Hot spots: The Leela, Goa
What is it? "When rock and pop stars tour India, they always end with a stay in Goa," says Qammar Hakim. "And when they are in Goa, they always stay at The Leela." Hakim is a manager at the hotel, but there appears to be no reason to doubt his claim, even though he refuses to name names - at least on record. For all its renown as a holiday destination, Goa does not have a great deal of five-star accommodation and The Leela, situated on 30 hectares towards the end of a spit, with the River Sal on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other, is attractive for both its seclusion and its service.
The stars themselves no doubt stay in The Club - a resort within a resort - while the backing singers and tour managers probably have to "make do" with one of the rooms or suites built around three man-made lagoons.
The Club sounds plush, what's that like? Well, I'll have to quote from the promotional blurb here, because it was too exclusive for this writer to be admitted to, even for a peek. The smallest suites in this area measure 1,722 square feet and, within the confines of The Club, the pampered few are offered "everything from limousine airport transfers to private plunge pools, dining areas and a designated Club beach". The hotel may need a better copywriter, though, because a private lap pool and personalised butler service are worth boasting about, too.
OK, what are the "backing singers'" rooms like? The 186 rooms and suites that overlook the lagoons (above and below) are very clean and perfectly pleasant, if unremarkable, but being able to throw open the shutters in the morning to let in a view of water is always a plus, even if that water is an unusual shade of green.
What else is there on those 30 hectares? According to Hakim, something in the region of 300,000 trees and shrubs have been planted by the management on these grounds - and that's a lot of greenery. Between the accommodation areas and the beach is a 12-hole golf course and there is - should you awake at 3am feeling lucky - a 24-hour casino on site.
What's the beach like? Huge and empty (below). Officially, in India, hotels and resorts are not allowed to cordon off parts of a beach for the exclusive use of their guests, but this one may as well be private, because there is nothing between the hotel and the end of the spit; there are few people passing at this end of 16 kilometres of beach. It's a two-minute amble from sun lounger to shore, and when you get there, large rolling waves await.
And the food? The best of the hotel's four restaurants is the Riverside, an Italian from which you can watch the goings-on at the small fishing port on the other side of the Sal while chewing on rather super garganelli. Unfortunately, it doesn't open until 7pm, so, if you want to sit back with a cold drink to watch the squadrons upon squadrons of birds returning in formation, as the sun sets, to their nests upriver, you'll have to stroll on to Fisherman's Wharf, by most accounts the finest restaurant in this part of South Goa.
Anything else we should know? The town of Cavelossim is little more than a road threading its way through blocks of holiday apartments, coconut groves, souvenir shops and mini-marts. A more pleasant excursion is a trip by boat up the Sal, to explore the backwaters of the region, with their peacocks and huge snoozing fruit bats. The concierge can arrange itineraries that venture farther afield.
What's the bottom line? A Deluxe Lagoon Suite costs 33,500 rupees (HK$4,900) per night (full board, excluding tax) and a Club Suite 58,000 rupees.
The Leela, Goa is at Mobor Cavelossim, Goa, India; www.theleela.com/locations/