There’s more to Goa than meets the eye on its touristy beaches.
Here are some very good reasons to pay the state another visit. By Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Of course, it’s no longer the same sleepy, sultry beach town: Goa is where urban India goes trawling for holiday enchantments. This does not always bode well. I watch loutish tourists have altercations with locals. And residents are frazzled—often annoyed with good reason—as their original, quaint landscape comes undone to make room for busloads brandishing beer bottles. To skip some of this skirmish, try coasting through Goa’s dense, gorgeous, authentic inland, its villages. And while you’re doing that, here’s a selection of spaces I swing by.
For design, the fiendishly glamorous Anjali Mody, of Josmo Studio, has the flagship outpost of her design atelier, & So, in Porvorim with a marvellous medley of furniture, design objects, and homeware. I have on occasion stayed at Mark Bell’s astonishing luxury villa rental in Assagao, The Villa Goa, distinguished by its understated design excellence and heroically-long pool. A stay here will remind you that one of Goa’s greatest gifts is its powerful engagement with solitude (which might explain why writers and artists are moving here). Party town? Think again. This year, I stayed at the Villa Goa in the monsoon. Its sprawling gardens were dense green with areca palms, jacaranda, and chikoo trees. The foliage drew hornbills and bulbuls. I marvelled at this natural soundtrack—all jungle bounce and snarl—and yet, perfect for a private celebration on the down low.
One of my favourite bars in town is The Rice Mill in Morjim. It has echoes of New York loft minimalism smack dab in a village setting (there’s a village gym right outside advertising six-pack makeovers). Project Café is an exquisitely created space, brought to life with gusto and elegance. It also retails design products, and has a boutique hotel on the grounds and a fantastic restaurant where mushroom farfalle is all the merch. Gunpowder, also in Assagao, is legendary; you can place blind bets on its Malabar paratha with prawn mappas or their dope assortment of cocktails.
Go early afternoon, spy around the splendid store People Tree, and stock up on George’s Cookies for those cheat days. A new, sublime discovery is Melt Pizzabar in Anjuna, where the zaatar pizza is undisputedly the best pizza I’ve had in India. Quickly and persuasively, Melt’s treats of carnivore pizza up the ante—don’t make tracks without the glazed bacon teamed with roasted cherry tomatoes and greens from their kitchen garden.
Full disclosure: I am an honorary director of Sunaparanta Goa Centre For The Arts. I must call out interest when I tell you it’s a neat space to look at the works of top-ticket artists as varied as Roger Ballen, William Dalrymple, and Sooni Taraporevala. Set in Altinho—the plummy part of Panjim—Sunaparanta’s courtyard café Bodega is helmed by the indefatigable Vandana Naik, who lends it her passion and expertise in baking bread and pastries. This spread draws in a cool crew of local writers, playschool moms, expat yoga teachers, etc. For Italian food, pay homage to Baba’s Wood Café, in Arpora, run by the delightful Maria Grazia, also creator of Goa’s finest tiramisu. I’d go for the risotto with asparagus and buffalo mozzarella, and the rocket salad with pears. If you’re lucky, Grazia will hunker down your table, cheer you up with local banter, and remind you that it’s a mighty tickle to be in Goa. In Bambolim, the Grand Hyatt’s Chulha restaurant is where I hang out for my North Indian food pangs. The chaat is bombing, and I always end up with sugarcane juice and jalebis (my annual sugar binge, I swear). Anjuna’s Orchard Supermarket is where we, the locals, go to stock up on sage and rye bread, cold cuts, and a whimsical selection of health food. Right across Orchard Supermarket is Mr. Gelato Cream Choc—order gallons of the Belgian chocolate and hazelnut. You may now ring your boss to say you’ve quit and moved out to Sorrento Vaddo in Anjuna.
Way up north is Fort Tiracol, which has been around forever but is now enjoying a dazzling reinvention under new management. With a spectacular view—of the roiling sea, gleaming rocks, and an isolated stretch of beach—Fort Tiracol’s restaurant, Tavern, is where I head to be alone. I was underwhelmed with their period rooms, but the restaurant is enough to make you want to write your cheques out. Ask for a beer and olives, and Fort Tiracol’s thoughtful servers will remind you that you have tumbled into a sepia-coloured time of yore. In the belt of beaches that make up Ashwem and Morjim lie Palm Grove Cottages
aka my beach office. I’m here most mornings, tanking up on their excellent coffee, plotting stories and the death of all my exes. Palm Grove’s understated cement and wood cottages by the beach are a telegram to other shack owners and hoteliers in the neighbourhood that this could—and should—be standard (sadly, it is not; elsewhere, you might end up with semen-soaked sheets and taste-challenged chips). If you’re not quitting carbs, Burger Factory is the scene, with Bandra hipsters and Swedish photographers with slay-me tans and marriage-wrecking abs. Now, what other reasons do you need to be in Goa?