The behemoth Indian subcontinent can take years, if not longer, to get to grips with. In contrast, Goa, India’s smallest state, allows you to cover its length in a day. But by the time you lay your bags down and start sipping on coconut water with the ocean waves licking at your feet, you’ll realise it makes little sense to rush about here.
A week or two weeks can give you a fairly good idea of the landscape, from the streets of Panjim, the capital, to the palm-fringed villages; all strewn with architectural remnants from the colonial days. Then, there are the beaches. Creamy stretches of sand and warm water that draw swarms of visitors: young and old, hippies and hipsters, party-goers and paradise-seekers.
The Portuguese ruled Goa for 451 years, and the influence remains apparent in the customs and costumes, food and drink, intermingling of cultures and the peculiar fusion of Indian and European norms – Goa is not just about the beaches, as package-holiday companies will have you believe; It’s a combination of these eccentricities that distinguish Goa from the rest of India, giving it a loveable, welcoming charm.
A comfortable bed
The Park Hyatt Resort & Spa (www.goa.park.hyatt.com, 0091 832 272 1234) in south Goa is close to the airport and set on 45 tranquil acres along Arossim beach. It has excellent dining options as well as entertainment for children. Doubles from 12,000 rupees (Dh708).
To experience the grandeur of an original and lovingly restored palácio, a Portuguese mansion with antique furniture and decor, book a suite at Siolim House Heritage Boutique Hotel (www.siolimhouse.com, 0091 832 227 2138). Opt for one of two large suites upstairs but note there is no air conditioning.
Yogamagic Eco Retreat (www.yogamagic.net, 0091 832 652 3796), in Anjuna in north Goa, will appease any yogi who wants to practise in style under the guidance of authentic instruction, while lounging in luxury tents or suites made from local, sustainable materials. Doubles from 9,000 rupees (Dh531).
Find your feet
While the beaches are great, try to explore Goa from different angles. Hire a cab for the day for around 2,000 rupees (Dh118) and visit the historic churches and basilicas of Old Goa or book an exploratory walking tour (www.choltacholta.com, from 2,200 rupees [Dh129]).
Visit the magnificent Church of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim, shop at 18th June Street and discover the Hindu temples.
No visit is complete without eating with locals at a beach shack (try Curlies at Anjuna, www.curliesgoa.com or Anushka at Arossim – ask a local for directions). Nature lovers can book an intriguing wildlife tour with the guide, photographer and snake charmer Rahul Alvares (www.rahulalvares.com, from 2,300 rupees [Dh135]).
Meet the locals
Venture away from the tourist-jammed northern beaches of Baga, Calangute and Candolim and take a train (www.konkanrailway.com for schedules and fares) from Pernem in the north or a bus or taxi from Panjim down to the Agonda, Palolem and Patnem beach cluster in the south. For cultural stimulation, attend an exhibition, musical performance or indie film screening at Sunaparanta, Goa Centre for the Arts in Panjim (www.sgcfa.org, 0091 832 242 1311).
Book a table
Book an afternoon-long lavish tasting feast of Indo-Portuguese food such as prawn cutlets, vegetable soup and whole baked fish from 600 rupees (Dh35), made with locally sourced ingredients at the marvellously restored Palácio Do Deao in Quepem (www.palaciododeao.com, 0091 832 266 4029). The complimentary tour of the landscaped gardens is a treat.
For less fanfare, book a table at Mum's Kitchen (www.mumskitchengoa.com, 0091 9011 095557) in Panjim, where locals and tourists come to sample the famous vindaloos for around 180 rupees (Dh10).
Candlelight (0091 832 227 0157) in Siolim, while bordering on dive-ish, serves moderate portions of Goan favourites. The owner tightly guards the semolina prawn recipe.
Head to 18 June Street in Panjim, for a mishmash of clothing, souvenir and bookstores. Bargain at Benz (www.benznx.in, 0091 932 610 4111), a sari store off the main drag. The designer Wendell Rodricks's store (www.wendellrodricks.com; 158, near Luis Gomes Garden, Campal, Panjim) is worth a visit for bespoke resortware. Sacha's Shop (House #E526, SV Road, Panjim, 0091 832 222 2035) stocks an eclectic mix of affordable local clothing, accessories and homeware.
The markets around the state are worth a visit, too (www.goatourism.gov.in/shopping/local-markets).
What to avoid
While security has tightened in recent years, keep a watchful eye on your belongings, especially if you’re staying in a beach shack.
Explore a palácio. The historian Luis Dias conducts bespoke tours of the old Mint House of the Estado da India belonging to his family, giving insight into Goa's multilayered past (www.luisdias.wordpress.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).