India’s smallest state packs in the powers of the sun, sand and spirits—all the ingredients for the perfect beach vacation. Throw in the parties and casinos and you have a holiday you won’t forget. And then there’s the other side—one of quaint villages, churches, museums and galleries that make it easy for you to cut away from the crowd, and explore the state’s cultural offerings.
Head north straight from the airport and get to any of the several shacks on Baga beach. If you love adventure, make a beeline for the sea, where you can go parasailing, jet-skiing or on a regular boat ride. Party the night away at Titos on Baga beach or Club Cabana on Anjuna beach. Goa also boasts some lovely Portuguese-era churches that deserve a visit. We’d pick the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim for its impressive white exterior and eye-catching ornamented altars. There’s also the Basilica of Bom Jesus in old Goa, somewhat in ruins but still standing proof of brilliant Jesuit architecture. For the devout, it houses a silver casket that holds the sacred relics of St Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. This is also where Goa’s biggest and most important festival takes place: the Feast of St Xavier, which happens during the first week of December, and is a time for prayer and processions. Panjim also has the gorgeous Latin Quarter of Fontainhas. Not far is the historic Fort Aguada, where the cellular jail is now thrown open to tourists.
Don’t just stick to the north, though—south Goa has Palolem beach, one of the safest stretches of sea in the region. Goa is also one of the few states in India where gambling is legal. So you can try your luck at casinos such as the Deltin Royale, with India’s only dedicated poker room, and Casino Pride, which also has a kids’ zone with computer games. And if you’re seeking thrills away from the ground, jump into a hot-air balloon from which the views of the lush Goan countryside will make it a ride to remember.
Over the year, Goa easily finds many reasons to celebrate. In February, it’s the Goa Carnaval, with floats, parades, song and dance. In March, it’s Shigmahotsav, the state’s version of Holi. In June, locals jump into village wells and rivers to celebrate Sao Jao—and you’re welcome to join—while Christmas brings out the best in this vibrant state.
For local cuisine, wend your way through the tiny lanes till you get to this iconic restaurant. Ask for the sorpotel, pork vindaloo and chicken cafreal or just get the king crab, as Sachin Tendulkar does when he comes to dine.
No prizes for guessing, this one excels at comfort cuisine. Lamb xacuti, marinated Goan sausages, and pork sorpotel with sannas come highly recommended. But Mum’s Kitchen scores over others because it is one of the few places that also serves authentic Saraswat cuisine.
Don’t let the spare ambience trick you, this restaurant’s been pulling in locals for the last 35 years for its squid, prawns and the legendary bebinca. Chef Vasco was born and raised in Angola, so you know you’ll get some flavourful Portuguese cuisine.
This cosy, unpretentious nook is another local favourite, for its gaboli (fish roe) and other home-style preparations. Run by an affable couple—where the wife runs the kitchen—this feels more like a home than a restaurant.
You must try this no-frills crowd-puller at Baga beach. Baked crabs, Goan fish curry with rice, and steak and kidney pudding, all at very pocket-friendly prices.
This is the place for a dozen Instagram pictures, with its Mediterranean charm and food. Must-tries include the terrines, gratins and the much-talked-about chocolate thali.
Need another French option? Sur la Mer place exudes a friendly charm that lets you dine leisurely for hours. Enjoy your oysters, lobster, and seafood chowder and finish off with the sinful chocolate fondant.
Its clifftop location makes this Greek taverna a sunset must-go. Feast on this traditional lamb stew called kleftiko, along with souvlaki wraps and tzatziki dip.
The party never stops in Goa, provided you know where to go. LPK Waterfront in Nerul channels a bohemian vibe, with terracotta statues and fairy lights. Club Cabana on Arpora Hill is where you go for a heady night of trance. When you’re nice and buzzed, the splash pool looks particularly inviting. Chronicle at Vagator is everything you expect from a beach club—a five-level, open-to-sky dance floor, great music and good food. Not far is NYEX at Anjuna beach, a great option for sundowners with its infinity pool, sundecks and thumping music. At the other end of the strip, in Palolem, South Goa, is Silent Noise, where you dance on the sands with music pulsing through Bluetooth headsets. But if you like it loud and crazy, Leopard Valley in Canacona is where you go. The open-air club brings in international DJs to set the mood. With a large stage and pyrotechnics, this is where you can pull an all-nighter.
But not everyone parties like there’s no tomorrow. Goa has a string of quiet, unassuming pubs and bars where spirits, music and easy vibes flow through the night. Down the Road is one such pub in Panjim. The Gonsalves Mansion in Campal, is where you go for a dreamy night of jazz. A family-run establishment, this old Portuguese bungalow pulls in the best local acts from across the state. This is as Goa as Goa gets.
This five-star property a short drive from the airport packs in everything you need for a great beach holiday. Gorgeous, breezy rooms, great food across its five restaurants and cafes, a soothing spa and endless views of the Arabian Sea.
Colva beach is where you should stay when you can’t decide if you want to run away from the crowds or get all the action possible. The beaches are clean, the tourists are minimal and yet, there are enough watersports to keep you busy. Beleza by the Beach has a swimming pool, a spa, a beach shack and bar, meaning you never really have to go too far to enjoy. Add baby-sitting services and you know why couples prefer this boutique resort.
This 180-year-old hotel gives you a chance to experience Goa’s rich heritage. Right in the heart of Fontainhas, Panjim Inn has rooms with vintage furniture and fittings that take you back in time. The floating casinos on the Mandovi are barely five minutes away, making it the perfect place for when you think you’re feeling lucky.
If you’re among those who think that Goa’s beauty is its countryside, not the beach, you’ll enjoy your stay at this hotel in Saligao. The “home of happiness” is a century-old home now restored and converted into a hotel. With art and furniture going back several hundred years, this place is all about charm. But not everything old is old-fashioned. The hotel has enough to keep you entertained: a jacuzzi pool bar, an Ayurveda massage centre and as many as four lounges. And if you still need more, they’ll arrange private fishing trips for you.
Goa is quite proud of its flea markets. There are several of these scattered across the strip. While Anjuna’s Wednesday market has cool tops, dresses and flashy footwear, Baga’s Saturday-night markets are the spots for bags, hats and handicrafts. If touristy isn’t your thing, head to Mapusa for its Friday market. You may not find your knick-knacks here, but the colour and flavour is unmissable. Bring your best bargaining game to the table. If boutiques are more your scene, try Malini Ramani’s at Calangute for a gorgeous collection of jewellery and handbags. Janota, in Bardez, offers some funky, unusual custom-made footwear. At the Wendell Rodricks Design Space in Panjim, you can buy some interesting resortwear in cottons and satin, available in pop and neutral colours. Not far from here is Sacha’s Shop, run by former writer/stylist of GQ India, Sacha Mendes. Head here for cross-stitch towels, deconstructed Savio Jon blouses, and 11:11 shirts. For some swag, try Jade Jagger on Ashwem beach. This glamorous outlet by Mick Jagger’s daughter stocks a brilliant range of statement jewellery. After all, beach holiday is all about style.
What do you do when you’ve sorted out your tan, gambled away that bonus and karaoked till sunrise? Goa still has plenty of surprises. If you’ve had your fill of watersports at the beach, try a round of kayaking on Goa’s quaint rivers. Take a trip with Goa Kayaking, which runs year-round services on rivers Mandovi, Nerul, Sal and Zuari, and explore the mangrove forests and ecosystems. And while the whole world is partying hard and gambling the night away, you can detox with a yo-cation. Popular yoga hubs include Palolem, Agonda and Patnem in the south and Arambol, Mandrem and Anjuna in the north. Stay at a chic yoga retreat such as Banyan Tree Yoga in Ashvem, which combines a yoga experience with home-cooked farm-fresh meals (open from November to April).
Breaking away from the beaches, even for a bit, has another advantage: you get to see the real Goa, one of beautiful art, history and culture. Check out some fine works at the Museum of Goa, Goa Chitra, The Museum of Christian Art, Indian Customs & Central Excise Museum, and Sunaparanta, Goa Centre for the Arts. There’s also legendary artist Mario Miranda’s grand old home in Margao; though entry here is only by permission. Goa’s majestic forts, too, are symbols of its medieval history. Visit Chapora Fort (of Dil Chahta Hai fame) in South Goa and Tirakhol in the north. Bonus: stunning Instagram shots from top of each.
And while everyone crowds the shacks, how about dining in the dark? Head to Alila Diwa Goa and work your way through a delicious thali, using your senses other than sight. It’s done once a week at Spice Studio—on Thursdays, 8pm onwards. And how can you pass up on India’s own MasterChef Australia experience? Sarah Todd, finalist of the 2014 edition, helms Antares, a beachside restaurant attached to a 14-villa resort in Vagator. Expect some truly interesting creations: pork belly with kokum, lobster linguini, and raisin and onion jam are a few. To go more offbeat, try a meal at a 200-year-old private palace. Palácio do Deão is now a hip restaurant in Quepem, where the focus is on freshly sourced ingredients from local farmers and fishermen and generations-old recipes. Your dinner will be served in a covered courtyard, with eye-stopping greenery all around you.
|Airport Rd, Dabolim, Goa 403801||GOI|