Winding our way through the narrow lanes of southern Goa, flanked by coconut palms and dotted with brightly painted houses, I can’t believe I’m finally back in India. But this isn’t the India I remember. It bares no resemblance to chaotic, charismatic Rajasthan. There’s no tea plantations, as far as I can see, or sleepy canal ways like the backwaters of Kerala. The ladies do not have jasmine flowers hanging from their hair as every woman and girl does in Tamil Nadu.
One similarity to Kerala though is immediately obvious. It is green. So very green, despite the fact that I’m visiting in April towards the end of the dry season. Lush greenery and coconut palm after coconut palm stretch out before me.
First stop, Zeebop
And peeping out from between the palm tree, on a glorious stretch of sandy beach, the most famous beach shack in Goa, Zeebop beckons me for a spot of lunch. It’s on Utorda Beach which just so happens to be on the way to our hotel.
Goa is said to have some of the best beaches in India and the quieter, idyllic white sand beaches are found in the south. If this is anything to go by, I don’t doubt it. And dotted along these lovely beaches you’ll find many of these colourful, make-shift restaurants. Rickety chairs, good food and great prices abound.
The seafood at Zeebop is superb and I try for the first time the refreshing drink, ‘lime soda sweet and salty’, a dehydration buster if ever there was one. Recipe coming soon.
Zeebop beach shack on Utorda Beach
Fabulous sea food, great company and a long stretch of pale sand looking out over the Arabian Sea. What better way to start my Goan adventure?
The Acacia Palms Resort
Our hotel, the Acacia Palms looks out through the palm trees, across the sand dunes to Colva Beach. I love the Goan-Portuguese style architecture and while the pool is small its a blessing to cool down in. I like the rooms too which were fairly simple but comfortable with dark, carved wooden furniture reminiscent of colonial times.
Acacia Palms Resort, Colva
The view from the Acacia Palms
On our first morning I wake early and take a stroll in the sunshine. It’s humid and beads of sweat form on my brow despite the early hour. It’s just 7.30am and the beach is already relatively busy with locals cooling off in the shallows, enjoying the healing benefits of the sea at the start of the day.
Colva is the liveliest resort in southern Goa which in general is a very sleepy, laid back place. The beach here was the only one in this part of the state that I saw even vaguely busy. At this time of year many Indians are on holiday and it was great to be able to join them enjoying the seaside and sunshine.
Colva Beach, early in the morning
On our last evening in the South of Goa I head to Colva Beach with my travel companions, Becky, Annabel and Natalie, in search of a pre-dinner drink.
A long row of tables from the beach shacks spreads out in either direction. Sitting with our toes in the cooling sands we sip the local brew, Kingfisher beer, by candle light and listen to the waves. It’s one of those idyllic moments that you never want to end.
However, our tummies are rumbling and there’s a particular restaurant we want to check out, The Garden Restaurant on Colva Beach Road, the main road in Colva leading down to the beach. We find it easily and before we know it a tantalising array of Indian dishes is spread out before us. I try the spicy pork Goan sausages to start with. Followed by Chicken Xacuti, a traditional local curry with poppy seeds, red chillies and coconut. Washed down with a large glass of Kingfisher beer. We all tuck into each others dishes together with some rice and naan bread. I love every dish and we all eat way more than we should but still can’t finish everything. This is one of the best meals I have eaten in a long, long time. And when they bring the bill we can’t quite believe it is around 500 rupees each, that’s little more than £5. But that’s fairly typical of the prices here.
Goa is well known for its delicious cuisine and I now know why. It’s some of the tastiest, most flavourful food I’ve ever eaten. Everywhere we went the food was good but this particular meal stood out above the rest. So if you ever find yourself in Colva, remember that name, The Garden Restaurant, I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Getting to know Southern Goa
Goa is the smallest state in India and also the richest with virtually no obvious signs of poverty as far as we could see. Unlike other parts of India that I’ve been to we didn’t see any beggars or hustlers. If you’ve not been to India before, Goa would be the perfect introduction.
Holy Cross Church, Cavelossim, Goa
Around 65% of the population in Goa are Hindu and 30% Christian with the remainder being Muslim, Sikh or another religion. The Portuguese brought Christianity here when they governed the state, even while the rest of India was controlled by the British. This influence has enhanced Goa’s uniqueness and is particularly noticeable to this day in both the Goan architecture and the cuisine.
The houses here come in a magnificent multitude of colours, candy pink, lime green, cobalt blue, yellow, orange, you name it.
From the Hindu flags at the foot of a banyan tree to the colourful fruit and vegetable stalls to the golden rice fields, the colours of India are everywhere you turn.
Disclaimer: I visited Goa with The Goa Experience, part of the Serenity Holidays Group. They have over 26 years experience of selling holidays to destinations such as The Gambia and Corsica. Goa is their exciting new destination launching next month.