1. Check in at W Goa
So you've trawled this hippie Indian state in your youth — what should you return to? Go upscale without sacrificing soul in W Goa. W Hotels' Indian debut and 50th property worldwide had their premiere two weeks ago with model Joan Smalls (who's their Global Fashion Innovator) in attendance, so you know you're in good hands. Stay in one of their 160 guestrooms situated on the far right of Vagator beach with the 500-year-old Chapora Fort as a dramatic backdrop.
Giving luxury an edge, W Goa doesn't lose touch with its homeground's hippie roots. In fact, interior designers Design Wilkes and architects Eco-ID were tasked to embrace Goa's wayward and fun-loving nature in several touch points. Walking into the lobby which thumps with the beats of Shura and Bob Moses, you're not welcomed with traditional floral garlands. Instead, multiple ropes are layered and hung from the lobby's ceiling, instrumental in acknowledging the fishing industry while allowing the entire roof to place a "garland" on you. Manning the reception is Pune-based artist M. Narayan who makes a Goan carnival come alive in his mural. White capiz shells — materials Goan hippies use to make their houses and rooms — adorn the check-in counters.
Letting sunlight be part of the design, the rays stream in through cream-coloured curtains, casting a faint shadow on the Mughal and Victorian-inspired chandelier. Good vibes reflect in the bathroom mirror, which mimics the Bodhi leaf, a symbol of enlightenment. Elsewhere, ceiling ornaments recall Rajasthan's handiwork while wall accents bear Goa's indigo blue hue. 100,000 beads dangle from a restaurant's ceiling, drawing the eye away from the table for a welcome distraction.
2. Get into the spirit of Bollywood with a new dance
When you're in India, do what Bollywood does best. BollyFit, a weekly 45-minute class at W Goa combines the fitness aspects of Zumba with the high-octane hits of Bollywood in an east-meets-west workout that gets your heart racing. Bhangra-style moves work your upper arms just as well as the distinctly Bollywood "changing lightbulb" action. Your willpower might start to falter when the star jumps and mountain climbers disguised as dance routines kick in, but at least the panoramic view of the Arabian sea makes up for it.
3. Travel through India with your appetite
For starters, you'd want to stay local — and W Goa's in-house dining centre, Kitchen Table, has all the works. The fish thali is a smorgasbord that shows off the wealth of the state, starting from poi, a fluffy bread that's descended from the Portuguese pão. It's your tool to mop up the fish curry, coriander green prawn curry and sprouts curry. Indians know their food might be hard to take in for some stomachs that they've created their own digestif: The kokum drink, which infuses the superfruit with chili and cilantro for something both tangy and sweet to wash it all down.
Outside of W Goa, Mustard is where French fare meets Bengali bounty, with both cuisines connected in the restaurant's namesake spice. The use of mustard is generous in Maacher Paturi, with chunks of fish coated in a mustard and coconut milk gravy with nigella seeds, then wrapped in banana leaf. For something closer to home, the kosha mangsho is a slow-cooked mutton curry reminiscent of our local rendang. Venturing further south in tastes, Gunpowder features dishes from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala alongside international fare — the simply-named "beef fry" is described as done "Kerala Syrian-Christian style", with bite-sized pieces of meat cooked in a spicy, peppery coconut paste.
4. Cruise down the Chapora River
A good way to escape the bustle of North Goa is via a sunset boat cruise, with the boarding point, Morjim jetty, just 25 minutes away from W Goa. Boats cruise along the Chapora River, where stillness is your friend and champagne flutes are compulsory. You'll only spot one or two other vessels down this strip where the river meets the sea. If you're expecting a party, a house boat can be booked seven to 10 days in advance, while a catamaran for two to 10 is yours on a day's notice.
5. Retox on a rock pool
For an elevated way to soak in the sunset, W Goa's Rock Pool welcomes you to its amphitheatre-inspired setting. In-house music curator DJ Boylla sets the scene every day, while Saturday nights bring together Goa's best talents on deck. Sun loungers, teepee-like day beds and kitschy Victorian armchairs are instruments of leisure, best enjoyed with a kaffir life, vodka and coconut water concoction in hand. Perched and built into the grounds of Chapora Fort, you get to take in uninterrupted views of the sun dipping into the Arabian sea without any rowdy neighbours. There's also that W sign for the money shot.
6. Shop with a local at this indie boutique
The local in question? Sacha Mendes, a journalist who started Sacha's Shop. Housed in the first floor of her father's ancestral home, her cabinet of curiosities is accessible through a street art-splashed lane. Curating designers from all over India such as Savio Jon, Eka and Tilla, Mendes prefers handmade, natural fabrics and stocks a fair share of wares from local crafts people as well. In fact, some of the necklaces retailing were designed by one of the workers in her shop. She also promotes homeware, farming and wellness items such as Pahadi Local, a Himalayan brand selling tea, oils and scrubs. Recently, Mendes collaborated with The Perfume Library for a fragrance range inspired by the smells of Goa, with notes from Indian damask rose, marijuana and ginger lily flower.
7. Rethink your interiors with a helping hand
Don't leave Goa (or India, for that matter) without loading up on homeware. At Freedom Tree, eclectic is an understatement: Colours, prints and textures leap to life in textiles, tableware and furniture. Think certain colours don't match? Freedom Tree dispels trends by bringing together a chaos of colour only India can.
8. Give Goa's version of Pan-Asian staples a try
Trust us, you'll need a break from Indian fare once in a while. W Goa's beachfront Spice Traders is a much-needed Pan-Asian kitchen. The small plates and sharing menu's a modern update on traditional dishes like Singapore's chili crab, served sans mantou buns and a lightly-textured broth. The tuna pizza doesn't load the prized fish onto a carb-heavy base — instead, a paper-thin layer is laid across a cracker with drops of aioli.
9. Lose yourself in Goan nightlife
Anjuna beach is where locals and tourists alike really go to party, Goa-style. Yes, here's the Goa the world sees through a traveller's lens, think: Psy trance-enabled indiscretions, glow-in-the-dark and blacklight spaces and adrenaline-fuelled raves. Get out of your comfort zone and go for a trance all-nighter at UV bar, a dingy shack that often invites fire dancers. Meanwhile, Curlies is a two-storey nightlife institution that attracts a varied crowd of dark techno fans and the occasional gamblers.
10. Recharge with a full-body treat
You'd want to go to someone you trust to take care of your wellbeing. Which is why W Goa saw this opportunity for Spa by Clarins to come in — their first entry into India. For a little over an hour, you get to seek refuge in the dark glow and aromatherapy scents only a full-fledged spa can provide. Opt for the melting honey deep touch massage and leave your body to the hands of a masseuse who'll apply pressure to your knots. Tension and stiffness, be gone.
To book a stay at W Goa, click here.