Goa's hidden gems

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A week or two spent revelling in the languid luxury of Goa’s sunny sosegado, or susegad, two Portuguese colonial-era terms roughly translated as ‘laid-backness,’ is one not to be missed on any hectic visit to mammoth, fascinating, often impossibly frenetic India. Though five-star resorts such as the Intercontinental, the Hyatt and the Kempinski have long made their mark on this most diminutive of Indian states (all characterised by top-notch service, opulent surroundings and calm, sand-raked beaches) there is nevertheless much charm to be had in forsaking the mammoth swimming pools and generic – if generous – resort bedrooms, and plumping instead for a stay in one of Goa’s most evocative, charismatic heritage boutique hotels.

North Goa, best known for its package holiday- and partier-friendly resorts of Calangute, Baga and Candolim, as well as its flea market at hippyish Anjuna, offers a whole host of atmospheric delights for those keen to experience a slice of life of an older, more ‘authentic’ Goa. Opt to stay in Siolim, a sleepy, slightly inland village famed for its bevy of palaçios (manor houses) ranged along the banks of the Chapora River. Here you will find Siolim House (www.siolimhouse.com), an impeccably restored centuries-old home with seven high-ceilinged guest rooms all decked out in Goan antiques, four poster beds and terracotta tiles. Dine in the inner courtyard on fresh snapper or pomfret, avail of an ayurvedic massage courtesy of the in-house masseur, or take a quick dip in the sparkling garden-side pool.

For something completely different, head up to the northernmost tip of the state, not far from the backpacker haven of Arambol, for a stay at Fort Tiracol (www.forttiracol.com), a 17th century Portuguese fort teetering on the cliffs of the Indian Ocean.  Seven rooms, each named after a day of the week, enjoy contemporary furnishings and stunning seaside vistas. After a fiery Goan curry lunch, or a sunset cocktail, served on the fort ramparts, look in on the in-fort chapel, then dip your toes in the shallows across the river at Aswem beach. Alternatively, if barefoot luxury is more the order of the day, arrange a stay at Elsewhere (www.aseaescape.com) near Mandrem, a collection of three 19th century Portuguese homes (known as the Priest’s House, the Bakery and the Piggery) on a mile-or-so of privately owned beach, perfect for bobbing about undisturbed with only gulls and ghosts of Portuguese past for company.

Heading down to central Goa and the lazy riverside state capital of Panaji (most commonly known as Panjim), stay in secluded nearby splendour at Casa Britona, once a customs warehouse and nowadays a seven-room boutique property set on the banks of the Mandovi River. Rooms here include antique Goan furniture and riverside verandas; the resident chef can whip you up an Indian feast to be eaten al fresco beside the slow-moving Mandovi waters, whilst the historical, architectural treasure-trove of Old Goa, filled with the remnants of a city that once rivalled Rome, are a quick rickshaw or moped ride away.

Further south again, South Goa lays claim to the very best of the state’s beaches, a slower pace both of life and of tourism development, and a heady combination of emerald paddy fields, white sands beaches and warm, azure waters. If you’re not in the mood for the rustic beach huts at Palolem or the swish Park Hyatt resort further up the coast, opt instead for the beautiful inland Vivenda dos Palhacos. Set in a restored Portuguese-Hindu mansion, the hotel’s six bedrooms and separate cottage (endearingly named The Chummery) are ranged around a gorgeous small pool.  Dinner here is candlelit, locally sourced and courtesy of a highly proficient Keralan chef – and if you are suitably impressed with the food, you can request cooking lessons the following day.

Finally, to escape for a while from the beach, head into the hinterland to Casa Susegad, a restored Portuguese villa set in the atmospheric, seldom-visited village of Loutolim. Run by a friendly British couple, all five rooms are lovingly restored, meals include ingredients from the hotel’s organic garden, and animal-lovers will revel in the presence of half a dozen friendly canines. Laze by the pool, indulge in a long lunch whilst monkeys cavort in the trees and knock back a coconut feni or two (the local Goan firewater), and you’ll truly appreciate the meaning of a good Goan susegad.