By Sinead McManus, with Dielle D’Souza and Emylou D’Souza
There’s plenty on in Goa! Off-beat places to stay, special attractions and a wealth of party spots – if you know just where to look …
Places to stay
Portuguese-style mansions, boutique hotels, beach huts and bungalows – stray off the circuit and become inspired by some of Goa’s best-kept stays.
Colonial and Indian antiques mix with comfortable cane furniture in Marbella Guesthouse, a Portuguese-style mansion encapsulated in greenery in Sinquerim. It houses three suites and three rooms – Penthouse Suite, Garden Room, Rajasthani Suite, Moghul Suite and Bougainvillea I & II; the perfect boutique guesthouse for honeymooners, large groups and backpackers. Watch food being cooked from scratch or even step in during cooking lessons to learn a tip or two. Or, simply unwind at Marbella Beauty, their signature spa.
A short distance away along the Candolim to Calangute stretch of beachfront, a white backdrop against the sprawling beach will make you stop – that’s the Park on Holiday Beach. Conceptualised around the music scene in Goa, each of the 30 rooms is a work of art. The contemporary seafront boutique hotel is divided into three spaces – pool area, cabanas and ‘Love’, the all-hours restaurant. The open-air bar deck ‘Peace’ allows you to stargaze and listen to the waves.
For a rustic beach hut experience, Laguna Vista in Colomb Bay, Palolem is worth the trip down south. Insulated in a tropical paradise, it’s run by four friends from four continents. The five sea-facing eco huts with a sit-out reflect personal touches like handmade shell mirrors. Visit the health-friendly restaurant, yogashala and ‘Space’ for creative globetrotters. Combine art classes with film nights and beach barbecues or groove at their pre-Silent Noise headphone parties.
Turtle Hill’s upmarket beach bungalows are a stone’s throw from Patnem, just off Palolem. Bungalow I & II, Beach Bungalows and the latest River View Villa redefine the power of space, luxury and style. Designed with natural materials, each room sports cool white highlights against rich browns. Emerald panoramas, stunning sunsets and calls of the wild create that perfect romantic hideaway.
Things to do
It isn’t too easy for visitors to Goa to get out of ‘tanning mode’ during the day and don camouflage suits for a bit of friendly combat at Splat – Oxford’s Paintball Arena. But teenagers and the young-at-heart (entry from 16 years and above) can make a great day of running around the 1000-square-metre open area liberally littered with obstacles, shooting globs of colourful gunk at each other. There are discounts available for big groups of 10 or more, and if grandpa decides to sit it out, they have a lovely restaurant called ‘New Star’ that serves meals and drinks.
Ancestral Goa, a centre for the preservation of art, culture and environment lurks on a village road in Loutolim. Catch a guided tour of a ‘village within a village’. Don’t miss the laterite sculpture that won national acclaim in the Limca Book of Records and the ‘Big Foot’ by which the centre is known locally as. Ancestral Goa also organises community-based events through the Big Foot Trust.
In Benaulim is Goa Chitra, a museum of Goan ethnography located on a traditional organic farm with a display of farming implements, tools of trade and other privately-owned artefacts. Its appeal lies in its structure of reutilised and recycled materials from over 3000 demolished colonial houses. It focuses on various activities from music concerts to cultural weeks and book club meets.
Goa’s nightlife is one of the main attractions for tourists. This festive season, there appears to be a host of mixes and matches, and a number of new clubs.
Start with the sunsets at the SOMA Project on Ashvem beach. Park yourself on one of those strategically positioned cabanas with a drink and after an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours, or move indoors for some electronic mayhem. It’s a relatively new club, but the ‘InSOMAnia Episodes’ featuring a line-up of European musicians keeps the crowd on its feet. The club’s restaurant offers interesting Lucknowi kebabs and outdoor barbecues, and a wide variety of cocktails, wines and specials. Save the swimming and beach sports training for the day, ahead of a fun evening at SOMA Project.
Further down the beach, where the stretch changes names from Ashvem to Morjim, you can mix fine dining and champagne dinners with electronic dance music. The seaside restaurant at Marbela Beach Boutique Resort hosts three kinds of dining areas – the Wooden Deck, the Arabian Sea View, and the Champagne Terrace Lounge. If your choice is the latter, which combines a champagne dinner with free reflexology, you might spot an Indian film star or two. It’s advisable to end the night with some grooving at the glass-encased Marbela Music which, on featured nights, plays host to live musicians jamming with DJs.
The Boutique House Bar already had an impressive fan base at its original home in the Saturday Night Market in Arpora. Its more compact version has just opened at the Living Room in Vagator (18 years and above), where it’s already pulling in the numbers. The cocktails at Boutique House Bar @ Living Room have been shaken together by the owner of Boutique House himself, Daniel Moses, and are matched in quality by the scrumptious grills streaming out of the hotel’s Indo-Arabian barbeque ‘Salaam’.
One of Goa’s newest destinations is SinQ Beach Club, which made its presence felt on the circuit hosting 2012’s Afterburn events, the post-parties to Asia’s largest electronic dance music festival Sunburn Goa. With four bars, a pool-side lounge area and a private balcony apart from its restaurant-lounge and dance floor, SinQ isn’t what you’d call ‘small’! Located in Sinquerim, the place also hosts brunches and retro music in its special Irish-pub-meets-Goa ‘Taverne’.
If you’re not looking for one of those electronic dance music parties that Goa is known for and want a more chilled out evening, try The Sol Bar and Restaurant in Nerul. Upmarket, sophisticated and chic, the jazz nights on Thursdays with renowned national band Smoking Chutney can be your treat for the week. International artists do turn up as guest acts, so prepare to be surprised if you’re a jazz fan.
And at one of Goa’s most popular beaches is another surprise – a headphone party with a view that will take your breath away. Silent Noise fits the bill for a night of partying amid the tranquillity of Palolem beach. The outdoor club can house up to a thousand people who feast their eyes on twinkling lights along the semi-circular beach. The organisers also host daytime villa parties at the LaLiT Golf & Spa Resort in Rajbaga and an event every Thursday in Candolim at Catalyst. The proceeds from their interesting Cinema Nights on Wednesday go to the nearby Animal Rescue Centre.
Sinead McManus, Emylou D’Souza and Dielle D’Souza form a team which reviews restaurants, hotels, clubs and other destinations in Goa.