To many, Goa means one thing: beaches. It’s also a state of mind – a freewheeling hippy place where you can do yoga, drink from a coconut and reconnect with yourself (man). But there’s always been more to the region, of course – and these days it’s easy to step back from the sand and get a little closer to everyday life. Homestays are an easy way to dip straight into the villages and backwaters; they’re also fascinating places to stay in themselves, whether a mansion that’s older than the majestic Taj Mahal or a cottage made entirely from recycled waste beside a paddy field on the Mandovi River. Either way, this is no place for a bog-standard hotel; from thatched wooden huts to chic country retreats, Goa excels in alternative-style accommodation. Here are some of the best places to get beyond the beach – even when they’re on it.
You’re a 15-minute walk from Old Goa here, but Champakali is in its own little world. It’s surrounded by wildlife and greenery, so much so that the hotel offers two-hour tours of the property with an ornithologist. Accommodation is split between two buildings, each containing three modern rooms with bright, boho furnishings and French windows opening onto the gardens or balconies, as well as a communal lounge, kitchen and dining room. Outside there’s a pool within two acres of grounds. And while the nearest beach is an hour away, there’s plenty to do, from cycling and board games to settling down at the communal piano and guitar. Doubles from £143, B&B.
‘The other side of Goa’ is the tagline here, overlooking paddy fields in the Mandovi’s backwaters, half an hour from both Baga Beach and the capital, Panaji. Accommodation is in five cottages — from traditional wooden builds to one of recycled materials — and all are self-contained, en suite and discreetly elegant inside. Don’t miss the riverside pool. Doubles from £55, B&B.
Figueiredo Heritage Inn
Set in the Figueiredo House, a building so well known that it’s on the tourist circuit, this is a taste of village life in Loutolim, in South Goa. The mansion dates back to 1590 (that’s older than the Taj Mahal), and the Figueiredo family has opened eight elegant bedrooms as a homestay. Think antique four-posters, chandelier-slung ceilings and intricately carved furniture — as well as a pool, which opened last year. Doubles from £55, B&B.
This is on the beach — though it doesn’t feel like a beach hotel. Octagonal thatched cottages are scattered throughout an acre of palm-clad gardens behind Ashvem Beach in North Goa, along with a conventional block of suites if you need air conditioning. Anahata is more active (and dare we say more hippy) than the other hotels, with spirulina smoothies for breakfast and daily yoga. Doubles from £66, B&B.
Published in the March 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)