India - Getting to know Goa

With its sparkling coastline, sultry climate and welcoming locals, Goa has attracted Europeans fleeing the gloomy days of winter for decades. In the past it was the chill-out hippy crowd who came here to party and find themselves. These days there are luxury resorts and sun loungers aplenty on the golden sands. You need to know where to look for your slice of unspoilt paradise on a Goa holiday, but don't worry - we know just the spot!

Goa

Whilst modern India came into being in 1947, the Portuguese held onto the state of Goa until 1961. Unsurprisingly their influence remains strong, giving this part of the country a unique atmosphere. There's an almost Latin feel to the old colonial towns with their Baroque churches and colourfully painted villas. And then there's the welcome; centuries of assimilation with western culture means that locals are accustomed to visitors. You'll find the pace of life here is relaxed and friendly, particularly in the coastal areas. There's even a word for it - sossegarde - which means 'laid back' in Portuguese.

It’s easy to while away several days relaxing on one of Goa’s many beaches, feasting on fresh seafood and coconut curries (says the voice of experience) - particularly if you've spent the rest of your holiday exploring the cultural gems of other regions of India. If sun worship isn't your thing, pay homage instead at the region’s vastly ornamented churches and hidden Hindu temples

Essential Goa

  • North Goa: North Goa's coastline is a stretch of golden sand that seems to go on forever, fringed with swaying palms. These days, beaches like Candolim, Calangute and Baga are crammed with resort hotels and tanning tourists. Further north, Arambol retains its old hippy vibe, with backpacker bungalows and beach bars. There are lively souvenir markets at Mapusa and Anjuna, whilst the fascinating backwaters are easily explored by boat. Further inland, colourful Hindu temples nestle deep in dense woodland, and you can visit farms growing nutmeg, cardamom and colourful exotic fruits.
  • South Goa: There's more beach to the south of the state, and in our opinion it’s even more idyllic than the north! Picturesque Palolem Beach is a lengthy semi-circle of soft sand with shady palm trees, and nearby Patnem Beach is more secluded and a favourite with yoga fans. Best for total serenity is Galgibag, which is also a protected turtle nesting site. Away from the beach there are stately Portuguese mansions to explore, the magical hilltop temple of Parvat, and the atmospheric old colonial streets and bustling bazaar of Margao.

Goa away from the crowds

  • Fonthainhas: You could be forgiven for thinking you were in ancient Lisbon whilst strolling through Fontainhas, the Latin Quarter of Panjim, Goa's capital city. Colonial houses with brightly painted walls and balconies strewn with bougainvillea blooms line the sleepy streets, and many older residents still speak Portuguese. Nearby Sao Tome is less gentrified and wonderfully atmospheric, ideal for an evening bar crawl.
  • Old Goa: Between the 16th and 18th centuries Goa's old capital was known as 'Rome of the East' and the Portuguese colonists left behind the most spectacular collection of lofty convents and uplifting churches dripping with Baroque swirls and flourishes. It's a popular day trip, so we recommend visiting early in the morning.
  • Churches & Forts: Portugal's influence is easy to spot throughout Goa, no more so than in the many crumbling forts and well-preserved churches. Of the forts, Tiracol in the far north of Goa is now a romantic, stylish hotel, whilst Fort Aguada is the best preserved, with Chapora a close second. Goa's churches are often still very much in use today. Panjim's Church of our Lady of Immaculate Conception is one of the most impressive, set atop a cascade of brilliant white staircases.