Imagine walking through a lane in Goa with Portuguese houses all around you, and chatter in local Konkani and Portuguese filtering out of windows. The doors of these homes are open and families are happily wishing each other with cakes and hugs. If you are wondering this would be a typical day in colonial Goa in 1895, think again. The old-world charm of Goa is not lost, not yet. It lives on in areas away from the overcrowded beaches. I was in Goa for Christmas and stayed with an Indo-Polish family in an old Portuguese house. And this was perhaps my best ever trip to Goa. I did visit the beach, but that was just a tiny part of the trip. I did so much more, things that can easily get overlooked if you spend all your time at the beach.

This is a quick guide on how you can spend days in Goa, exploring its real way of life, its churches in tiny villages, its iconic Portuguese houses, street photography, and of course, some unusual food.

Visit a heritage home

Goa is home to some extremely old Heritage Portuguese Houses and many of these have existed there for the last four centuries. These houses started getting built soon after the conquest of Goa by the Portuguese in the early 16th Century and continued almost till the time they left in 1961. Over the years many of these have disappeared while only a few have endured the test of times and live on to tell their tale to the world. One such house is the Braganza Pereira House located in the Chandor area of South Goa.

Divar Island

River Mandovi flows through Goa and drains into the Arabian sea right next to Panjim. The river is beautiful and all along surrounded by the thick foliage of mangrove. Just before the river meets the sea, there is an island that had historically been a very important part of Goa. The name of this exotic little island is Divar. Divar in native Konkani means small. Much before the present day before Panjim became the heart of Goa, Divar was the capital of Olf Goa. It houses three key churches from the Portuguese era, the most important of which is the Divar Church.

I was on the island for an architecture walk, as it's famous for its old Portuguese villas, many of which still survive in prime condition. It was Christmas day and pretty warm, but we had a superb time discovering interesting villas with distinct architectural styles. I had an architect with me for company, and that made the walk even more fun. I still remember discovering the art deco style house of Alberquerue where we should have started the walk, but actually reached only towards the end!

Portuguese Houses

Once you walk around a little in old Goa, it's easy to get addicted to its houses, especially the ones from the Portuguese era. These houses have the most beautiful colours and textures and are very inviting as photography subjects. The best parts for house walks and house watching are:

  • Panjim
  • Old Goa
  • Divar
  • Numerous smaller town across the state

The best way to explore these gems is on foot but be prepared for a lot of walking. If you are in Panjim, the walk can be interrupted by many coffee and cake breaks :) 

Coffee and Food

Wherever I go, I always seek out the best coffee in town. The best coffee has two elements for me - great taste and interesting ambiance. Goa has many places that offer both.
I can recommend a few here:

A. Bodega

B. Urban cafe

C. Hotel Venite

D. Baba coffee

E. Coffee Haven

While in town, we also experimented with many foods. I will talk about just one and it's called Bean me Up and run by Shaun. It's closer to Vagator beach, but the place is quiet. Covered by trees from all sides, it creates quite an ambiance. As the name suggests, all food served here is Vegan. The most impressive part of the menu is the desserts, which taste exactly like their non-vegan counterparts.