PANAJI, India (Reuters Life!) - A small state on India’s Western coast, Goa boasts of quaint Portuguese colonial charm, sun-kissed beaches and great seafood.
Goa is also favorite haunt for domestic and international travelers, and Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a visit to this beach town.
7 p.m. - Start off your holiday in Goa the way you are meant to — sipping a beer or cocktail, and watching the sun go down at Baga beach, one of the many beaches that dot the coastline. If you are the more adventurous sort, indulge in some water sports or para-gliding, popular activities on this particular stretch.
9 p.m. - Dine at Britto’s, one of the many shacks located right on Baga beach. Don’t be fooled, however, by the modest surrounds: Britto’s is not just a shack, it is more of a local institution. Try the pepper prawns and their trademark baked crabs and finish with their fabulous home-made desserts, especially bebinca, a traditional Goan sweet made of jaggery and coconut milk.
11 p.m. - Burn off those calories with a walk up to Tito’s, one of Goa’s most well-known — and packed — night clubs. Frequented by tourists and locals alike, the energy and buzz around this place more than make up for the claustrophobia you might experience amid the hordes that turn up every night. If you prefer something slightly more crowded, head over to the Butter Lounge, in nearby Candolim. It may not have as many people, but the music is equally good for dancing the night away.
9 a.m. - The best, and cheapest, way to get around in Goa is to hire a motorbike. You can get them in most places, even in the smaller towns. Make sure you have a valid license, put on lots of sunscreen and head out toward Old Goa, or Goa Velha as it is locally known. Visit St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Basilica of Bon Jesus on the other side of the road. The 16th century basilica, built by the Portuguese, who ruled Goa until as recently as 1961, houses the body of Goa’s patron saint St Francis Xavier. The body has been preserved for more than four centuries and devotees from all over the world flock there to pay their respects. This is one of the best places to get a sense of the Portuguese influence that pervades most aspects of Goan life.
12 p.m. - Take the opportunity and explore the countryside a little more. Goa’s beaches are its most well-known feature, but there is more to the place. Green fields dotted with coconut palms, quaint houses with red-tiled roofs, and winding roads make for a great ride. Stop at a local bakery and sample some “pao,” traditional Goan bread, and buy some locally made pottery.
2 p.m. - Head back toward Panaji, but not before you make a detour at Star Bar and Restaurant. Yes, it isn’t the most imaginatively named place, and nor does it have any ambience to speak of, but this place can boast of the best fresh shrimp in all of Goa. Order a full Goan meal and wash it down with the feni local liquor as you watch boats sail along the river.
4 p.m. - Panaji, Goa’s capital, is a charming town set on the banks of the river Mandovi and well worth exploring. Visit the Panjim Church, an imposing structure that looks down on the city, and old quarter of Fointanhas for some traditional Portuguese architecture.
7 p.m. - Goa is also home to off-shore casinos, so if you fancy your luck, try your hand at the slots.
9 p.m. - Have dinner at Fiesta, another North Goa institution, which serves up Mediterranean and continental fare. If that’s not your style, try The Republic of Noodles at Candolim. Located near the Taj Palace hotel, this restaurant boasts of great interiors and delicious South East Asian cuisine.
11 p.m. - If you still have any energy, rev up the motorbike and make your way to the Saturday Night Bazaar at Arpora. A huge, chaotic, throbbing market, this place comes to life past midnight. Expect to find everything from trinkets to clothes to watches and even luggage. There are also food and beer stalls. Don’t forget to bargain hard.
9 a.m. - Start off your Sunday with a traditional Goan breakfast of pao-bhaji, bread and vegetables in gravy, at one of the many eateries that dot the Baga-Candolim stretch. Get on the motorbike and head toward South Goa, which has some of the best beaches on India’s Western Coast.
11 a.m. - Palolem beach is one of Goa’s most pristine beaches and is located at the southern tip of the state. Soak in the sun, do some swimming, read a book and just relax - that’s what most people come to Goa to do.
2 p.m. - If you can rouse yourself from your slumber, treat yourself with a Sunday buffet lunch at the Taj Exotica or the Park Hyatt, both in South Goa. If you prefer to do some celebrity spotting instead, ask for directions to Martin’s Corner, a small shack located in the village of Betalbatim. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and actor Shah Rukh Khan are regulars to this family-run restaurant.
4 p.m. - If Goan food has intrigued your palate, perhaps a visit to a spice farm (www.sahakarifarms.com) might be appropriate. Spices play a vital role in Goan and Indian cuisine and an insight into what it takes to cultivate these spices is a good start toward understanding the local food.
8 p.m. - End your holiday with some drinks and people watching at the Taj Aguada Resort, one of Goa’s best luxury hotels. Watch the sunset, breathe in the ocean air and start planning your trip back.
Editing by Miral Fahmy