Discover a new side of Goa post the lockdown, one that involves private villa stays, nature walks with physical distancing, and socially conscious food choices. By Aindrila Mitra
The pandemic has changed the way we think. But the passion for travel remains unchanged. So, the first chance I get to escape the shackles of virtual travel, I have my bags packed—with sanitisers, face masks, and Vitamin C supplements. I hop on a Vistara flight after being grounded for eight months in the capital city. I am on a trip to Goa—the au courant flavour for workations and extended staycations—with Airbnb.
Not only has the frequency of travel changed, but the way we holiday is also witnessing a dramatic shift—towards a more conscious lifestyle. So, instead of a swanky five-star hotel room, I check into a Goan-Portuguese heritage villa. With five rooms, a private swimming pool, and vanity rooms the size of my Bandra pad, the 400-year-old Casa Tina in Vagator, North Goa, is wrapped in a garden of frangipanis and chikoo trees. It is emblematic of the state’s contented lifestyle. Jijesh Ramachandran and Amarendra Kumar, my superhosts from Airbnb, catch up with me over breakfast. A part of Iksha, wherein Jijesh and his partner manage 12 such villas across Goa, Casa Tina is the perfect place for an extended getaway with family or friends. “We’ve been booked for the past four months,” Ramachandran smiles. But what about the pandemic? You can only book the entire villa, and not individual rooms. So, the stay is bound to be private, with physical distancing and Airbnb’s strict sanitisation guidelines ensuring safety, the hosts assure me. Unlimited wi-fi and friendly caretakers make sure that I am comfortable and always on time for my Teams meetings.
I experience a slice of Goa that I have hardly encountered in the last 15 years of my sojourns to the sunshine state. I wake up early in the mornings to go on village trails, walk through the serpentine alleys of the Latin Quarters, satiate my taste buds with local, seasonal, and healthy dishes, and do not mind the lack of parties. An Assagao walking trail of close to five kilometres with Bipin Bhosle of Khoj-aao is a reckoner of Goa’s history. I trace a path through a shrub forest that would take traders from Assagao to Badem and then the Mapusa market to sell their produce. Bhosle, a techie turned entrepreneur and guide, is a bird-watcher, and his incredible knowledge amazes me. Sounds of peafowl ring in the air, and we spot the jungle warbler, black drongo, and green bee-eater. “You can find 450 species of birds in this area during the migration season from the Western Ghats,” Bhosle informs me. I also get a lesson in the making of Goan urak, and promise to return in the right season (between February and May).
Breakfast at Mojigao, a hidden garden cafe in Assagao run by the same management (Moshe and Anastasia) as the hipster Artjuna Café in Anjuna, is a delight for the health-conscious. The menu is heavy on vegan dishes, and I choose a chia seed breakfast bowl along with a smoothie made of pineapple, coconut, banana, chia, cinnamon, ginger, honey, and turmeric. The culinary landscape of North Goa is increasingly drawing gourmands to its shores. Consider Mahé, led by Parth Timbadia and experimental chef Sandeep Sreedharan, who serves up a killer cured mahi mahi with coriander oil and tapioca bravas; Jamun is known for its ‘elemental thalis’—the seafood water thali has the most succulent preparation of daab chingri I’ve tried; Burger Factory dishes out gourmet burgers and shakes; and Antares serves an evening of fine wine.
Saturday morning is reserved for a history lesson in old Goa. I meet Lata Rodrigues from Make It Happen, as part of an Airbnb Experience. She leads me on the Fontainhas Heritage Walk, which takes you through the heart of Panjim. It is a nostalgic (and yes, Instagrammable!) trip through a Portuguese past that has survived the onslaught of the 21st century. Dressed in bright shades of green, blue, yellow, and pink, the houses are capped by tiled roofs and fortified with wrought iron railings. Priced at INR 700 per person, this two-hour experience unveils the largest Latin Quarter in Asia. In the late 18th century, a Goan expat, Antonio Joao de Sequeira, established Fontainhas, which was designed on the lines of Lisbon’s Bairro Alto. The walk with Rodrigues commences near the post office in Panjim, leads me into the old precinct of St. Thomas ward, and then moves on to the Fontainhas area passing the Saint Sebastian Chapel. I stop at the 31st January Bakery (Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro), the oldest bakery in Panjim, and get a sugar high with bebinca and other local sweets. Next, we follow the melodies of Goan music, an orchate in hand from Café Nostalgia (Goa’s version of vegan dairy), to Maxie Miranda’s house. The local musician’s tunes round off our immersive tour by afternoon.
Weekends in Goa are always high on energy. There’s a buoyant happiness in the air. On Saturday evening, I pull out a vintage CK dress I’d purchased from Macy’s in NYC half a decade ago. I am heading to Moira, a Goan village that is quickly becoming a hotbed of creative minds and the rich and famous, who prefer having their Goan-Portuguese getaway homes in lesser-known locales. With a little lip stain, a dab of blush, and winged liner, I am ready to enjoy some G&T, courtesy the Hapusa at Home evening hosted at an Airbnb villa called The Inner Temple. For the uninitiated, Hapusa (the Sanskrit word for juniper, the core ingredient of gin) is an Indian-origin gin launched in 2018. Founders Anand Virmani and Vaibhav Singh are proud custodians of the “world’s first Himalayan dry gin.” They have my vote with the Petit Punch Cocktail with Second Flush Tea, which surpasses the popular Negroni this evening. Celebrated mixologist Abhishek Bose adds a dash of fun to the soiree with his Goan anecdotes.
Draped in fairy lights, the three-bedroom villa—with rooms named Kamini, Champa, and Satchidananda—cocooned in a cosy Moira bylane looks straight out of a postcard. I bump into the owner, the vivacious Mandira. She tells me she wants the space to provide “peace of mind” to her guests. The restored Portuguese house mesmerises with its mosaic flooring, lush green garden, and a pool. “The large living room hosts workshops, yoga classes, and Ayurveda retreats,” Mandira says.
It’s the perfect nook for a relaxed holiday. But I am in a hurry to leave the party. I need to meet Poi, a labrador retriever puppy who lives in Casa Ana, Moira. Before I go, however, I make a final toast to Goa and its villa life, the perfect way to enjoy the sunshine state in these times.
Goa is well connected to all Indian cities as well as a few international destinations. Vistara, Indigo and other carriers have direct flights from major Indian metros to Goa every day. From Mumbai, Goa is approximately 585 km by road and offers a scenic 12-hour-long road trip.
Airbnb has some amazing luxury villas all over Goa at various price points. I checked into the five-bedroom Casa Tina, located in Vagator. Built in 1629, the restored Portuguese villa has spacious rooms, modern amenities, a private pool, and a separate dining area. INR 28,715 per night.