WHERE TO STAY
The first question you’ve got to ask yourself is whether you want a riotous party of a holiday or something distinctly more laid back?
If it’s the former, head straight to North Goa and feel free to go crazy amongst the clubs, bars and beach parties that the area is famed for. The sunny days will provide an excellent opportunity to recover on the beach from the night before and you may even be lucky enough to grab a tan in the process! After having experienced some wild nights and unadulterated luxury in Mumbai, we were craving some serious R & R so made our way down to South Goa for an altogether more chilled fortnight in the sun.
If you want luxury, head to Mobor where you will have a choice of some excellent hotels, including the Holiday Inn and Leela Kempinski. However, if it’s a more rustic experience you’re after, head deeper south towards Palolem, where the accommodation largely takes the shape of simple beach huts and a handful of basic hotels. For us, this trip was all about experiencing the simple pleasures of the beach, so further south we headed.
Once in Palolem, there are three main beaches where you can stay. Palolem Beach is the largest and liveliest, with a good number of bars, restaurants and plenty of beach activities to keep tourists occupied. A few minutes walk away is Patnem Beach, where things are little more toned down with a larger beach and less people about. It’s a great compromise, because you can have some quiet time and then make the short walk over to Palolem Beach for some evening action.
The final choice (and where we stayed) is Agonda Beach. Around 20 minutes away by taxi, Agonda is by far the most peaceful of the trio. With extremely strict beach policing, bars and late night activities are largely off-limits and electricity to the beach huts is fairly limited too, meaning no televisions. Bliss! Put simply if you don’t have your partner and a good book with you, Agonda is best avoided.
For beach huts in Agonda, check out Shaanti’s and Madhu’s for well kept huts and friendly staff. However, outside of December, you can generally just take a walk down any of the beaches and just take your pick of huts. Expect to pay around 1200 rupees/night (£16) during peak season.
WHERE TO EAT
Goa is about one thing – fresh seafood. Whether it be crab, lobster, red snapper or pomfret, you can’t argue with fish that has literally been caught just hours before your meal. The best food amongst the three beaches was to be had in Agonda. There are around 20 restaurants to choose from along the beach and there is very little to choose between them. The best way to ensure the tastiest, freshest fish is to simply reserve your fish in the morning. The waiters will often come round during breakfast with the catches of the day, so you just tell them when you want it and they will have it ready for you. Additionally, with a large Nepalese working community, many of the restaurants also serve a variety of interesting dishes from North East India.
Food and drink is really cheap. Expect around 70 rupees (£1) for a double rum & coke, and around 1000 rupees for a full on feast of a meal.
Leela Kempinski Hotel, Mobur
After ‘slumming it’ for the best part of two weeks, we decided to get our glad rags on and treat ourselves to a little fine dining. Asked where to go, the first name on most people’s lips was the Leela Kempinski Hotel in Mobur – around an hour away from Palolem. Situated on the Arabian Sea amongst 75 acres of lush greenery and landscaped gardens, The Leela is the absolute epitome of grandeur, with architecture inspired by both its Indian and colonial Portuguese heritage.
Dinner options include a beach restaurant specialising in seafood, an Italian restaurant and Jamavar, their signature Indian restaurant, offering regional Indian and Goan cuisine. We started off with drinks in their impressive lobby bar (The Yali Lounge), complete with a water feature flowing all the way around its perimeter! A couple of cocktails later and it was time to move onto the Jamavar restaurant, where we were seated in their al fresco area whilst watching the sun go down.
After the simple and delicious food that we had become accustomed to in Agonda, the dishes at Jamavar were like a carnival of flavours in the mouth. They had managed to combine the fresh seafood which Goa is famed for with some masterful spicing to create some glorious dishes. Additionally, it was also great to be able to enjoy some great chicken and lamb dishes after a couple of weeks of intense seafood overload. Beautifully grilled tiger prawns were matched by the melt in the mouth lamb kebabs. The highlight of the meal was the Goan prawn curry – a time consuming traditional dish of slowly simmered curry sauce with seafood which creates the perfect balance of spice and flavour.
At risk of sounding pompous, we also massively appreciated the extensive international wine list. Due to exorbitant import taxes levied by the Indian government, good wine is hard to come by and normally pricy. However, after a couple of weeks of rum & Coke on the beach, a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape hit spots I didn’t even know I had! Impressively, the hotel even used world renowned Reidal glassware to ensure the best possible wine-drinking experience.
Expect to pay around 350 (£5) rupees for starters and 1000 rupees for mains (£13)