and sand, check in at the Grand Hyatt to experience a slice of their fabled hospitality; five-star luxury and superb service with a smile.

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