Comparison makes you quantify an experience. Happy, happier, ecstatic. I don’t like that too much. Being here makes me feel the happiest I could be, no doubt, but it would be hard to pick a superlative to describe what being in Goa feels like to me. The time I lived there, all the times I visit, it feels the same. Floating on. I don’t know it all. It’s a tiny state you think, but it’s so rich geographically, you’ll need much more than a short trip to even skim over the place. I keep going back, solo or with friends/ family, each time to a different part, unless I long for the same. It’s best to get past the sun, sand and sea cliche, though I feel like I was born to walk on granular comfort. These are my most favourite- restaurants, places to stay and the best views, in no particular order.
1. A monsoon afternoon at Reis Magos Fort
My country has a piece of history on every street, so it isn’t surprising for another fort to pop up, restored and glorious. You can spend half a day here. There’s not much ground to cover, but the 15th Century structure, the moss covered laterite and listening to the stories of the prisoners who escaped will make you want to sit in the galleries and admire the beautiful panorama. I’ve had too many good memories here, from the opening after restoration to spending the best time with my parents and closest friends. If you like watching the sun go down over the limitless ocean not far away from the center of Goa, here is best.
2. Butterfly Beach
A little piece of my idea of paradise. Sit on a rock that seems like it’s the middle of the ocean, watch dolphins or sunbathe on glittery white sand, it’s a happy time. You can hike for approximately an hour from Agonda beach or take a boat from Palolem to get to this tiny beach. The slope isn’t gradual and the tide is rougher than usual here, so it’s better to be a confident swimmer if you want to swim in the clear water. The best time to be here is post monsoon, in October for the perfect contrast of the blue sea and lush forest behind.
3. Enjoy serenity at Avanilaya, Aldona
Think quiet- quiet enough to hear birds chirp and the river flow and warm tropical earthen colours. Avanilaya is everything I love about Goa in a home. People definitely make the place and Avanilaya has the most hospitable staff. Charmaine is the most helpful manager and Milagre, the chef is extremely talented and made the food effortlessly gourmet. The place is the perfect scale complimented by a great material palette. Well designed rooms with a central courtyard and partially covered dining made for my favourite kind of luxury. It’s not an impersonal hotel, but a private abode. I love a good bathroom and the one in my room was perfect with an in situ bathtub and a door on the same axis to the gorgeous coconut grove right outside. The sweet smell of benzoin complimented the lush green Goan monsoon, leaving my family and me with memories to treasure.
4. My favourite pizza in the country at Magic Italy, Palolem
Gorgeous. You can pick which vegetables or meat go on your pizza. The crust is perfect. Good ‘foldable’ authentic pizza that goes best with the amazing fresh fruit cocktails they serve.
5. Breakfast at Cafe Inn, Palolem
Mushroom, cheese and tomato omelette with frsh sesame buns, hummus, pickled beetroot, cajun spiced potatoes, spinach, olive eggplant, carrot and cabbage salad and homemade marmalade. On the side is hazelnut cold coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. All top class. Definitely going back, every time.
6. Playing with crabs at Vagator
I like rocky beaches a lot. They have so much character because I’ve witnessed some incredible reflections of rays off the rocks, sat with my friends midst crashing waves, tiny white crabs all over the place and experienced one of the most incredible sunsets. Head to Bean Me Up or German Bakery in Anjuna after, for the best comfort food.
7. Serradura at Maracas, Porvorim
This has to be my favourite dessert in the world. It’s simple crumbled biscuit with fresh cream and frozen. Typically Goan Portugese, the chefs at Maracas make this the best. There’s nowhere in Bombay I can find this, which makes my craving for it much worse. The mains and appetizers are to die for as well. With the cutest decor and a warm owner ready to make the most apt suggestions, this is one place I’d travel 400km for to satisfy any food craving I have.
8. Watch a foreign film at Sunaparanta, Altinho, Panjim
It’s just one of those things. Still, cold November evening, the perfect amphitheatre and lovely cinema. They also have great photography and art exhibitions on through the year and the cafe, which is small and quaint has amazing tarts and pastries.
9. Stay at Olaulim Backyards, Pomburpa
Truly a labour of love. A ride to get there through the Goan countryside lined with tall coconut trees by the Mapusa river and the narrow by lanes of Ucassaim and Olaulim lead you to the home of Savio and Prikko, who are the warmest people I’ve met. It’s home to three dogs, two goats Billy and Lily, a donkey Mantra and Richard Parker, the cat apart from their two kids who I unfortunately couldn’t spend much time with because they had school the next day. Time stands still here. It’s the ideal marriage between the wild landscape and the four cottages made with natural material- rammed earth, coconut leaves. The Mapusa river flowing through the property adds to the peaceful undercurrent. The dewy mist in the morning, kayaking on water watching it reflect deeper shades of orange at sunset- it’s perfect. Home-made food with organic fresh fruit grown right there served to you reminded me of my mother. You can cycle and discover run down churches, canoe, go fishing or lie down with a book or stare at swaying palm leaves while the sounds of free flowing water makes it a beautiful, tranquil experience. Mon repos for sure.
10. Coffee at Coffee Haven, Anjuna
11. Tilari Dam, Chandgad
Okay, not really Goa, but a 70km drive/ride from Panjim. I stumbled upon this with a friend on a rainy, August Sunday, but easily one of the best bike rides ever. It’s illegal to take your bike up onto the dam, but heck, 70km isn’t a small distance for you to sacrifice a view based on a loose rule. Go here if you have additional time on your holiday to Goa and you’re not in the mood for a beach and cocktails, but a drive/ride through bumpy roads and hills to lead you to the best surprise. It’s always better to not be aware of what awaits and I’m glad it was that for me.
Definitely a few more that almost made it to this list. There’s so much beauty, peace, love and food this region of the country has to offer, some indescribable, but it’s best discovering some on your own, one at a time, for a wonderful, underived experience.