Goa is India’s smallest and wealthiest state attracting more than two million tourists annually, drawn to its beautiful beaches thronged with swaying palm trees, the sedate pace of life and World Heritage architecture.

Goa, ruled by the Portuguese for nearly 500 years, offers visitors a fascinating insight into a rich and vibrant culture and a colourful history.

To discover Goa’s historical Portuguese influence I visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an outstanding example of baroque architecture. Located in Old Goa, the basilica is the final resting place of St. Francis Xavier, a Basque Roman Catholic missionary who co founded the Society of Jesus. Known as the Apostle of the Indies he is considered one of the most notable missionaries and pilgrims from all over the world visit this site to view his elaborately decorated silver casket. The Basilica, consecrated in 1605, is recognised as a landmark of Christianity and I was enthralled.

The Sé Cathedral, the largest church in India, is also located in Old Goa. The cathedral, completed in 1619 was built to celebrate the victory of the Portuguese over a Muslim army, which resulted in the capture of Goa. This spectacular building reflects the Portuguese –Manueline architecture and features an impressive Tuscan exterior and a magnificent Corinthian interior, where several elaborate paintings are displayed and the baptismal font, dating back to 1532, was used by St. Francis Xavier.

Panaji, the capital of Goa, lies on the banks of the Madovi River and on the main square is another striking example of baroque architecture. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, surrounded by tall palm trees, features an ornate white façade with a large church bell, which was installed in 1871. This beautiful church was once a chapel, built by the Portuguese in 1541. Panaji, at that time, was the first port of call for Portuguese vessels sailing from Lisbon and the ship’s crews would frequent the chapel. The church was rebuilt in 1691 and is one of Goa’s main attractions.

For nature lovers, an early morning visit to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, offers the ideal opportunity to admire the feathered residents and to hear the spellbinding birdsong. The sanctuary is located on the western tip of Charao Island and can be reached easily by taking the ferry from Ribandar Wharf, which is a 15 minute taxi ride from Panaji. This lush mangrove swamp covers 1.8 square kilometres and a wide variety of migratory and local birds including western reef heron and striated heron, little bittern, black bittern, red knot and jack snipe are attracted to this area.

Flying foxes, jackals and crocodiles have been spotted and the watch-tower is the perfect spot to survey the beautiful surroundings.

To view another example of Mother Nature’s beauty and to experience an unforgettable adventure I made my way to Dudhsagar Falls, located on the Mandovi River, 60 kilometres from Panaji.

Although the site is not easy to get to and involves some arduous trekking for the inexperienced, you will be richly rewarded with a wonderful view of four tiers of cascading water tumbling down from over 300 metres.

Visitors are welcome to take a dip in the cool waters but should beware of the inquisitive local monkeys who are keen to examine the contents of unattended bags!

Goa offers an extensive selection of exotic beaches including Baga Beach, known for its crowded parties, enthusiastic nightlife and an abundance of beach shacks serving fresh seafood dishes. The popular water sports and dolphin cruises attract the hordes and national wind surfing competitions take place every year from September to November. For those seeking uninterrupted relaxation, Miramar Beach in Panjim is the ideal spot as there are no beach shacks and a more laid back vibe.

After my extensive exploration I was keen to take a nap in the lap of luxury and headed to the Taj Exotica Resort, which covers 56 acres and is located at Benaulim, a one hour drive from Panaji. On arrival, I was escorted to the check-in desk in a flash and I selected a luxury suite measuring 115 square metres. Located in the resort’s main building this sumptuously furnished suite, facing the Arabian Sea, consists of a separate living room with plush seating and a dining area and a bedroom featuring a large double bed swathed in cool, crisp linens and plump pillows. After a comfortable and deep slumber and a soothing bath in the luxurious tub, I headed for the Sala Da Pranzo for breakfast. I ordered the delicious homemade pancakes with maple syrup and a piping hot cup of tea and studied my itinerary for the day, which suggested a visit to the Benaulim or Vaddi beaches or a visit to the Jive Spa or activities including tennis, badminton, cricket or golf. I decided to head for the hotel’s pool and I selected a comfortable sun lounger. I ordered a glass of iced fresh orange juice and held my glass aloft to make a toast to gorgeous Goa and then I swiftly embarked on a wonderful snooze.

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Article by – Rebecca Underwood