By Mark Eveleigh | June 2016 | 5 minute read
India’s smallest state is officially blessed with having the highest living standards in the country, and with the charm of the Algarve and the soul of India, Goa has long been popular with UK visitors.
To some extent Goa has become a victim of its own success as a ‘must do’ hotspot on the hippy trail and as a 1980s low-cost resort destination. And although it has 63 miles of coastline, the state offers far more than just beach holidays.
“Goa isn’t just about sandy beaches,” Intrepid Travel’s Erica Kritikides points out. “Brimming with Portuguese influences, it has rich traditions, mouth-watering cuisine, world heritage buildings and plenty of attractions.”
Cultural melting pot
Picture the white-washed charm of the Algarve overlaid with a backdrop from The Jungle Book and you have the atmosphere of Goan towns.
The real soul of Panaji, India’s smallest state capital, lies among the cobblestone alleyways of the old Latin Quarter. The few tourists who take time away from the beach to visit Panaji, larger Vasco da Gama or the old city of Margao find old colonial quarters indelibly influenced by almost 450 years of Portuguese occupation and yet heavily spiced with a rich Indian culture. It is a blend that is as heady as a double-shot of feni (the local alcohol made from cashew nuts).
The art of zen
Goa has become a haven for health-seekers and each year sees more accommodation options and packages catering to Zen junkies in search of yoga, meditation, ayurvedic therapy and organic diets.
Delightfully laid-back Patnem beach retains its unique style because every building on the beach is dismantled at the beginning of the monsoon and new boutique bungalows and custom-designed yoga shalas like those at idyllic Bamboo Yoga Retreat (bamboo-yoga-retreat.com) are built afresh once the rains have passed through.
Goa boasts some of the best and most unashamed ‘beach-bumming’ the world has to offer. While Palolem and Patnem are known for backpacker beach-parties, these extensive stretches of white sand are big enough to have something for everyone.
Anjuna remains an alluring hippy haven thanks to its irresistible night market and the great sweeping curve of Agonda beach has even built up a reputation with longboarders for the mellow waves that roll in.
Pretty Mandrem beach manages to remain low-key and super-chilled thanks to the narrow river-inlet which has been a barrier to the sort of development that spawned the big resorts along the northern coast around Panjim.
Spice of life
The original appeal of Goa for the Portuguese was its wealth of spices and today the region remains one of the heartlands of India’s spice cultivation. A favourite excursion for many visitors is into the aromatic spice plantations around the Ponda area. Similarly, the home of the vindaloo is a once-in-a-lifetime place of homage for any lover of good curries.
“Foodies love it here,” says Erica Kritikidesm, of Intrepid Travel. “Goa is renowned for its seafood, so make sure you try the fish curry, laced with coconut and served with rice.
Where to book it
The Goa Experience offers a seven-night holiday at Santana Beach Resort. Prices start from £649pp (a saving OF £120pp) and include B&B and flights from Gatwick on November 27, 2016. Accommodation is in a standard room.