After a couple of days at the ITC Grand Goa Resort and Spa, it was time to head to North Goa, where we would experience a couple of Taj Resorts over five days. The initial toss-up was between going to the Taj Exotica, which I’ve heard some great things about. Still, Shipra wanted to head out to North Goa as we’d never made a trip to North Goa together, or so she thought (Grand Hyatt Goa and W Goa are two North Goa resorts we’d stayed at before).
I’ve been to Taj North Goa many times for work trips, as this was our go-to resort for our work trips and offsite in Goa for a long time. However, in terms of an actual vacation, hardly any exploration is done. And hardly any visits made to Goa over the years, so despite having stayed at both the resorts (Taj Fort Aguada Resort and Spa and Taj Holiday Village Goa), which are adjacent to each other, I was still not sure which one would the missus like better. So, in June 2021, I’d booked up both the resorts for five nights each, and I was no closer to making a decision even in July 2021. Fortunately, Shipra and I agreed to split our reservations at both the resorts, which we both usually hate to do, once we are settled in comfortably at one hotel.
Booking the Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa
The Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa is bookable via many websites, but I headed straight to the Taj Hotels website to book this trip. Many reasons to do this. Firstly, as I initially mentioned, I had no surety about making this trip when we first talked about it, so we needed an exit option if we couldn’t make it. Second, as a Taj Inner Circle Gold Tier Member, my perks were going to only come in handy if I’d directly booked with the Taj. I was hoping to secure myself an upgrade with my upgrade certificates. However, it was not required eventually.
When Taj Hotels made a flat 50% off sale on room rates for Gold and Platinum tier members, I was, fortunately, able to rebook my hotel room at a lower price than the initial booking, and with the same outlay, book a higher category room.
So, here is booking one, for a Superior Room Garden View King Bed, at INR 7,649 per night, a Taj InnerCircle Member rate, 10% less than the usual price. This would have booked into the main 3-storey building at the Taj Fort Aguada.
And then when the 50% off sale came in, we rebooked into the Aguada Cottage Garden View, which is a set of 2 cottages adjacent to each other on the hill where Fort Aguada is situated, for INR 7,250 per night.
After an approximately 1.5-hour drive to the Taj Fort Aguada (1-hour or so from the Airport), as we arrived at the gate of the Taj Fort Aguada, after the usual confirmations which are done, if we are checking in or not, our chauffeur was told to follow a hotel car, which he did.
We were directly driven to our room, it turns out, and were upgraded to a Taj Hermitage Villa with a sea view.
We were conveniently unaware that the Taj Fort Aguada had talked to people at the ITC Grand Goa. They knew that we would be travelling from there and had already received information on how to identify us as we arrived at the hotel. They had the car number, and hence, when we turned up, they were ready for us. They also found out about our anniversary from the last resort, upgraded us from the Aguada Cottage to the Hermitage Villa, and organised a cake for us on arrival.
When we landed up at the hotel, it turned out there was a welcome party waiting for us, with the Taj Fort Aguada having organised serenaders and a couple of team members waiting to bring us to the room.
Not just that, after we signed off on the check-in documents, the crew stayed by to sing for us while we cut the cake.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa
The Taj Fort Aguada Resort is built unique compared to some of the other properties I’ve stayed at in Goa. There is a three-storeyed building, where some of the restaurants are housed, and has most of the approximately 100 rooms this property has. Beyond that, the rest of the hotel has about 40 cottages and villas of various sizes, views and dimensions. These include the Aguada Cottages, which are two or three cottages in one building block, and the Hermitage Villas, all of which are built on a winding road up the hill.
Legend has it that the Taj Hermitage Villas were constructed back in 1982 to serve the Indian prime minister’s requirements who wanted to bring a retreat to Goa of international dignitaries. These luxury villas are self-contained and uber-luxurious, and there are 15 of these on the property. The Taj Hermitage has hosted many world leaders in these exclusive villas. All of the villas are built with inspiration drawn from the Portuguese-inspired mansions of Goa and feature Mangalore clay tiles and stucco mouldings. All these Villas are painted in blue or red, so easy to identify from the rest of the property.
The Hermitage Villa assigned to us had a lovely view of the sea on the horizon and had a lawn of its own. In the lawn, there was a hammock, a couple of sunbeds with a parasol, and a table and a few chairs, convenient for the season which is October to March, when it does not rain, and the sun is out, I’d say.
There are two configurations of The Hermitage Villa, a 1-bedroom one and a 2-bedroom one. We were assigned the 1-bedroom Hermitage Villa, which had a lovely sit-out area with a couple of chairs and umbrellas stocked up. As we stepped inside, you first got into the living room.
The living room is decorated in indigo blue, and there was a massive couch occupying the centre, with a minibar next to it.
The minibar was attractive in its looks but empty inside, as is the case with many hotels nowadays.
There was a massive table lining the other side of the living room, with a TV hung on the wall, and a small work desk set up there with a chair as well.
On the table, there were two masks in two different colours placed for both of us, along with a bottle of hand sanitiser.
However, the best part of the living room was this cosy little corner that was created, which could be used for in-room dining or to sit down and watch out of the window.
Waiting for us here were some fruit, snacks and a bottle of wine with the compliments of the resort.
As one goes inside, into the bedroom, it was done up very well again. The bed took up most of the space, but there was a nice armchair to sit and read a book, set adjacent to the television in one corner.
The bedroom also had a lovely daybed with a window view of all sides and some cushions along.
Despite so many windows, there was enough distance and privacy between all the villas.
The Housekeeping department decided to make sure they’d showcase their housekeeping skills and their art skills to us, again. So the traditional swans were waiting for us, with some balloons thrown in for good measure.
There was also a massive bath/wash area and a closet that flowed from the bedroom. It had a walk-in wardrobe, with enough space for a couple of suitcases, as well as shelves and a dressing table and a full-length mirror.
There was his and her washbasin, with a tub occupying the bathroom. There was also a shower cubicle with a slightly complicated dial to choose between the showers and the temperature.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort and Spa uses Forest Essentials amenities, and it is always good to see their support for this homegrown luxury brand.
I have to comment here that there was an impeccable eye for detail from the Housekeeping team, again, who was looking out for the little details, like a flower in the gowns, and an M and an L sized room slippers.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa Dining
The Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa has many restaurants, and you also have signing rights for dining at the Taj Holiday Village next door. The restaurants that were operational at the time of our visit were SFX (which is a lounge), Kokum Kitchen (their all-day dining restaurant) and Morisco (the seafood grill). The Italian restaurant, Il Camino, was closed, but I was told the meals could be served in other restaurants if so desired.
On the first night, we headed to Morisco, the seafood grill, for our dinner. We were not very familiar with all the other dining options, still finding our bearings at the resort, and generally fond of seafood. So, the hungry souls headed over to the seafood grill. It was generally empty when we arrived, with just one other table occupied at the time.
The hungry souls we were, we dived right into the breadbasket that was served to us. And these were some of the tastiest bread we ever had (from a basket, that is!), and the dips as well were fabulous. I remember we called for seconds, a privilege I don’t reserve for bread baskets usually.
There were tonnes of options, but since we wanted to try out many things, we were suggested to try out the Goan Morisco Grill, which had half a lobster, red snapper and tiger prawns, all put together with rice. We thought we were ordering one for the table, but uh-oh, we had two of these arriving when they did.
It was a lot of food, and now we could not try anything else while we finished our portions of lobster. However, everything was perfect, and we washed it down with some martinis from the bar and beers after. To close the meal, we went for the Goan-inspired sweet platter, which had various sweets from the state, including coconut cream, doce and pinag.
We took our drinks and grabbed a seat at the SFX Lounge, a live band playing every day.
The following day, we headed for breakfast to the Kokum Kitchen, the all-day dining restaurant for the resort.
Fortunately, the first day we were super early, and we could grab a table with a view. The next few days, the restaurant would usually fill up by the time we arrived, and hence we would not be able to go back to this table!
In terms of the options available for breakfast, there were tonnes. For instance, here is the fruit and pastry section, which had a separate corner to itself.
There were tonnes of Indian and western options to choose from at the buffet.
We tried out many things from the live station and our usuals, including eggs benedict and paranthas, and dosas.
They do a nice cuppa as well, and the pastries were good. But make it a point to arrive early because it is hard to catch anyone’s attention once the breakfast fills up.
What was missing, in Goa, at a resort which has a lot of Goan heritage going for them, was…Goan recipes at breakfast. Maybe it was there, but at least for the times I went for breakfast, I did not spot any options. This is room for improvement.
The mask discipline at the Fort Aguada resort was also very good, and most people would wear their masks when off their tables. I was impressed with the mask discipline being enforced, as the food was kept in the open.
We also had a quick chat with Chef Rishi Manucha, who is the executive chef at the Taj Fort Aguada, over breakfast. Amongst other things, he suggested we try out the Goan heritage thali, which we tried to put on our schedule, but never got around to doing it. If you go, ask him for it.
One of these days at the resort, we were walking outside the resort looking for some stuff, and we were both very hungry. Most of the restaurant options near the resort are all about crowd-pleasing food, so I did not want to go for a mix of Goan and North Indian food. However, Soi, a Goan restaurant in the vicinity, was pretty empty for lunch. We got ourselves a Goan Thali each, and while the food was good, it was pretty hot on the spice, which even had a high tolerance guy like me had me break a sweat for a long while after.
I decided to take Shipra to the Taj Holiday Village for dinner one night, which houses The Banyan Tree restaurant. Banyan Tree is Goa’s oldest Thai restaurant and is perhaps one of the best Thai outlets, or maybe even, the best Thai restaurant amongst the Taj hotels and resorts I’ve stayed at, and I wanted Shipra to try out their food. The restaurant takes its name from the 300-year old Banyan Tree that sits right outside. As it was raining, we asked for a car from the hotel, and they drove us from our Villa to the restaurant, just a few hundred metres from the main gate of Fort Aguada.
We went there for an unplanned dinner, and we were blown away by the choices and the hospitality. For instance, Shipra and I both wanted to split a soup, and Shipra wanted to have it with prawns, and I wanted it with chicken, so, no problemo, we got our picks, as the wait staff said we could do a half-and-half the way we liked it. Although the menu has shrunk because of the focus on the curries, the food was still of the high standard that I remembered dining here last.
We finished off with the Tub Tim Grob, which was, classic water chestnut with coconut milk, served in a coconut shell.
We left the classic curries for another meal as we were very sure we’d come back here. Look out for the F&B manager Xenia Lam who was chatting up with guests and helping them pick their food choices when they were unable to do so on their own. We had a friendly long chat about Mumbai food and the in Goa restaurants, in case we wanted to step out one of these days. As I mentioned earlier, we signed the bill over to our room at the Fort Aguada Resort.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa Hermitage Lounge
Until I arrived at the resort, unknown to me was the fact that the Taj had opened a lounge for those who were staying at the Hermitage Villas at Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa, back in the holidays of 2018 when the Hermitage Villas were renovated. When we did, we wanted to spend some time there, and it was worth it.
The Hermitage Lounge is available only to the guests resident in the Hermitage villas. The luxurious lounge is done up in the traditional Portuguese art, similar to how the Hermitage Villas have been done up. Just like the lounges at other hotels/resorts, they serve you up breakfast, a high tea and can also help you with a coffee or a beverage throughout the day. Not just that, all sorts of billing can also be taken care of here, and you can be checked in or checked out.
The Lounge has a small pool, which was operational, while the main pool was under maintenance during our stay.
The lounge also had its gymnasium with top of the line equipment and steam, sauna and shower.
Noticing that we had not tried out their high tea, we got a call from the Lounge Duty Manager one evening. However, since we were away in a different part of Goa, we had to decline politely. However, we did catch breakfast at the Hermitage Lounge one morning. As expected, it was a smaller offering than the breakfast at the restaurant. Still, it was much more peaceful, and there were many hot options, including eggs, dosas and paranthas made available.
The Hermitage Lounge was also where we would go when our key expired on the last day, and we still had not packed up to transfer to the Holiday Village.
The Lounge had an excellent staff on duty, who would check in often about anything we would need and proactively invited us to the lounge for high-tea, which we had to pass, unfortunately.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa Facilities & Layout
I know I should have talked about it earlier, but here are the details now. As I mentioned earlier, the main building has a massive lobby, a three-floored establishment that is, with the restaurants and the main lobby and a small business centre tucked in a corner.
The pool was under maintenance while we were there but is open now, as reported by other friends who visited later.
The hotel has direct access to a part of the Fort Aguada, which opens right outside the resort, adjacent to the Morisco restaurant. Only hotel guests are allowed to use the path, which is manned during the day, and it came in handy when it started raining when we were outside.
There is a lot of parking available if you decide to drive to the hotel or hire a self-drive vehicle to navigate Goa.
We found it very refreshing to walk up and down the hill when arriving or departing from our villa on most days, unless, of course, it was raining. Otherwise, you can request a car from the hotel, which will pick you up or drop you, if you stay in one of the cottages or villas, 24×7.
It would be best if you remembered that the hills’ incline is steep, so it might not be advisable for the older people to walk, and they should always use the car. One of these days, when we were driving around, we could not navigate one of the turns, a steep hairpin bend, in the car.
The hotel has some very unique views of the Arabian sea, such as the sunset point. However, with the time of the year we went, we did not expect to see any.
There are also many trails all over the resort, and you could go off the beaten path now and then to explore where it leads you up to.
The hotel also shares a spa and sports facilities with the Taj Holiday Village. However, the facilities were closed when we landed there, so we did not get to try out the spa.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa Housekeeping
Housekeeping usually does not get the credit it deserves, but at least, in this case, they went above and beyond, or perhaps it is usual for them, and as world travelling guests, we were impressed more since these were high standards. I was already impressed with an eye for detail that Ms Nilam from housekeeping and her team. The team was almost invisible, and they’d come in, do their housekeeping or turndown when we were gone from the room by the time we’d arrive.
You already know about the housekeeping art we saw on arrival. However, they had many a surprise in store for us. One of the unique things about turndown here was they had an experience, which definitely had some shock and awe value, of every night we stayed there.
For instance, the first night, they set up a hot tub for us and set up a foot soak in the bedroom, along with hot water and instructions on how to go about it.
The second night, they had left us chamomile tea along with some lovely china to drink it in.
And on the final night, we had soaked almonds left for us in a huge jar. You know where I am going with this.
Also, the towel art did not stop. It kept on coming, and with new stuff every day!
Another unique turndown experience here used to be the “thought of the day”, a small placard left every night with a flower or a chocolate.
They also left us an amenity off and on.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa In-room Dining
With so many options inside and around the resort to choose from, we almost did not feel the need to eat in the room at any point in time, till the last day of the stay. We were a bit hungry, wanting to save our appetite for another nice evening dinner at the Banyan Tree, so we ordered in a club sandwich before we transferred to Holiday Village. It arrived in good shape, and thank goodness we only ordered one since it was huge.
Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa Checkout Experience
The Fort Aguada has some of its rituals, which we saw over the days. One of them is that they bid adieu to every guest at the breakfast table on their final day of the stay. We saw many people being presented with a pastry on the day of their checkout, and since we were dining in the Hermitage Lounge on the last day, it was served up to us there.
We could have also combined our stay at Fort Aguada and transferred the invoice to Holiday Village since they share the same back office. However, we chose to settle the stay here itself. However, we swiped a gift card from Citi Prestige, and as a consequence, we received no points on the stay, which would have been 7% of the bill in terms of Taj Inner Circle Points as a Gold Tier member. This was something I heard much later when I followed up with the Taj Inner Circle, while the resort assured us there would be no problem receiving the points.
We also swiped Shipra’s Taj Epicure membership programme card, which was received from American Express. For the first three meals swiped on this card, we were due to receive 50% of the value of the meal in terms of TIC points, which we were told would be done within a week at best. However, both the hotel and I have been following up with the TIC and still haven’t heard back about posting the points correctly.
The Taj Fort Aguada Resort and Spa is an excellent pick for a stay in the North of Goa. It is not surprising that despite being one of the oldest Taj resorts in the country, the hotel continues to be one of the best examples of Taj hospitality in the country. I wouldn’t shy away from coming back for another vacation here.
Have you been to the Taj Fort Aguada Resort and Spa? Do share your experiences and questions with us.
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