THE BACKGROUND: As the 2010 BBC MasterChef winner I was excited to visit Goa to experience the food and local cuisine of the region, discovering new spices and recipes. I stayed with Mahindra Homestays, which has eight private homestays in Goa, each offering a unique experience, either through the property design and architecture, the host-guest interaction or the unique experiences guests can have as they discover India through the eyes of a local.
WHERE IS IT? I stayed in a renovated Portuguese homestead called ‘Arco Iris’ in Margao, south Goa. Located 30 minutes from the coast, this 120-year-old colonial Portuguese-style heritage home is a luxurious homestay renovated with love and care. The five guest rooms are large, airy and beautifully designed with antiques and sumptuous fabrics, whilst the home-cooked meals are always sumptuous and plentiful!
THE HOMESTAY: The bright yellow house stands vividly in the backdrop of one of the lakes of Curtorim village. The large portico and the wide airy rooms are created in the colours of the rainbow, after the owners' daughter called the house ‘a rainbow city’. B&B is from £62 per night (for two sharing).
THE ROOM: I had a beautiful, spacious en-suite room with a very comfortable four-poster double bed. The bathroom was fitted with a huge shower and plenty of hot water. The room was cleaned daily and although I didn't use it there was a useful laundry service. I have never stayed at a homestay before and I have to say it had a wonderfully relaxed and welcoming feel, thanks to the fantastic hosts, Bennita and Ganesh (and their two lovely daughters).
FACILITIES & ACTIVITIES: We were well situated for the beautiful beaches of South Goa, which are much more peaceful than the crowded beaches of the north. We spent a day at a bustling local market (Mapusa) which is a must for anyone interested in food. Stalls heaped with baskets of beautiful aromatic spices; the fish market with a dazzling array of everything from green-lipped mussels to King Fish; rows of tropical fruit – a real treat! For a more peaceful, reflective morning there is a seminary nearby which is an excellent way of getting a feel for the religious history of Goa, with artwork dating back hundreds of years. Another activity which would not have ever made it onto my itinerary had I not been at a homestay was crabbing in the river – and then going home to cook our catch!
THE FOOD: A key reason for the trip was food – and I was not disappointed! Staying in a hotel can disappoint when it comes to culinary experiences, but a homestay gave us the full Goan experience. Home-cooked food, tiny local restaurants not obvious to the casual visitor and knowing which of the many beach shacks to go to meant I learned more about Goan cuisine than I could ever have imagined. It is a unique cuisine with a strong Portuguese influence intertwined with the wonders that Indian food of that area has to offer. Mackerel rechad, pork sorpatel, some of the best shellfish I have had, the delicious spiced sausages more like chorizo than anything one would associate with India (Salcette and Bardez); the list goes on and on. For food lovers this is the way to go.
HIGHLIGHT: Having been to Goa many times I felt I knew a fair bit about it but I am delighted to say that I was proved totally wrong by this trip! By living in a local’s house you immediately have closer contact with Goan life. The genuine warmth and hospitality, the home cooking, the insight to where Goans go and what Goans do – all aspects often sadly missed when staying in hotels. Spending an afternoon crabbing with the fantastic guys Adrian and Linton Pinto from another Mahindra homestay, The Only Olive, and then going back to their homestay for fantastic food and local Feni (the delicious spirit made from cashew nuts or coconut) is something thatI will remember for a long, long time. And he beaches! Be they the tranquil, deserted beaches of the south or the busier beaches of the north, both have their appeal. One of the best meals we had was at Claudinas Shack on Candolim Beach, where the owner spoiled us with plates of piri piri calamari, pomfret rechad and fiery prawn curry washed down with cold beer with our toes in the sand. Life in Goa is good....!
RECOMMEND TO: Ideal for those wanting to experience much more of local life and to gain a true insight of the region. Also a perfect option for those with children as you can specify homestays where the hosts have their own. Finally, for those jaded by resorts, this offers the perfect balance.
THE DETAILS: Reservations on 020 3140 8422 or visit www.mahindrahomestays.com Mahindra Homestays offers a pan-Indian collection of stunning properties, providing unique experiences and insider access into one of the most mesmerising countries in the world. Homestays allow guests to experience a genuine slice of India, gaining an insight from a wholly local perspective. UK tour operators featuring Mahindra Homestays are Premier Holidays, Steppes Travel, Cox & Kings, TransIndus, Travelpack, Indus Tours and Abercrombie & Kent.
I was delighted with the whole experience and everything a homestay offers. It is entirely up to you whether you treat it as you would a hotel, and come and go as you wish – but that would mean missing out on so much that makes this a unique way to experience. I will certainly be back to make the most of my new-found way to travel!
Contributor, Selling Long Haul