By Stuart Forster | June 2017 | 4 minute read
More than just a beach destination, sprawling Goa is also attracting wellness tourists, wildlife enthusiasts, culture seekers enthralled by the melange of Portuguese and Indian architecture and lovers of its spicy regional cuisine.
“Goa is a gentle and rewarding introduction to India. It is the country’s smallest state – from the stunning beaches and dense jungle to the striking Hindu temples and dramatic churches, nothing is too far”
KATIE BUSHNELL, PRODUCT MANAGER, THE GOA EXPERIENCE
Rumble in the jungle: Take a jeep safari in Mollem National Park, in the Western Ghats, where Nilgiri blue robins flit among foliage and sloth bears roam
Shopping trip: The night market at Arpora is a great place to pick up souvenirs, including silver jewellery and block printed fabric. Reluctant shoppers can sip cocktails and listen to live music
Instagram it: Colourful facades in Panjim’s Fountainhas quarter and the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception’s white staircases count among urban scenery popular with photographers
Beachtastic:: With 63 miles of coastline Goa is home to several of India’s best beaches. The sandy shores at Agonda, Palolem, Mandrem, Arambol, Varca, Benaulim and Cavelossim feature in Tripadvisor’s Top 10
Take to the water:: Try activities on water, from banana boat rides to parasailing, off the Goan coastline
Eat well: Goan cuisine is a delicious blend of Portuguese and Indian influences. In the UK vindaloos are renowned for their fieriness but the original is far tastier, featuring meat marinaded in vinegar and garlic
See the ‘Sea of Milk’: That’s how the name of the Dudhsagar Falls translates into English. The waterfalls, in the Western Ghats, are a popular excursion and are at their most spectacular after the monsoon rains
Sunset cruise: Glide along the River Siolim on a houseboat and see the sun setting beneath the palm trees. Overnighting on one of the boats means opportunities to view fishing villages and landmarks such as Chapora Fort, a legacy of Portuguese colonialism
Heritage haven: Spend a day visiting the churches and convents, including the impressive Se Cathedral and Basilica of Bom Jesus, at Old Goa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Romantic retreat: Dotted with colonial properties with easy access to beaches, Goa makes for a cosy getaway. Summertime, a luxury hilltop villa, was named Asia’s most romantic retreat at the 2016 Boutique Hotel Awards
Beyond the beach
Many holidaymakers see Goa purely as a beach destination but inland the Mhadei, Bhagwan Mahavir and Netravali wildlife sanctuaries, which run north to south along the border with Karnataka, reward visits by nature and wildlife lovers.
Leopards and guar, the world’s largest bison species, inhabit Mollem National Park. Birders have opportunities to see — and hear — species such as the Malabar whistling thrush and Malabar pied hornbills.
Goa is keen to be seen making efforts addressing the sexual harassment that some female visitors have reported. Initiatives include a taxi service, exclusively for women, and a helpline (1091) to deal with issues faced by female travellers.
Rail enthusiasts can ride the scenic Konkan railway to Mumbai — 250 miles north of Panjim, Goa’s capital — or southwards to Mangalore, a stretch of line crossing numerous estuaries. Domestic airlines provide access to destinations across India.
Local operators offer excursions and reasonably priced taxis are also a way of getting around.
The ornately sculpted Mahadeva Temple at Tambdi Surla can be visited while in the Western Ghats.
The city of Old Goa is a key draw for architecture and history aficionados. One of the busiest days there is December 3, the Feast of St Francis Xavier.
The monsoon (June to September) is the low season and deals can be found on accommodation. For some, Goa represents an inexpensive winter sunshine destination. And winter sees the build up to Carnival, during February, arguably Goa’s most colourful festival.
What the experts say
“The chic W Goa is the place to be seen; it offers an electric atmosphere and cool design credentials while a beachside retreat, Ahilya by the Sea, in Panjim is an ideal place to relax and recharge”
CHLOE GOOLDEN, PR AND MARKETING MANAGER, AMPERSAND TRAVEL
“Goa has a great choice of day trips including excursions to spice plantations, Hindu temples and the Dudhsagar Falls, Goa’s most magnificent natural phenomena”
KATIE BUSHNELL, PRODUCT MANAGER, THE GOA EXPERIENCE.
Airlines: Thomas Cook Airlines seasonal services to Goa, from Manchester and Gatwick, resume between November and April. Thomson (thomson.co.uk) will kick off its 2017-18 services to Goa in October, flying from Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester.
Accommodation: India’s first W Hotel, the W Goa, opened at Vagator Beach in March. The luxury, 160-room designer property has a Spa by Clarins, three restaurants plus an outdoor pool area overlooking a sandy private beach and the Arabian Sea.
For the 2017-18 season, Cox and Kings is introducing two luxury villa collections aimed at groups of friends or large families travelling together. Guests can choose between self-catering or the services of a private staff. Ishavilas consists of three colonial Portuguese villas in the quiet town of Siolim, in north Goa. Each of the four high-ceilinged colonial style villas of Coco Shanbhala, near Coco Beach, is set in a garden, has a private plunge pool and share a swimming pool.
Where to book it
Travel 2 offer a seven-night India Beaches holiday, staying in the three-star Colonia Santa Maria hotel in north Goa from £699pp, including international flights, transfers and breakfasts.
A 14-night Goa Experience holiday, staying in a terrace room at the deluxe Alila Diwa Goa hotel in south Goa, overlooking rice paddies and 600 metres from the nearest beach, is priced from £1,629pp, including international flights with in-flight meals, 20kg of luggage and private transfers.