A classy Goan affair
Book a shack, carry some T-shirts and shorts, grab a bottle of beer or feni and laze around any of the beaches. The good old idea of a perfect Goa holiday. But with time and age, one likes to indulge the self with things and treats beyond basics. So this time when we headed to the land of beaches and bars, we were decidedly on a luxury holiday. Instead of packing just shorts and T-shirts, we added a little black dress, evening shoes and make-up essentials. Staying at the Le Meridien Goa at Calangute meant this was going to be an extravagant luxury holiday.
The Kunbi trail
Our three-day trip started on a Friday, with our arrival in Goa early afternoon. The humidity in the air was mellowed down by a short burst of rain, truly a blessing. As we drove along the coastline from the airport to the hotel, our eyes were greeted with fresh green wet lands at regular intervals, old and rusted ships (perfect snapshots for #ruinporn tags on Instagram), and of course quaint little churches.
It takes a little longer than an hour to reach Le Meridien. Though strategically located, on the Aguada-Siolim Road bang in the middle of Calangute, the hotel can be easily missed, since it is behind a bajillion shops. But what’s hidden behind turned out to be a prized discovery.
As we entered the porch, our sight was set on an abstract pattern on the projected roof above, and we figured it was some kind of a map. That’s when one of the staff members pointed out that it is the map of Goa from the era when the Portuguese India Armadas (fleets of ships from the Kingdom of Portugal) arrived during 1497. From here on, we paid attention to how every nook and corner of the hotel is inspired by Goa. The Hub (reception lobby) too showcases the lesser-known crafts of the Kunbi tribe (first settlers in Goa). Ornaments worn by women, farming tools, plates and other accessories used by the tribe have been recreated in bronze, displayed on a large-frame on a wall. Details such as these and the checkered print (from the Kunbi women’s sari) are extended in art installations, frames, and wall murals across the hotel, giving it a native vibe and feel. None of these objects d’art are short on opulence. Thoughtfully curated and displayed, these spell luxury.
All things coastal
Having soaked in the sights and grandeur of the place, we were led up to Latest Recipe for lunch. Chef Vamsi Krishna (who is well-known in the culinary circuit as the man behind Chennai’s The Flying Elephant, now with Le Meridien) had cooked an elaborate Goan meal which included Rawa Fried Prawns, Paneer Piri Piri, Potato Chops, Pomfret Rechado, Vegetable Caldeen, Chicken Xacutti,Goan Fish Curry, Dal Varan, Prawn Balchao and Serradura — the Portuguese dessert. The conversation over lunch with the general manager, Norton Pereira, was all about Goa’s evolving cultural and art scene. While every dish served was cooked to perfection, it was the Serradura that left us wanting more. Something that was made note of, we assume because when we checked-in to our room after lunch, a tiny jar of Serradura was placed at the bedside table with a welcome note. Now that’s what we call attention to tiny details!
Our pool-facing room had a little balcony akin to a typical French sit-out, the perfect spot for evening tea. But what really impressed us was the room design. Even with a large study table, a spacious closet and a dressing room, there’s enough space to walk around and even attempt a cartwheel.
What makes evenings interesting at The Hub is the fact that Longitude 73 coffee bar switches to a bar at sunset. So the coffee display units are turned over to pull out the best of liquor on shelves. We highly recommend you request the Sparkling Programme to be a part of your itinerary at the hotel. What you get to try are four different cocktails in flavours of Kokum, Lavender, Mango and Saffron and two mocktails — Watermelon Mojito and Kiwi Crush. While we tried all, it was the Kokum (the local fruit which is used extensively in Goan cuisine) mix that was certainly our favourite.
What followed next was the grills evening at Latest Recipe. Chef Nishesh Seth and his team put out an assortment of meats and seafood for the live grilling. Nothing much to say except that, when in Goa, you get the best seafood, so don’t miss trying all the fish you could lay your hands on.
Day two of our stay kick-started on an energetic note, with a quick half-an-hour workout at the hotel’s well-equipped gymnasium and a power brekkie. Chef Nishesh has managed to bring in the local flavour particularly for breakfast by including Goan specialities such as Ross Omelette and Savoury Crepe with Mushroom Xacutti. “Usually the leftover gravy from dinner is used as Ross in Goan homes, the omelette is made fresh and soaked in the gravy. This is topped with onions, coriander and lime juice is added for flavour,” explained the chef. Just one serving of Ross Omelette with a poyi (Goan bun) loaded us with all the energy required.
But before we stepped out exploring, we indulged ourself by making an Eclair! Longitude 73 was back to being a coffee bar by the day. It’s here that we once again tried something experimental. Instead of picking up an Eclair off the counter, we made one. Chef Nishesh and pastry Chef Naveen Kumar guided us. Their little trade secrets were shared, and we did a decent job, drilling a hole into the oblong pastry and piping it up well with cream, icing it, and finally eating it! By then it was time to head out.
It was drizzling, so we decided to explore the Goa that’s away from the beaches. After an hour’s drive, we reached our first stop — the Arvalem Waterfalls and Caves. Unlike usual touristy spots in Goa, this place is still untouched and qualifies as a quiet getaway for a few hours. We listened to the gushing waterfalls, took a walk along the stream, and even clicked #natureperfect pictures for Instagram.
A kilometre from the waterfalls are the 6th century Arvalem caves. The laterite rock caves with three openings house four shivlings (an iconic representation of Shiva). The rough, porous surface of the rock that has stood the test of time and weather is what left us amazed more than anything else.
Our next stop was artist Subodh Kerkar’s Museum of Goa (MOG). Subodh is among the select artists who have put India on the international map. His work, displayed at MOG, is a testimony to why he is among the most respected artists in the country today. From an eight-feet high installation of coconut shells, aptly titled Cococomb to installations of old wooden fishing boats such as the Goa’s Ark (tiny idols of Hindu Gods sail in the boat. Turn on the side switch, and see the idols sway from left to right to left), Subodh has put up an eclectic mix of interactive installations, paintings and photographs.
Step outside the gallery, and you will find a huge bell made with fibre glass, recycled rubber and electronics by Siddharth Kerkar, switch it on, hit the dong, and you will hear 25 different sounds each time. We say, this is art interactivity at its best!
It was time for sunset and we headed to the Calangute beach, the nearest beach to our hotel. For the first time, during our stay, the smells and sights of commercial tourism hit us hard. Regulars to Goa and even first-timers will know,this isn’t really the cleanest of beaches, but damn it, when you have the view of a fireball like sun sinking into the sea, everything else is ignored!
Later that evening, we pulled out our best dress for an evening of jazz music and dinner at Jazz & Grills. A fine dining venue required that little effort to look apt, and what an evening it turned out to be! Bartender Paresh Satardekar, like a seasoned magician, mixed potions and bitters to concoct the signature cocktail Jazz Fusion — smooth like silk, that’s how we would like to describe it. This was paired with Chef Saurav Chattoraj’s signature Chattoraj Fish n’ Chips — no fluff, just perfect fish and chips. We drank, ate, and stayed till the band that was playing called it a night.
With such a lovely night behind us, all that we could wish for was a relaxed day before we bid adieu to Goa. Instead of rushing through things, we lolled in our bed, enjoying an unhurried Sunday morning before heading out for a light breakfast (we had been advised to save space for the Sunday brunch). With just a couple of hours before our last meal at the hotel, we stepped out to explore the Aguada Fort and galleries in the vicinity.
The drive to Aguada Fort was less than 20 minutes long, but we spent more time driving back, since we kept stopping at galleries on the way. The most important gallery though was the Mario Gallery. We picked up some knickknacks and artworks by the late artist Mario Miranda, and headed back for the Sunday brunch.
A lavish spread awaited us. From an exclusive fresh seafood counter, salads, live pasta station, Goan and continental fare to a dessert buffet, there were too many options to choose from. We went light on the food, considering we were to travel in the next hour, but we couldn’t resist the delectable desserts.
We binged on Nutty Caramel Delight and kept going back to the chocolate fondue with marshmallows! Before we realised, it was time to head back to our home city. The three days of a luxury Goan holiday had come to an end. Totally relaxed and refreshed, we checked out, only with a promise to self, to return and explore more galleries, and of course, stay at the Le Meridien that’s truly an indulgent haven.