Whilst summer isn’t quite over here, I think it’s safe to say most of us are already thinking about a winter getaway; either in the mountains or by the ocean - or both if you are so lucky! If you’re after the winter sun, Goa is a brilliant place to visit during our winter months as the heat isn’t unbearable, but just so beautifully balmy you’ll be smug with your long haul choice.
We visited Goa as part of our trip to Mumbai and stayed in two places in the South. Starting out, we went for the beach hut, traveller scene and from the airport managed to get a mostly straightforward cab to Agonda Beach. Once around the area, finding where we were staying was a little tricky, but India wouldn’t be India if it was so easy! Jardim a Mar has the laid-back, Indian beach vibe down to a tee, with the main bar and cafe area looking out onto the ocean and a choice of huts and seaside cottages set slightly further back. The entire area is built into the trees and woodland including the huts themselves, with the bar area made up of a mix of Indian cotton covered tables and chairs, and lower private booths made from bamboo and decked out with plenty of cushions. At night, fairy lights streaming between the trees come on and with just that light and the sound of the ocean, you feel very much in paradise.
The food at Jardim a Mar is authentically Goan with the usual Western options you’d expect in a travellers mecca for those missing home. The kitchen is an open one, so you can see the chefs quite casually cooking away in a very clean, and astoundingly sand-free kitchen. Whilst in Goa, I had to try a real Vindaloo and opted for the fish - with all of its vinegary spiciness, it really did live up to expectations! A piece of advice; let it cool down a little to make it more approachable and longer lasting. For breakfast, without a doubt, go for the Indian set breakfast; so traditional with a mild vegetable curry and ‘balloon bread’, which is wonderfully light and flaky, it’s a no brainer. If you can fit more in after and want a sweet end, finish off with the rice porridge adding coconut and cashews - THE DREAM. Wash this all down with some fresh fruit juice and plenty of chai.
The only fault I had of Jardim a Mar is that due to the huts not being entirely enclosed (otherwise you would most likely swelter), the relentless crows at 5am were wearing after an hour of non-stop cawing. Of course, this could be luck of the draw on the huts and not really a fault of the owners but just something to be aware of and prepared for. This said, at around £50 per night for a good-sized beach front hut with your own private shower and balcony, you can’t go too wrong here.
For our next stop, we stayed in Benaulim at Palm Grove Cottages. The setting was a truly beautiful colonial hotel adorned in gorgeous fauna, all of which was incredibly well looked after, and the buildings very grand - a significant nod back to Goa’s Portuguese heritage. The owners were the type of people you just want to sit with all day and hear about their family history; it’s a true family business, built and looked after since their great grandfather. After checking in, walking through the winding paths passing a few gardeners, we reached our room which was inside an independent building. Big pillars stood at the top of the marble stairs of the building, and inside the lobby was the original ornate ceiling. Our room had a colonial four poster bed, marble flooring, a very clean, big bathroom and a balcony looking onto the ‘front’ garden.
The restaurant of the hotel is also open to non-residents and is advertised with its own entrance. You have a choice to sit inside or within the garden itself. Fear not, a burning coil is laid under each table to deter mosquitos for those who are vulnerable to the pests. For dinner, there was always a catch of the day and our waiter would recommend how this would be best cooked. The usual was a very simple grill and a few delicate spices; I went for the catch on both nights and they were just what you want in a fishing village on holiday - fresh and delicate. The meat curries were generous and well balanced, with a nice Goan tanginess showing their culinary stamp. I’d say the only disappointment was the ‘seasonal vegetables’ some main dishes came with, which took away from the authentic Indian town feel.
Goa is a main attraction for many visitors to India, because it’s a little more westernised, on the coast yet still holding on to some traditions. It’s a good starting place to ease you in to the mania of the rest of the country! The lanes and ‘main roads’ are dotted with a variety of shops filled with incense, ornaments and linens for the discerning tourist. Some are very authentic and just what you want to see and buy in India, just don’t forget to haggle and be firm if you aren’t interested. Tourism is still high here and the locals know they can be pushy so try to enjoy the haggling game because they certainly do!
The beaches are stunning in Goa, with most having a palm tree back drop you can't help walking along them endlessly. Don't be alarmed at the cows cooling down on the beach and the stray dogs who are also just wanting a little respite, both are incredibly calm and respectful staying out of the way of most people. What I love about India is the stumbling upon the most unexpected. In our very short five days, we stumbled upon a semi-organised non-violent bull fight, a teenager riding a moped with a incredibly well trained budgie standing on his cap and a wonderful man who knew all (literally ALL) of the postcodes in and around London and the South East! What a place.