Goa, like San Francisco, Kathmandu and Spain, became a mecca for alternative living in the 1960s. Nowadays, it doesn't take much searching to find Costa Brava beer bellies and big-screen soccer intruding among the California tie-dye and palm-hung prayer flags, but if you don't need your sand Mr Whippy-white this tiny tranche of land remains, in pockets, unmatched. In most places you'll find little more than drowsy one-storey guesthouses strung along the beach, and away from the St George crosses and Kashmiri carpet shops the heartbeats of Goa's multilayered culture still pump good and strong: fishermen's boats rest on the sand beside sun loungers, Portuguese fados drift on the air in colonial villages, and the feral trance crew still hold their own at Anjuna's thrumming Saturday night market.

The relics of Goa's colonial past, though no match for the giant landmarks of broader India, are still rococo and baroque gems, half swallowed up by nature. Lush jungles twist their way around ruined forts, and huge banyans shelter centuries-old church spires and lavish basilicas.

There is humble everyday beauty to be had elsewhere too. At dawn in the villages, blue mists lie low and hazy across paddy fields and curl at the crumbling fronts of 18th-century Portuguese manors in pink, umber and blue. Exotic birds dive about sprawling raintrees and ravens caw as delivery boys push bicycles stacked with freshly baked breads. At sunset, the amber hues blaze against the mottled green Arabian Sea, fire embers smoke at the feet of chickens and pigs, bullock carts dredge through muddy fields of paddy and boys in board shorts swing their cricket bats in the straw stubble. Then at velvet twilight Goa's fisherfolk steal out of quiet harbours in brightly coloured trawlers, whose torches twinkle like a thread of fairy lights along the night horizon as they fill their nets with silvery pomfret and snapper. These gentle-paced and easy- living people also enjoy a shared flair for food, wine and song.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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