I tried to resist going to Goa, though most of my friends had told me how much they loved it. I imagined an Indian beach town between Rimini(click the hyperlink to understand the metaphor) and Ibiza (I don’t think Ibiza needs presentations or hyperlinks 🙂 ). Basically, I was expecting a large, wide beach packed with tourists, a place with little personality, culture and/or heritage and westerns self-appointed gurus immersed in a drug-dance-party marathon.
Oh, and I was so right. The sand beaches were covered by western (and Russian) women in bikini (or topless) and muscly, middle-aged men with tiny, little dogs; there were more dreadlocks here than in Jamaica and tattoos were a must too: 9 out 10 had at least one. The OM sign being the most frequent among all, I would say 2 out of 3 of the westerns had one somewhere on their body. Yeah, I know, ridiculous, right? Oh, and what about the constructed rough, pretentious messy, fake hippy look? Not sure why, but most of the backpackers/travellers and even expats seem to suddenly undergo a brainwash about appearance while on the road. Especially in holy/hippie places like Goa, Varanasi, Varkala and others, people seemed to think that dirty meant cool. Nah, I can tell you boy, it doesn’t work that way. Never mind, I’m writing a separate blogpost about the travellers’ look and attitude abroad, because it’s too funny to ignore, stay tuned.
Going back to Goa, I was just saying, I wanted to avoid Goa’s touristy vibe at all costs, but it became a “mandatory” stop after 10 hrs train journey from Hampi on my way to my final stop in India, Mumbai.
I was going to stay there only for the exact amount of time to review two clients’ hotel ( see the DREAM section below) so 3 nights in total before catching a plane, but my curiosity was too strong and I really wanted to understand what the fuss was all about. So, I quickly changed my mind, changed a few details of my last weeks in India and the next thing I knew it was that I ended up spending 10 days in Goa even pushing my flight to Australia forward and squeezing my stay in Mumbai of a couple of days.
Yeah, you guessed it right… I understood what the fuss was about Goa.
Check my CREED guide below to find out, yourself.
Goa, India’s smallest state (yes, it’s a state, not just a city!) is probably the most famous, at least in the UK and among my English friends. The state is typically split into North and South, with Dabolim airport and Vasco da Gama train station being a divider between the two. This time, I explored extensively the Northern part and I left the South (yeah, you guessed right again, I will be back…), for next time. If you also have limited time in Goa, you will be faced with the tough decision between north and south as distances can be quite big.
But there aren’t only the beaches in Goa. There is the vibe. There is the extraordinary natural beauty of the jungle reaching up to the coast, the awkward presence of a sweet lake among lush green hills, there is the variety of restaurants, the yoga lessons before the sun rises and that same massive orange ball that dives into the ocean right in front of you every evening, like a show you should never miss while by the ocean. There is also the Portuguese heritage, like in Bombay and Kochi, Goa was a main commercial centre of business for them and of course they left their clear mark all around, from the architecture to the food, from the language to the religion. Exactly like in Kochi with Portugueses or Kolkata with the British, there is a kind of halo of past participle, and the one in Goa is particularly strong as the Portuguese only left the capital in 1961 after 400 years of colonisation.
Israeli-run boutique with a lovely café at the back that serves over-priced but delicious mainly avocado-based dishes and other snacks. Espresso, one of the best in India, is dark, strong and made of beans imported from Kerala. Some clothes are lovely, but with western price tags if not higher and considering the cost of manufacturing in India/Asia the products are not worth the money. It’s surely tailored to not-well informed Western clients or the ones who only come to Goa and haven’t had the opportunity to compare prices in the rest of India.
Sea facing café and restaurant with excellent juices and real espresso. Staff here is super friendly and will go the extra mile to make you happy. Also a perfect budget accommodation choice (see below in the dream section).
Most of the hotel and resorts have a few bookshelves of books left behind by other travellers. However, if you find yourself in need of a specific title, head to:
Broadway Book Center
Address: Ashirwad Building, 18th June Road, Next To Rizvi Tower, Panaji
Address: E/1-282, Calangute -Candolim Road, Near Snip Salon, Gauravaddo, Calangute
A History of Goa, by Rev. J A J Da Costa
The Decameron on a Goan Beach: Twelve Feel-Good Stories by Dharanidhar Sahu
(In the North) Anjuna and Vagator were until recently the preserve of the hippies and party people, but these days you’re just as likely to rub shoulders with independent, more affluent groups of young domestic tourists and foreign backpackers. The cooler, more in-the-know crowd of global travellers and neo-hippies have migrated north to Pernem’s beaches of Morjim, Asvem and Mandrem. Here the vibe is relaxed and low-key in the day, with more exclusive boutique resorts to hang out in, and cool clubs to party in during the night. Arambol is its own little world; the beach might not be much to look at but the beach-life is varied and retains traces of the hippy days of old.
Nothing really beats the wind on burnt cheeks and through the hair as a bicycle or for the wilder one a scooter ride through paddy fields, hills and coconut groves. If you leave the chilled beach life (see section above), you will see that Goa has so many unspoilt and (almost) unknown areas. Even if you have no plans or direction, rent your favourite two wheeler and go for a ride. It will make you feel free like when you were back at 16 and it was so cool to ride without a helmet. (I did in fact ask for one, but I was told there were none, erm… Alright.
If you are in Goa for the beach life, a day in the old city will be enough. To get an understanding of the Portuguese influence here, take a walk around and make sure to visit the Menezes-Braganza House and the Figueiredo Mansion (where the food is also excellent). There are plenty of churches and cathedrals in this part of the city and when you will be done with that make sure to head to the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas to see how the bygone age and one of the most delightful areas to stroll in Goa.
Asanas, Chakra and other ways to clean the Mind
Similarly to the other holy cities I visited in India, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Varkala etc, Goa has a huge yoga culture that dates back a few centuries melted with a wave of disillusioned westerns who plant their tends and life here to teach yoga at exorbitant prices. Personally, all the lessons I attended in India where run and organised by local, Indian people. Why on earth would I go to the other side of the world to participate to a lesson tought by americans, Australian, English as I used to in London? Nope, I didn’t fall into the trap and carefully selected lessons that were run by locals (and at local prices),
Beyond yoga, pilates, chakra release and meditation in Go, there is all sort of real or fakish spiritual activities you can think of. I’m not judging, but do some research before booking your appointments and ask around as charlatans are as numbered as the waves of the ocean. Or just pick another activity for your stay; kite-surfing being a cool one.
Saturday Night Market – Arpora
Held every year, between December and May, the Saturday night market is a better version of the market in the day, a smaller version of Chandni Chowk in Delhi with thousands of different things you can find including pashminas, baggy trousers and cheap hippie clothes and jewellery. With a variety of street food options and bars it can be a good option for an alternative Saturday.
Even before setting foot to Goa or India, people told me about La Plage. It might be I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to food, but I wasn’t amazed by it. Don’t get me wrong, the French cuisine twisted with an Indian/Asian influence was good and very tasty, but it wasn’t a Michelin kind of menu or nothing extremely innovative either, or worth the overpriced menu. Worth a try for sure.
Ph. Credits: Krishin Jethwani
Opened three years ago in Morjim, like La Plage, Sublime is also considered one of the best restaurants in Goa. Run by Chef Christopher Saleem brings his international experience to a delicate, playful and flavourful menu in a real fusion of global ingredients and technique. Beautiful setting and interesting live show, but once again I wasn’t impressed by the menu nor the meal (both considering the reputation and the prices). Worth a try for sure, but if you miss it, you haven’t missed much. Oh, staff service was really poor, polite, but not trained and it was quite surprising considering we were almost in high season!
Ph. Credits: Happy Trips
Despite the Italian name, this isn’t an Italian restaurant or at least among the very large menu, Italian pizza and dishes aren’t their best. Go for some Indian classics and you will find yourself coming back here night after night. Ph Credits: Tripadvisor
I had heard of Tripzuki through some friends who had mentioned they had the coolest accommodation in India. I had a look online and I was impressed by the number and diverse accommodation they have in their portfolio. Tripzuki, a young, hip start-up provides travellers in India with local expertise, advice and inspiration, underpinned by a gorgeous collection of unique, well-run, ‘boutique’ hotels, all of which are directly bookable via their website.
Set in a coconut jungle just off one of the best and most tranquil beaches in North Goa, this intimate, eco-friendly boutique resort is the perfect place if you wish to enjoy the vibe in peace.
The hobbit-like, long-haired, eco-conscious 14 huts are itself a great attraction of the Yub Yum, in fact when I moved there I quickly extended by stay by a couple of nights.
One of the things I loved the most there, was the fact I had no need to wear shoes or flip flops, in fact these where forgotten by my hut for the entire stay: the lovely sandy path takes you from the entrance gate to the beach, the restaurant and the reception. Even to go to the nearby restaurants /café you can forget your sandals and just enjoy being bare foot for a while, especially at night when the sand is enjoyable cold.
Yab Yum isn’t a luxury resort, but it’s the perfect place if you are looking for peace, privacy and a very good vibe.
On top of the huts there are also 5 cottages (with A/C) by the beach, but personally I turned down one of them to try the adventure of being in a hairy beach-hut. Oh! If there is one thing I like to spoil myself with when travelling is breakfast in bed or in my bedroom. So, when I found out that at Yab Yum, a rich and generous breakfast is served just outside your dome, every morning, well, I knew it was going to be looove!