The South Indian idyll of Goa is a beautiful, small state, with almost 100 kilometres of rich golden sand beaches overlooking the glittering Arabian Sea.
India’s smallest state, Goa has had a long relationship with the West; it was the first place in India to be colonised by the Portuguese in 1510, an occupation that lasted 451 years. ‘Golden Goa’, named so for its incredible prosperity from the lucrative spice trade, reached its peak in the 16th century. In 1961 the Portuguese were booted out of Goa by India’s first prime minister, Nehru, leaving behind their indelible mark; a kaleidoscope of baroque architecture, whitewashed churches, crumbling forts, traditional catholic ceremonies and stunning cathedrals. In the 1960s Goa also became a magnet for a new type of traveller in search of sun, sea, sand, seafood, spirituality and a laid-back lifestyle. The Portuguese legacy is richly evident and perhaps nowhere more delightful than in the burgeoning food scene. Months could be spent exploring the restaurants, villas and homes offering a tantalising cuisine that joyfully sings with a mingling of Latin and local cultures.
Goa today can be divided into three distinct areas. The North, the first to be "hippified", has long since given way to development and is generally seen as busier and more commercial. The popular and more developed resorts of Calangute and Candolim are home to boutique hotel Ahilya by the Sea, beautiful private villa Summertime and the family-friendly Taj Holiday Village. South Goa is more peaceful and relaxed and is often described as "Goa as it used to be", although many of its beaches are at least partially developed. Here travellers can relax at the 5-star hotel resorts of Alila Diwa, Taj Exotica and The Leela Goa.
In the centre, the Zuari and the Mandovi rivers reach the sea, carving out the Panaji peninsula, a triangular spit of land also known as the Velhas Conquistas, between them. Stretching along the northern riverbanks is Panjim, or Old Goa, Portugal’s former capital in India. With its UNESCO World Heritage status, this was the first territory to be colonialised and the original port of the Portuguese. Although Central Goa draws in less crowds than the neighbouring beach resorts, it is certainly worth a day or two to visit the handsome Portuguese buildings and churches, and the crumbling remains of Old Goa. Adventurous travellers who venture inland are rewarded by a landscape filled with spice plantations, astonishing churches and verdant rice paddies. Over the centuries Goa has been naturally protected by the thickly forested Western Ghats; the sheer inaccessibility by land has kept sites such as the impressive Dudhsagar Falls and the beautiful medieval Hindu temple at Tambdi Surla are untainted by tourism.
With its palm fringed coves, pastel-coloured colonial houses and a beautifully relaxed atmosphere, Goa offers everything for a retreat to return to again and again.
>> Read our blog: Goa Food & Feasting
Features in the following itineraries
- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Mr David Wallace, North India
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Leslie Siben, India