A getaway in Goa: Discover this picture-perfect destination for yourself
A getaway in Goa: Discover this picture-perfect destination for yourself
This swathe of postcard-perfect prettiness on India’s western coast has a unique cultural identity thanks to its Portuguese colonial heritage — also partly responsible for its delicious cuisine — which, combined with the stunning coastline fringed with tropical foliage and an inimitable spirit of joie-de-vivre, has drawn in travelers from all around the world who seem to find the exact form of nirvana they were seeking.
Here is an insider guide to staying, seeing and eating in Goa that will help you make the most of a quick getaway to this beach haven.
Where to stay
Steer away from the over-crowded beaches of north Goa and head to the quieter southern coast, where, on the unspoilt Benaulim beach, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa presides as the grand dame of Goa’s luxury hotels. Spread across 56-acres of lush landscaped grounds — which includes a private putting green — the low-lying resort oozes a stately, old-world charm made only more inviting with the warm Indian hospitality Taj hotels are known for (starting with the welcome reception of a seashell garland, tropical drink and lively Goan music as soon as you enter).
Make like the many A-listers who have holidayed here — from Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan to Hollywood royalty and world leaders — and check in to one of their newly-refurbished villa rooms, which boast private plunge pools. Housed in colorful hacienda-style villas, the oversized accommodations feature traditional local décor accents and plush amenities ranging from pillow menus to marble-clad bathrooms with claw foot tubs and luxury Ayurvedic bath products.
The hotel is also home to a well-equipped kids’ club, complete with daily activities and water slides, and many of the rooms are designed to be inter-connecting, making it ideal for a family break.
With the golden beach just footsteps away; multiple dining options including traditional Goan cuisine, fresh seafood right by the beach at the chilled-out Lobster Shack restaurant and a lavish breakfast buffet best enjoyed alfresco in the Mediterranean-inspired Sala da Pranzo restaurant; plus, expert therapists at the award-winning Jiva spa at hand to enable the ultimate holiday relaxation, there is enough here to tempt you to never leave the resort during your stay. But it is worth tearing yourself away to check out some of Goa’s unique heritage.
What to see and do
This city-state on India’s western coast, part of the Konkan belt, was a long-held Portuguese colony from the 1600s to 1800s, which led to the development of its own hybrid culture and cuisine.
And while lying on the beach and doing nothing is a very important part of a trip to Goa — it is impossible not to have relaxation wash all over you when lounging to the accompaniment of the crashing of the waves, tropical sunshine, and laid-back vibes — you would be amiss if you did not check out some of its incredibly-rich cultural relics.
From ancient churches and sacred Hindu temples, to 17th century forts and even some noteworthy historic mosques, it is all here. Depending on which area you base yourself in, you are probably never too far from a cute little neighborhood church or historic house. But a trip to UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Goa, or Velha Goa — an inland riverside district — is not to be missed.
Replete with cathedrals and churches featuring traditional Renaissance architecture, this is where you will also find what is probably Goa’s most famous attraction, the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Also worth trekking out for is Fort Aguada, a scenic ruin providing panoramic views and the perfect sunset vantage point.
In Goa, history coexists effortlessly with a contemporary, global arts and design scene, which you can explore at the numerous eclectic galleries and boutiques that have mushroomed over the years. The capital city of Panaji (or Panjim) is the best place to discover everything from Goa’s best-known fashion export Wendell Rodricks’ collections, to contemporary art galleries.
What to eat
An amalgam of indigenous and colonial elements, Goan cuisine is wonderfully eclectic, complex, flavorful and quite fiery. Seafood, naturally, is a mainstay, as is coconut — in true tropical tradition — which are complemented with an array of spices and culinary influences as varied as Portuguese, Asian, Konkani and Malabari and even Arabian.
In Goa, you are never too far from the staple diet of fish fry — typically done here with a spicy marinade and semolina crumb — or fish curry with rice, which you simply cannot go wrong with.
But to try some rarer authentic dishes in a refined fine dining setting, Miguel Arcanjo’s restaurant at the Taj Exotica resort is not to be missed.
The Goan chef draws upon memories and family recipes as well as his own travels around the world to serve up specialties such as prawns piri piri (stir-fried in a spicy sauce); mushroom rissioes (Goan-style empanadas); the classic chicken cafreal (grilled chicken in a coriander and chilli sauce); and xacuti (a curry made with 12 different spices, which can be made with chicken or seafood) which are best mopped up with sannas, steamed rice flour patties that tread that fine line between sweet and savory.
An integral part of Goan cuisine is the wide array of sweets, of which many, expectedly, rely heavily on coconut. If you only try one dessert in Goa, make it the signature bebinca — a rich, layered coconut cake, which pairs beautifully with ice cream. The dry cake also makes for a great culinary souvenir and is available at many stores in Goa.
In fact, bebinca may well be the perfect gastronomic metaphor for the multi-layered, moreish and delightfully sweet destination that is Goa.
Viva la revolución: Politics, poetry, painting and passion in León
- León offers a wealth of diverse exhibition spaces that are noteworthy
- León is inarguably at its most compelling after dark
DALLAS: I’m standing in a dimly lit room with a wiry, grey-haired gentleman. He is gesticulating wildly, a manic energy in his eyes as he shouts at me in Spanish. Flies buzz around the damp air. Every so often, my intense interlocutor waves an outstretched limb in the direction of some torn black-and-white photographs, sticky taped to the peeling paintwork, which appear to have been printed off the Internet sometime in the 1990s. I just parted with $2 for this experience. Needless to say, I don’t speak Spanish.
“Come,” he says finally in English — a perplexing acknowledgement that my revolutionary comrade has understood my linguistic predicament for the duration of his 15-minute tirade — and leads me up a dusty staircase to the building’s roof. “It’s safe,” he adds, as we clamber onto the single buckling sheet of corrugated iron that constitutes the roof of the Museo de la Revolucion. The person-sized rips and tears, slashing open a visual trail all the way to the tiled floor below, prompt me to wonder otherwise.
The view however is, as he predicted, “magnifico.” Below, the intoxicatingly grungy city of León, Nicaragua, unfolds — a canvas of intense activity furrowing the multi-hued, faded fringes of this once-glistening colonial outpost, weathered and wrinkled by its own storied past.
León served as the logistical and spiritual center of the liberal Sandinista movement which deposed the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, as this edgy, grassroots museum — and its seasoned staff of former revolutionaries — no doubt attest (to Spanish speakers, at least).
But even without the surreal museum welcome, this is living history, still fresh and felt. Following the US-backed Contra War of the 1980s and an embezzlement scandal which toppled the rightwing PLC party, the Sandinista’s socialist FSLN have been in power since 2006 and the city maintains a wiry political edge to this day, as evidenced by a recent wave of anti-government protests.
Even the most oblivious holidaymaker couldn’t fail to clock the loud graffiti, political sloganeering and locals arguing at café tables into the wee hours. The contrast with the cleaner, droller, and much more touristic colonial twin and Conservative stronghold Granada is palpable. Both cities have their charms, but I’m clearly leaning toward the individualism and restless, visceral energy of León.
Whether you’re a museum person or not, León offers a wealth of diverse exhibition spaces noteworthy and novel enough to constitute compulsory viewing. The Ortiz-Gurdián Foundation Art Museum, one of Central America’s greatest galleries, offers a stunning snapshot of modern and contemporary art from Nicaragua and beyond. Spread across two sprawling, restored colonial buildings punctuated with wide, airy courtyards which offer welcome relief from the midday heat, even the uninitiated will find solace in this diverse collection of colored canvases.
Also obligatory is the Museum of Folklore and Legends, an eclectic exhibit too kooky to be true. Dedicated to the region’s mythology, a series of themed rooms presents life-sized papier-mâché dolls playing out scenes from local legends and Leónese folklore, including the mockery of “original colonist” La Gigantona, housed hauntingly inside La XXI — a former jail used to torture pre-liberation Sandinistas.
Meanwhile, literature fans should not miss the Museo Rubén Darío, the former home of the celebrated poet known as the father of the Spanish-American “modernismo” movement, eerily preserved with period furniture, personal possessions and spread out over a traditional courtyard home.
After the sightseeing is done, stay out in the open: León is inarguably at its most compelling after dark, when the streets electrify and the fierce intellectualism and independence of Leónese locals overpowers the passing dumbfounded backpackers. Festivities spew onto the streets spiraling northwest from Parque Central and its UNESCO-recognized Our Lady of Grace Cathedral. Cafes sit at every corner, debate is lively and music is infectious — the sound of impassioned voices rising ever-louder as dusk darkens and Latino grooves intensify — until finally, even the most potent politicos get up, abandoning argument and succumbing to the beat of this fascinating city.