Discovering the Other Side of Goa, Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Off the Beach
Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India

Venite Bar in Fountainhas, the Latin Quarter of Panjim

Top 10 things to do off the beach in Goa: Part 1

TINY, TROPICAL GOA, on the south west coast of India, was an obligatory stop on the hippie trail of the 1960s and became known internationally for wild, full-moon parties on the beach. Though there is much more to Goa than hippies on the beach, it’s a reputation the state has never been able to shake. Even I avoided Goa, except for two short beach vacations in the quieter southern half of the state.

But finally I decided to give Goa a chance, and spent almost two weeks touring the state and looking for places and experiences that show the more interesting, sophisticated and discerning side of Goa. What I discovered is that Goa is a historical, cultural, wellness and leisure treasure house. Here are my top picks 1 – 5. Part 2 coming soon.

  1. Panjim and Fontainhas
  2. Mustard cafe
  3. Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF)
  4. Koi Asian Dining and Bar
  5. Old Goa

READ MORE ABOUT GOA


For starters, Goa has a completely unique flavour in India due to colonization by the Portuguese. In fact, the Portuguese have influenced Goan culture for hundreds years, and as a consequence the state has a large population of Catholics and a profusion of Portuguese designed churches and gracious old homes. I love these charming homes, painted in bright colours, and dream of someday owning one with a wide white verandah on a hill overlooking the Arabian Sea.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, food, thali, Portuguese, cuisine

A thali of Goan style fish at Ritz Classic in Panjim

Goa is also a cultural hub, with writers and artists from all over living there, or wintering there. There’s a palpable sense of multiculturalism and being at a crossroads of the world. “Everyone comes here,” my friend writer Anuradha Goyal told me. She moved to Goa after living in some of India’s biggest cities.

So here are some of the highlights of my tour. I hope they give you an idea of all the things you can see and do in Goa that don’t require shaking your groove thang on the beach. Though you can still do that if you want, at beaches like Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and the hippie stronghold, Arambol. (The all-night-long full-moon raves of yesteryear have been outlawed, however.)

BDG TIP

I used the Love Guide to Goa as a resource and guidebook (gifted to me by Yogesh Naik of Goa Tourism!). The book helped me find those things that “make you love” Goa. This is the guiding principle of the Love Guides, which are also available for Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Bangalore and more. Published by Fiona Caulfield. I also relied on Sharell Cook from About India for information and ideas. She really knows her way around Goa and just about everywhere else in India.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, history, Latin Quarter, house

One of the many colourful Portuguese houses in Fountainhas, Panjim, Goa

1. Panjim and Fontainhas

Panjim (also known as Paniji or Panji) is the capital of Goa, a small city of only 100,000 people. It strategically and picturesquely occupies the spot where the mighty Mandovi River meets the Arabian Sea. I started my tour with three days in Panjim, which most tourists bypass. I fell in love with this small city, with the colours of the houses, the expanses of water, the colonial character and the thriving arts scene.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, design, fashion

Me at the Wendell Rodricks store in Panjim

Directly behind my hotel, the Panjim Residency (which faces the Mandovi River), is Fontainhas, Asia’s only Latin Quarter. The Portuguese moved here, and settled around a spring-fed tank, fountain, in the 18th and 19th centuries and many of the houses remain in good condition. The epicentre of Fontainhas is the beautifully restored Panjim Inn and Art Gallery.

Even after dark, I felt completely safe wandering alone around Fontainhas. I ate on the balcony of the Panjim Inn, and stopped by the quirky Venite Bar. The area reminded me a little of both Havana and New Orleans, especially by the way light spilled into the streets from small, lively restaurants, and the by the way everything was enveloped in the warm tropical night air.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, food

Romantic outdoor dining at Mustard.

2. Mustard Cafe

There’s much more to Goan cuisine than beach shacks that serve up Goan fish curry and western favourites like pizzas and fries. In fact, there’s a growing foodie scene and a range of fine dining restaurants. One beautiful evening my friend Anuradha Goyal of the travel blog Inditales and I went to Mustard Cafe, in the Calangute area.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, foodSeated in a candle-lit outdoor courtyard, we sampled a rich, spicy and delicious combination of Bengali and French cuisine, spiced with Goan flavours. Owner Poonam Singh told us she wanted to please both the people who like continental food and those who are happiest with a traditional Indian cuisine. The alchemy works, and I enjoyed every rich, flavourful dish I savoured.

Mustard was my favourite restaurant in Goa, for the romantic ambience and really flavourful, satisfying food. It’s obvious a lot of care, research and attention to detail has gone into every dish. I also liked the live music, a soulful singer named Vamsee Krishna who covered Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (making me, a Canadian, feel very at home!).

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, literature, history, architecture

Maquinez Palace, Panjim, venue for the opening of GALF 2015

3. Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF)

One of the most surprising things I learned about Goa is how artsy it is. Numerous artists, writers, photographers, designers — and bloggers — make their home in Goa. As a consequence, there’s also a lot of arts events and festivals. I happened to be in Panjim for the Inaugural Function of GALF, which was held at charming and historic Maquinez Palace.

The speakers referred to Goa as a peaceful cultural centre of India. They talked about how writers interact warmly at GALF, and how the festival provides a stress-free place to relax. They also referred to the multicultural aspect of Goa: “From a sand and surf destination to a place where east and west meet.”

Unveiling the festival poster, exclusive art work by Loretti Pinto

Unveiling the festival poster, exclusive art work by Loretti Pinto

After listening to the opening night speakers — poets, artists, authors and journalists — I only wish I had time to attend the entire festival.

GALF highlights a couple of countries each year, and in 2015 it was Singapore and Bangladesh. (I hope they put the spotlight on Canada one of these days as we have many fine homegrown and immigrant writers from Michael Ondaatje to Rohinton Mistry.)

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, bar

The bar at Koi in Calangute, Goa

4. Koi Asian Dining & Bar

The most sophisticated of the fine dining restaurants I experienced in Goa, Koi is a journey through Southeast Asia. Owner Shefali and her team lavished careful attention to detail on Koi to create a chic restaurant right in the heart of bustling Calangute. From specially designed crockery to stunning murals to an inspired and comprehensive menu, Koi takes a bespoke approach to fine dining.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, food, fishThough not on the beach, Koi is a destination restaurant with a stunning interior space and garden seating. My lunch date Anuradha Goyal of Inditales and I sampled an array of their dishes, focusing on vegetarian and fish. I was particularly delighted to find Japanese favourites like sushi on the menu — though we both agreed that the Thai curry was the most outstanding dish. But I also loved deep fried sushi, crackling spinach and sticky rice.

Kudos to Koi for creating a sophisticated space that serves inspired Southeast Asian cuisine that’s both beautifully presented and full of authentic flavour. A visit to Koi is a journey through the Spice Route of Asia.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, church, Old Goa, St Francis Xavier

The casket of St Francis Xavier at Bom Jesus

5. Old Goa

The 15th century Church of Bom Jesus is the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Old Goa. Several churches and a cathedral range around a wide expanse of lawns and gardens. This was the power base of the Catholic Church during the Portuguese colonial era.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, church, Old GoaBom Jesus is known for being the final resting place of St Francis Xavier, who died in China in 1552 and wanted to be buried in Goa. After his remains were shipped to India, it was discovered his body miraculously showed no signs of decomposition. The body apparently has remained intact and is now on display in a glass casket that sits above eye level in an alcove to the left of the altar. I was actually quite reticent to visit this church, as I find this quite ghoulish, but the casket is tastefully removed from close inspection. Thank goodness.

The other churches, and the general area, are quite lovely and of course historically significant. I enjoyed walking leisurely among them and stopping for a cold drink at a simple stand under a huge tree with a massive canopy. Goa is lush!

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, church, Panjim, Fountainhas

In Fountainhas, Panjim

Thanks to Goa Tourism

While in Goa, Goa Tourism helped me create my itinerary, and provided maps, information, guides and a car-and-driver. They were fabulously helpful and welcoming, especially Yogesh Naik. My stays at Ashiyana, Devaaya and The Beach House were hosted, and my meals at Mustard, Koi and La Plage were complimentary, but that has not influenced my opinion or coverage. As always, my readers’ needs are foremost in my mind.

Goa, restaurant, travel, culture, attractions, India, church, Panjim, Fountainhas

At Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church (1541) in Fountainhas, Panjim

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40 Responses to Discovering the Other Side of Goa, Part 1

  1. Anuradha Goyal January 15, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

    Great to see Goa on your blog…look forward to rest of the stories.
    Anuradha Goyal recently posted..Review – Kanha Earth Lodge, Kanha National ParkMy Profile

  2. Team Myoki January 16, 2016 at 5:55 am #

    Beautiful write up on Goa, new restaurants and the literature festival 🙂 We love the way you’ve covered it.

  3. Anunoy Samanta January 16, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

    Thanks Mariellen for reviving my Goa memories. Last time it was a trek and now I’m contemplating on a moto-ride up to Goa and explore its pristine corners 🙂
    Anunoy Samanta recently posted..Solo Ride to Daringbadi – the “Kashmir of Odisha”My Profile

  4. Anunoy Samanta January 16, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    Missed to mention in my last comment, you’ve captured few beautiful shots 🙂
    Anunoy Samanta recently posted..Solo Ride to Daringbadi – the “Kashmir of Odisha”My Profile

  5. The Untourists January 17, 2016 at 6:13 am #

    I find Goa off the beaches much more interesting than the beach-side of north goa.
    The Untourists recently posted..The Serenity of South GoaMy Profile

  6. Vijay January 19, 2016 at 5:39 am #

    Good to see Goa on your blog… captured beautiful shots… new restaurants and the literature festival

  7. Elisa Zen January 20, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    Goa is a place I dream of going it is on my list for sure. Great post!
    Elisa Zen recently posted..Attn: Travel Lovers – Please Enter My GIVEAWAY!!!!!!My Profile

  8. Lesley January 21, 2016 at 6:21 am #

    I have previously resisted visiting Goa, mainly for the reasons mentioned towards the end of your article, but now that you have opened my eyes to the more positive aspects of Goa, I am changing my itinerary for my second visit to India and will start off from there. Thanks Mariellen

  9. Welgrow January 22, 2016 at 7:15 am #

    I never imagine that besides Beaches in Goa has another thing to watch. Thanks for sharing hidden part of Goa.

  10. Hannah @GettingStamped January 27, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

    Still can’t believe we missed Goa when we were in India this past March!
    Hannah @GettingStamped recently posted..Day Trips From Playa del Carmen MexicoMy Profile

  11. Rameshchandra January 30, 2016 at 7:50 am #

    Nice enjoy with nature

  12. Jimmy January 30, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

    Thank you so much for this interesting article and pictures. I will be visiting GOathis spring with my wife and you have given me many good ideas.

  13. Thing2gether February 1, 2016 at 6:55 am #

    Wow, thats a unique list.

  14. Robyn February 7, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    I am so happy that in some way I stumbled upon your blog. I am going to Delhi on the 23 of this month so I have been researching India like crazy these last few days just to help settle my panic attacks about not knowing what it will be like. I am lucky and have many friends in India and a cute boyfriend. So they are so warm and welcoming to me. I am beyond excited to see this country and even attend a Hindu wedding. Thank you so much for all the tips on this beautiful country. I can not wait for this. It’ll be a big culture from the quite small town of canada that I am use too haha.

    • Mariellen Ward March 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

      Hi Robyn, I hope you have a great trip. India is indeed like going through the looking glass, another world entirely. Hope the blog is useful to you 🙂
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Why I fly Jet Airways to IndiaMy Profile

  15. noel February 8, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    I’ve always wondered about Goa if this was mostly a coastal beachy resort type area and glad to see that man yof the historical monuments well maintained and an vibrant art scene and community. This reminds me so much like Galle in Sri Lanka.

    • Mariellen Ward March 22, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

      Hi Noel, Galle is a perfect analogy, very similar even in feeling! I loved Galle and I loved historical Goa too. I would give Goa the edge, even, over Sri Lanka, believe it or not. For one thing, it’s cheaper …
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Top 8 reasons to love The Imperial HotelMy Profile

  16. Dev February 12, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    Travelling Goa next month. Guess this post would come in handy. Thanks

  17. Chrissy February 13, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

    I’m originally from Goa and recently travelled back over winter break. I loved the Goan Fish Curry Thali from Ritz Classic. You have described Goa, the ambiance and food beautifully!

  18. Shannon February 14, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

    I once knew someone who insisted that I visit Goa. He said of all the places he has been, that it was the best experience he has ever had.

    Your post makes an even more compelling case. It is definitely on my list!

    • Mariellen Ward March 22, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

      It’s funny Shannon, I would NEVER had said that about Goa until this most recent trip. This trip (my third to Goa) opened my eyes to the unheralded beauties of the state. STay tuned for Part 2.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Shining a light on DiwaliMy Profile

  19. Ayushi Manroa February 22, 2016 at 1:13 am #

    Goa has always been a popular place to get away from the hustle-bustle of city life! It was really nice to know the other side of the Goa that any tourist can explore and see the new face of the popular state. Thanks a lot for sharing the hidden area of Goa with your readers.

  20. Aadithya Kishan March 22, 2016 at 7:14 am #

    Although I’m from India, I never got the Chance to visit Goa.I know most of you might be wondering what on earth this guy is doing there in India not even visiting Goa for once.But this time, I’m planning to go for a Goa trip as I’m taking a Big Break from work.And I wanted somebody’s viewpoint about Goa Destinations, to my luck I found this article which helped me a lot of planning structure to my Goa Trip.As I’m, not a beach Person I was confused about Goa Spots..but then again I found this post!Thanks a lot, Mariellen, really looking forward to going to Panjim and Fontainhas.

  21. Izy berry March 29, 2016 at 11:55 pm #

    I am in love with this place is incredible it has everything and the food is amazong
    Izy berry recently posted..Common Mistakes Travel Bloggers MakeMy Profile

  22. Shubham Mansingka April 6, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Love the pictures. Mustard is amazing and Old Goan churches are my favourite too. My best moment was turning a corner and finding myself at St. Cajetan Church.

  23. Sunil Chawla August 6, 2016 at 2:17 am #

    Lovely…..
    Happy to see your blog on Goa
    Will be helpful to me during my trip to Goa this month

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