Ingenious food, innovative cocktails, well-curated high-teas and sundowners, offbeat local trails, and unparalleled hospitality Hilton Goa Resort crafts a world far removed from the Goa that we are accustomed to. By Adila Matra
It is not often that you envisage a vacation on top of a hill in Goa. That is just the beginning of the singularities of a stay at Hilton Goa Resort, the brand’s third property in the sunshine state. Set in the quaint neighbourhood of Saipem, close to Candolim Beach, the property is a departure from the typical seaside resorts in Goa. On the weekend that I arrive, the weather is balmy and the people warm and friendly, starting with Prerna Harchandani, the Front Office team member who leads me to my room.
HOLD THE FORT
Out of the four blocks named after different forts in Goa, my room is housed on the second floor of Cabo de Rama Fort. The King Deluxe Riverview Room is spacious and flaunts contemporary Indo-Portuguese design elements along with generous usage of wood. Harchandani explains how the property saves electricity–the air conditioner goes off when the door to the balcony is opened and the lamps in the room are programmed to go off if no movement is detected for 10 minutes. I pull the wooden blinds and slide open the glass door of the balcony to see River Nerul and tracts of salt pans in the distance, gleaming under the afternoon sun. Closer to the eye, the property’s many palms and frangipani flowers sway in the breeze.
Since the property is designed like a fort, there are no elevators to ferry you up and down your rooms. Hence the scenic sundowner—with views of vast green fields and backwaters of Goa that seemingly melt into the horizon, and the hypnotic waters of the infinity pool—set in the private balcony of the Presidential Suite on the topmost floor, is a well-earned reward.
Amandeep Grover, the General Manager of the resort and my sundowner companion, nudges me from my trance with stories of the property’s opening in October 2020, its ethos rooted in Goan tradition and culture, and the ‘Travel with Purpose’ initiatives. The one that piques my interest is the face masks that the property sells. Grover explains how the resort has collaborated with Tribal Threads, a Women’s Sewing Collective to sell handmade fabric masks embroidered with Warli art. I make a mental note to get one from the resort lobby.
As the sun sets, heart-warming travel anecdotes multiply while the pitcher of sangria and the spread of homemade sweet potato wafers, potato skin topped with sour cream and mashed jackfruit, and chicken tacos dwindle, attesting to an evening well spent.
EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY
I am still reeling—from the sangria and the heady tales—as I go down to @Saipe, the all-day dining restaurant for dinner later in the night. It is here that I meet Rasikta Kamble, mixologist and a wizard in her own right. Her name translates to ‘romance’, which is also the title of the first cocktail she presents in full panache, lifting a smoky glass dome. The romance of two unlikely lovers—pineapple and smoked rosemary, with rum, she says with a chuckle. The relationship works wonders on my palate. Her showmanship sets the tone for the dinner spread to come.
Executive Chef Ashley Nunes’ dinner plans involve cuisines ranging from Awadhi to Goan to Continental. Since the resort caters to both foreign and domestic tourists, it is important to have a mix, says Nunes. I gravitate towards the chicken xacuti and murg bardari tikka first and then move on to the juicy lamb shank with creamy polenta, and the oddly satisfying quinoa couscous chaat. But my number one turns out to be the simple yet feisty prawns recheado served in a coconut shell, which I immediately polish off with colossal slices of Goan poie. I also call in a favour from the chef for a doggy bag of the recheado masala, before calling it a day.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
In keeping with the tagline of ‘#ExploreTheUnexplored Goa’, the resort offers its guests local Goan experiences that are unheard of in the tourism circuit. And that’s how, the next morning, I make the acquaintance of the very energetic and quirky Mackinlay Antonio das Merces Barreto (Mack) who runs The Local Beat, Goa. The organisation helps you see Goa through the eyes of locals and curates experiences like feni trails, picnics, treks and everything susegad. The limelight today is on Bicholim, a village in North Goa knee-deep in bizarre traditions and picturesque spots.
We trek through the woods of this obscure hamlet, past streams and overgrown branches, until a clearing reveals a waterbody—a deep-green plunge pool surrounded by a cluster of jagged boulders going up to 20 feet. The feat, Mack explains, is to climb the boulders reticulated with roots of trees, and jump down to the pool below. Along with the volunteers, Mack is also accompanied by a few locals who provide the unassuming guests with moral and technical support. One by one, the boys jump with total abandon, some showing off multiple flips. The city folks find it hard to let go, tsk-tsks my guide Altaf, a 20-year-old boy, as I stand on the precipice in my orange life jacket unable to take the plunge. Half an hour later, when Altaf is almost ready to give up, I jump and hit the cool water, breathless out of exhilaration and post-adrenaline rush fatigue. Everyone cheers, mostly in anticipation of lunch.
With grumbling tummies, we wrap up our adventure and make our way to a traditional Goan home, boasting a tiled roof and bright plastered walls, where an authentic Goan Saraswat Brahmin lunch is laid out in bamboo and terracotta vessels, near a sedentary brook. There’s hog plum gravy, chicken xacuti, poie, prawn cutlets and fried banana—all of which disappear in seconds. I thank Mack—for the fortification of both, mind and body.
SALT OF THE EARTH
Back in the resort, Doce, the charming coffee lounge beckons with mushroom quiche, caramel eclairs, Swiss rolls, all curated by Pastry Chef Amit Chatterjee, and a cold brew infused with grape juice. As the sun sets, I watch the Coco Lounge & Kitchen nearby getting ready to transform into a high-octane lounge bar. The hotel is all set to take this dining venue a notch higher in April, I am informed.
By the time I wake up from my untimely but deep slumber, the moon is full and preparations are underway to set up a live barbecue station in my balcony. It is part of @YourBalcony, one of the experiences the resort offers. As the fire crackles and pops, Chef Satyabrata Panja lines up mushrooms, lobsters, chicken breasts and sweet corn on the grill. There’s a dessert version of the Pina Colada to top this off.
I am in a food coma when the staff informs me about the personal training session with Nelson Paes the next morning. Paes is an MMA boxer who has won several tournaments in India and abroad. He now collaborates with Hilton Goa Resort to offer customised fitness sessions on request, as a part of @YourBalcony experiences. The one-hour HIIT workout leaves me winded but full of dopamine and less guilty about last night’s overindulgence and the one to follow at breakfast. Pooja Sharma’s special tea, Norbu Moktan’s fruit blends, Chef Pranit Shinde’s South Indian delicacies, Chef Amit Chatterjee’s bakes, and Chef’s Akshaya Pradhan’s Goan breakfast corner at @Saipe make for a blissful finale.
But it would be unfair to credit the happiness to just the workout and the endless flow of food. The charm of Hilton Goa Resort lies in all its people–committed, gritty and genuine individuals who mirror the ethos of the resort.
Starts from INR 12,000 for double occupancy.