My memories of Goa are from twenty years back: the palm-lined funky Anjuna beach, the lithe hippies covered in jewelry and dreadlocks (and attitude) selling all their earthly possessions on beach towels. People who lived out on the skinny branches of existence. I wanted to join them or at least grab some of their style.
Goa has exploded since then. The foreigners have settled for good and more Indians have come to appreciate this little gem down South, creating an amazing fusion cuisine. Toss in a blast of much-needed sunshine this time of year and it’s well worth the ride.
Anjuna and Vagator beaches are crowded now. I would only stay there if you can grab one of the old Portuguese houses at the aptly named Elsewhere, which feels like the end of the world but is actually within walking distance of some great restaurants. Otherwise head south to Ashvem and Mandrem. South Goa is much sleepier than the North with more natural beauty, yoga at every turn and historic Portuguese homes.
Elsewhere has four old Portuguese houses and a few tents tucked on a spit of land between a marsh and the sea, accessible only over a bamboo footbridge. The island is extremely laid back, even by Indian standards. Under a long thatched roof waiters brought us spicy Goan curry with shrimp and local brown rice, which I was told would cure all manner of ills and never add a pound. The Captain’s House is the place to stay, found at the end of a winding path from the ocean, decorated with antique Portuguese furniture and planter’s chairs. Put your legs up at sunset and watch the ocean change colors. The manager, Barbara, could host a game show and gives solid tips on what’s happening in town and where to eat. The staff has a lively 5pm volleyball game every day if you want to join.
For dinner try La Plage, a glammy beach shack run by the French, of course. It features tasty seafood fusion like tuna with wasabi. Right down the beach from La Plage is L’atelier, a perfect place for lunch. I had a dazzlingly presentation of grilled Goan Kingfish with grilled papaya and squid with basil sauce.
There seems to be more shops to look around up North along the Ashvem beach near the restaurants. Seraphina had a cute place where my photographer bought a neon top for his wife. Dust is right nearby, a chic high-ceilinged bungalow with a lot of printed beachwear.
A few days passed until I could reluctantly pull myself away from Elsewhere. I took a driver for my move south. Lots to see and do along the way. We first stopped in at Gunpowder for an excellent Indian lunch in a lush garden with super relaxed service. Next we found People Tree in a lovely Old Portuguese villa, one of the first shops in India to highlight local crafts and great Indian designed products.
We continued on to the town of Marposa to have a quick look around the local market. I love stumbling around places like this, a mash-up of textiles, fruits, clothing---lots of hidden treasures. My photographer has a shop he likes for lightweight striped dhurries. Friday nights are big nights at the market with tons of vendors selling everything from fashion to homeware.
From Marposa it’s just twenty minutes to Panjim Town and its great Portuguese historic center. We had a glass of Portuguese wine on the balcony of the Panjim Inn and admired the zany mural covering an entire wall of the restaurant, part of its first-wave hippie heritage.
We spent time wandering the old quarter and admiring the bougainvillea-covered Portuguese houses and churches. Gallery Gitanjoli had an incredible photography show of Raghu Rai. Across the street is a local tile shop. Just as we started to fade, we grabbed a strong coffee,a local map of the historic district, and a bicycle at Urban Café coffee shop. After the coffee we went to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception church and made a quick stop to grab chili masala cashews from Zantyes. The tasty nut was first introduced by the Portuguese tho India has now cornered the market.
Finally we reached the South, about an hour and a half journey down windy palm-covered roads. Palolem is full of temples, coconut trees, fishing villages and the Old Fort of Cabo De Rama. Rent a scooter or Enfield if you want to really see and feel the South. Stop into Chim shop opened by an NID grad (National Institute of Design, debatably the best design school in India) that features new Indian designers on the main drag of Palolem beach. Stay at Turtle Hill, Canacona’s private two-story beach bungalows, and don’t budge.
Saturday night market in Arpora for all of your eclectic shopping needs.
Anjuna Flea market Wednesday.
Shamana spa at the Grand Hyatt in Bambolin is the fancy spa if you need a hit.
Lots of yoga everywhere see Love Goa I was too lazy.
Cabo De Rama Fort
Venite for drinks only, on 31st January road, Panjim.
Urban Café, Marposa https://www.facebook.com/pages/URBAN-CAFE/390361427794653
Elsewhere, Mandrem beach aseascape.com for bookings
Turtle Hill, Canacona turtle-lounge.com
Love Goa guidebook by the brilliant Fiona Caulfield is amazing! She also has them for other towns. They are all worth their weight in gold just by saving you endless hours of confusion with drivers!
Seraphina boutique Ashwem beach seraphinagoa.com
Dust, Ashwem beach next to Seraphina dustatelier.com
Cholta Cholta Walking tours of Panjim.
Gallery Gitajoli, Panjim
Zantye’s Cashews, Samrat Ashok theater, 18th June Road, Panjim.
Chim Shop, Palolem beach