As strange as it may sound – I had to work on my relationship with Goa. The city failed to impress me the very first time I visited it 2000. I didn’t feel drawn to the beaches or awed by the orange sunsets over the Arabian sea.The lush green paddy fields faded in comparison to the ones in my native town Mangalore and the colourful temples were not as vibrant as the ones down south. I couldn’t spot the local joints for fresh seafood and the ones at upmarket restaurants didn’t tantalise my taste buds.
I wondered what the fuss was all about. Goa didn’t touch me the way it touched my friends. But I was determined to find the ‘cool’ side of Goa. Fortunately work kept taking to Goa and slowly and steadily I discovered why the happy go lucky hippies, the soul searching yogis and free thinking artists love this city and descend on it every after year. I felt the trance music of Anjuna, chomped on chorizo-pao, got drenched under Dudhsagar falls, gambled (without luck) at the floating casinos and queued up like a pro outside Mambo’s and Tito’s.
Every visit revealed a different aspect of Goa. I learnt to travel without a destination. Just zooming past sleepy villages and beaches in our rickety rented bikes. Stopping where we wanted to and eating where the locals ate.
Though there is never a bad time to visit Goa I still had to see Goa in the rains. Thankfully I could tick that off too with my recent visit for the bloggers meet.
Here’s are some of the best experiences from my latest visit to Goa
My stay at the Grand Mercure Goa Shrem
There’s something about this North Goa hotel which stays with you long after you have left. Maybe it’s the omnipresent service, the fabulous food by Chef Ganapati, the soothing spa where tensions are pummelled away and meridians realigned or just the free ice lolly treats by the pool.
Nature and art coexist at Grand Mercure. Antique pieces sourced from old Portuguese homes, high pitched roofs, wide verandahs and brass lanterns add a touch of old school glamour while the constant, mesmerising soundtrack of birdsong puts you in a relaxed state of mind. The best thing to do here is float aimlessly in the infinity pool overlooking the green meadows or have your body primed, polished and pampered at the Warren Tricomi spa which resembles a rain forest.
The treatment rooms come with an outdoor rain shower. There are cabanas by the poolside for those who wish to indulge in an outdoor spa experience. These come with mesmerizing views of the paddy fields and the hills around.
Since I dislike the joint cracking, muscle pounding massages I opted for the gentle and relaxing Balinese massage which is great way to melt knotty back muscles and relax tense shoulders. At the end of the 60 minute massage I felt like I’d been asleep for a month.
The Food Trail
Food was another highlight of my stay at Grand Mercure. The macaroons at the coffee shop Chy are to die for. Tea connoisseur will be impressed with the collection of teas from first flush to orange pekoe and Darjeeling tea. The vindaloo puffs and waffle sandwiches make perfect accompaniments. Kokum and lemon ice tea are served in cute jars. A blackboard menu announces the chef’s special.
My personal favourite is Festa the restaurant under a huge banyan tree. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy Ganapati’s Prawn peri peri and hand tossed thin crust pizza. Festa also does a very satisfying Saraswat thali complete with clams, crabs, prompret and sol kadhi. Junho the bar does some innovative cocktails and has an impressive floor to ceiling wine wall.
Sunday brunch at La Brise
I spent a fabulous Sunday on the deck at La Brise soaking in the brilliant weather, gorgeous views of the sea, some great food and live music. This homey, casual restaurant by the beach at Candolim has the best Cajun calamari, fish tikka, lamb chops and waffles.
When we went boating
Cruising along Chapora river in a trimaran was the most enchanting part of my stay in Goa. Though we did not spot any crocodiles or dolphins the sights of fishermen mending nests, birds taking flight and the gorgeous scenery was all worth it. At one point we even got down the trimaran and swam across to a small island! That was a first for me.
This trip to Goa truly connected me with the rhythm of Goa – freedom, adventure and a little madness.