It was individual and authentic. And I was treated like a family friend, not a paying guest.
Situated about half way down India's western coastline on the Arabian Sea, Goa is both India's smallest and richest state. The port town of Old Goa was wrested away from the local sultans by the Portuguese, who held it for 451 years; the impressive architectural legacy they bequeathed has been recognized with UNESCO World Heritage status. Because of this history, Goa was also home to one of the world's first fusion cuisines; a prime example is vindaloo, an Indian approximation of carne de vinha d'alhos, wherein pork is cooked in palm vinegar and chilies.
Today, Goa has become prime destination for tourists from all over the world, with beautiful beaches, exciting nightlife, excellent restaurants, and diverse shopping. But even as the region continues to modernize, Goa's fascinating mix of colonial architecture, with red-tiled roofs, grand Catholic churches, and brightly painted houses remain as charming as ever.
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Home to 43 miles (70 kilometers) of the best beaches in India, Goa is actually a large state that can loosely be separated into coastal and interior areas. On the coast, prime beaches and beach towns include Calangute, Candolim, Dona Paula, and Palolem.
In particular, Palolem Beach, located on Goa's southern shores, is a popular destination; not only is it less crowded than other beaches, it also offers excellent dining, as well as several nearby islands only a short boat-ride away.
A worldwide nonprofit foundation dedicated to the promotion of history and culture, the Fundação Oriente is located in the Latin quarter of the town of Panjim, in a striking Indo-Portuguese building restored to its former prominence. The Fundação Oriente features books and culturally-oriented activities which offer Goans and foreign visitors alike a chance to better understand the state's Portuguese roots.
Bom Jesus Basilica
Bom Jesus Basilica was built in 1605 and houses the remains of St. Francis Xavier, who is one of the Patron Saints of the city. Xavier died while at sea and his body was originally taken to Malacca, in present-day Malaysia, before being returned to Goa. His body did not decompose (hence the sainthood), and as such, every 10 years the people of Goa take out his body and put it on display before the public in a casket made of silver hewn in the 1600s.
Visit one of the colonial forts that dot the shores of Goa. Located near Anjuna Beach in the north of Goa, Chapora Fort sits atop a steep, hilly slope. While its walls are crumbling and dilapidated, Chapora offers commanding, sweeping views of the beaches and nearby waters. The climb to the fort is strenuous but rewarding.
Naval Aviation Museum
Filled with various vintage aircraft, the Naval Aviation Museum is an excellent cultural alternative for visitors looking for a break from the beach. Of the 13 aircraft on display, most date from the 1950s to the present day; one example, the Fairey Firefly, dates from World War II and is India’s only remaining fighter from the era.
Church of St. Cajetan
Explore the Church of St. Cajetan. Built in 1700, the church features Corinthian columns, a whitewashed facade and a series of small niches populated by statues of the apostles. Over the years, it was meticulously cared for, and thus remains in a well-preserved, beautiful state.
Founded in 1619 after almost eight decades of construction, Se Cathedral is one of the largest churches in Asia, and the oldest in Goa. While one of its belltowers was destroyed by lightning, the rest of the building remains in excellent condition; within its halls lie a golden bell, which can be heard all throughout the town of Old Goa, as well as 14 hand-carved altars. Dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the cathedral was built to commemorate the defeat of the local Islamic rulers at the hands of the Portuguese armies.
Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Built in 1540, the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the oldest church in Goa. A beautiful, white structure that sits atop a series of stairs, the Church overlooks much of the town of Panjim.
During the feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on the 8th of December each year, the church is brightly decorated with lights, and hosts a fair.
Cabo de Rama
Built prior to the Portuguese conquest of Goa, Cabo de Rama (Cape Rama) is a hilltop fort that, despite its state of disrepair, is one of the most popular destinations within the state. Because of its strategic location, Cabo de Rama offers panoramic views of the surrounding waters and beaches. Within the fort is the church of San Antonio, which, in contrast to its exterior, is well-preserved and still in use.
Spend time at Morjim Beach, popular with international tourists and ideal for kite surfing as it features strong winds, a wide strand and fairly shallow water. The vicinity has a number of Russian restaurants thanks to immigrants who've made Goa their adopted home.
Church of St. Francis of Assisi
Built in the 1661, the Church is dedicated to Saint Francis, whose life was devoted in part to caring for animals and the natural world.
The Shree Manguesh Shantadurgai Prasanna Temple was erected in honor of Shiva and is about 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Panaji. It is very popular with both locals and foreign tourists. Afterwards, continue on to Mangeshi, a quiet town offering fine music and culture.
Diving at Grand Island
A hook-shaped island located near the town of Vasco da Gama, Grand Island features a nice dive site with soft coral and several shipwrecks. While diving here may not compare to more prominent areas in Thailand and Indonesia, it is nonetheless a unique experience.
Near Chapora Fort lies Albuquerque Mansion, an Indo-Portuguese structure which features octagonal towers, and a roof lined with unique, Mangalorean tiles - red clay tiles native to the area and known for their durability. The mansion is named for Don Afonso de Albuquerque, the formidable admiral who built Portugal's overseas empire.
Travel from Kerala’s languid backwaters to Goa’s famous white-sand beaches on this 10-day luxury India journey. You’ll sleep aboard a luxury kettuvallam, learn to make a rich, thick Indian curry, and spend days doing nothing but relaxing by the pool and observing the Arabian Sea at either the Leela or Taj Exotica Goa.
Board your own private jet to travel in sheer luxury through India’s best leisure spots on this remarkable 10-day journey. You’ll explore Cochin’s colonial wonders, cruise Kerala’s backwaters on a luxury Kettuvallam, and enjoy refreshing poolside cocktails at your five-star beachside resort on Goa’s white-sand beaches.
Head to sunny South India for 12 days of luxury travel. You’ll explore Mumbai, taking in the dazzling, world-famous Bollywood, then head to the backwaters of Kerala where you’ll step aboard a luxury Kettuvallam. Interact with locals, shop in markets, and view ancient temples while staying in luxurious Taj hotels.
Overlooking a beautiful, blue lagoon, set between the cerulean waters of the Arabian Sea and the river Sal, the Leela Goa’s design draws both from Goa’s Portuguese heritage and south India’s temples. Its 206 rooms feature high speed internet, electronic safes, plush beds, tea and coffee makers, and a blu-ray player. Dining options include the in-house restaurant, which features all-day, buffet-style items; the Riverside, which offers fine Italian cuisine set in an open-air pavilion overlooking the River Sal; the Susegado, a beach-side grill serving fresh seafood; the Javamar, which serves Indian cuisine in a tasteful, elegant setting; and a poolside bar and lounge. Amenities include outdoor and indoor swimming pools, conference and ballrooms, a spa offering holistic and ayurvedic treatments, and a fitness studio. The Leela Goa is an hour’s drive from Goa International Airport, and a half-hour away from Madgaon, the nearest town.
Taj Exotica Goa
Located on the southwest coast of Goa overlooking the Arabian Sea, the Mediterranean-style Taj Exotica is arguably one of the best five-star hotels in Goa. Set amidst fifty-six acres of lush gardens, the Taj Exotica features a sun-drenched atrium, wide, shady corridors, and flower-lined patios. Its rooms and villas draw inspiration from Portuguese aesthetics and Indian design, and all offer plush beds, separate bathrooms and shower units, flat-screen televisions, electronic safes, and views of either the garden or the sea. Dining options include Alegria, a Goan restaurant serving fresh seafood and Portuguese wines; Eugenia, which serves a mix of Indian and southeast Asian fare; Li Bai, a Chinese restaurant named for a renowned poet; and Miguel Arcanjo, an eatery that faces the Arabian Sea, and serves dishes from a number of Mediterranean cuisines. Amenities include a spa, a pool, and various sporting facilities, including tennis courts and a 9-hole golf course. The Taj Exotica lies forty-five minutes from Goa International Airport.