Go-an’ Relax

When you think history and western India, Portuguese explorers like Vasco da Gama often come to mind. He was the first non-Indian to travel there and made several voyages between Europe and India between 1497 and 1524. Fast forward 500 years and progress has obviously been made, but perhaps not at the pace or in the style da Gama would have expected.

A coastal Oasis

Charlie and Executive Chef Bhushan Ganorkar

Charlie and Executive Chef Bhushan Ganorkar

Don’t get me wrong, the state definitely has its charms, mainly beachside, but as one of only two states in India with a casino license, gaming/advertising signs posted along every major road and highway take away from this old world fascination.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, once you get off the highway you’ll find dozens of sprawling beaches stretching for miles in both directions. To be honest, the ones we visited weren’t as pristine as the online photos implied. The sand wasn’t as white and the Arabian Sea, a little more polluted and uninviting but there are probably better ones to choose from such as Colva and Palolem beaches. In contrast, the hospitality was warm and friendly, the locals keen to make our stay peaceful and relaxing. Add to that the postcard-worthy sunsets and Goa will definitely make you feel like you’ve escaped real life for a while.

There are lots of fabulous local restaurants too, some even making the top dining lists in India. Goan specialties like fish and prawn curries are exceptional and draw on its reputation as a famed seafood destination. As you’d expect, prices are relatively cheap, mid to high end restaurant fare setting you back US$10-15 per meal.

Shopping in these coastal areas you’ll find a mix of independent boutiques and cheap stalls selling jewellery, clothing, homewares and souvenirs. Nothing really jumped out at us but then again, we weren’t looking to buy.

There are lots of fabulous local restaurants too, some even making the top dining lists in India.

Goan Sunsets

Goan Sunsets

First Impressions

As I said, driving from the city’s main airport to our first hotel in the south, it doesn’t feel Goa has enjoyed much progress. Barely sealed highways cut through dense, swamp-like land, disappointingly littered with garbage and debris. One of the biggest features is the red, iron rich dirt which creates a brown dust that coats everything it touches. There’s a hodgepodge of buildings that straddle the town planning divide between concrete modern and shantytown decrepit, often strangled by overgrown bushes. Then, out of nowhere, an imposing and sophisticated new iron bridge comes into focus. Our taxi driver gushes as we make the crossing, boasting that it now saves an hour’s travel time. No wonder too, given the already 60 minute drive from the airport. It makes you think what this place will look like in another 10-20 years if projects like this continue.

One of the other things that struck us was the distinct lack of crowds. When you think India, you imagine dense throngs of people everywhere you go and endless lines of traffic but throughout our time there, we never felt the need to jostle for space. In fact, this idyllic locale almost felt empty which is one of the big drawcards to Goa, particularly for domestic tourists.

There are also some beautiful hotels, many five star brands have properties here, and there are stunning independent, boutique properties too like Postcards and Vaayu Kula at Mandrem Beach, where we stayed, complete with its own surf school. Nick and the kids loved their surf lesson and the instructors clearly knew the waters and the best way to handle them. That day, the current was strong and the waves rough but safety was high and everyone loved the experience and would do it again.

Excursions, Modern and Ancient

Tropical Spice Plantation, Goa

Tropical Spice Plantation, Goa

So, is it a worthwhile family destination? That depends. There are fun activities from water sports to island tours, plantation visits and exploring historical sites. Early on, we had a visit to the famous Dudhsagar Waterfalls planned but a food poisoning episode meant we had to cancel.

One of the best activities we enjoyed was a private cooking course with the Executive Chef of the Doubletree by Hilton. Chef Bhushan taught us how to make a traditional prawn curry from scratch which was absolutely superb.

The other highlight was a trip to Old Goa and the famed Basilica of Bom Jesus where the incorruptible remains of St Francis Xavier lie. You can read about our unforgettable experience visiting the Basilica here. Overall, we loved our stay in Goa but my suggestion is to make it part of a wider trip to India as a place to relax and recharge before or after you explore the rest of the country.