Trips to Goa are usually filled with beaches and fuelled by beer. To go deeper into the sunshine state the next time round, turn to its local beverage, feni, which was awarded a G.I. (Geographical Indication) tag in 2009.
“Cashew arrived in Goa from Brazil via Portuguese traders in the 16th century and we have been distilling feni since then,” says Hansel Vaz, the second-generation owner of Cazulo Feni Distillery in South Goa. A tour of his distillery reveals how most of the work is still done by hand using traditional equipment. Expect detailed stories of the process, and walking through what is believed to be the world’s first feni cellar, with hundreds of garrafãoes: massive round-bellied glass bottles used to store feni. “The oldest bottle here is 350 years old,” smiles Vaz.
Now, for the real reason: feni tasting. Vaz offers small pours accompanied by tasting notes. Both the cashew feni
and the coconut feni are double distilled and have smooth flavours, minus the funky smell that you normally associate with the fermented drink. The tasting also includes inventive feni cocktails.
Outside, a local saxophonist hits melodious notes and a buffet awaits visitors. “We always have pulao, xacuti and other local dishes along with some speciality, so today we have an ambadi (hog plum) curry,” says Vaz. Chances are you’ll also get to try a glass of Patolyo, a coconut feni cocktail that channels the Goan dessert, patolya (coconut and jaggery filled rice dumpling steamed in turmeric leaf).
How to go:
Cazulo Feni Distillery is located in Cuncolim, about 40 km/1 hr from Goa International Airport in Dabolim. Tours are by appointment and cost Rs2,000 per person (cazulofeni.com).
If Goa had a Tinder profile, it would boast of being an expert beer guzzler, a psy-trance enthusiast, and a complete beach bum. But go on a few dates and you’d unravel the hinterlands of Goa, one that writes poetry by the river, reads a book on a hammock in monsoon gardens, or goes birding at sunrise. While Goa’s beaches are a tried-and-tested crowd-puller, those seeking the susegad way of life are likely to find it in its villages, away from the sun and sand. Lock yourself away in Olaulim Backyards, a rustic property on the banks of the namesake river in the state’s north, for your first taste of the ‘other’ Goa. Canoe your way to a mangrove forest, channel the birder in you at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, or cycle through country roads past sleepy villages. A must-visit is the buzzing Mapusa market, from where you can get your stash of chorizos, hand-woven sarees, or antique handicrafts. Crossing over to the south, lies the wee village of Curtorim, also an apt base to familiarise yourself with inner Goa while treating yourself to home-cooked Goan food. Arco Iris Boutique Homestay, a 19th-century noble home in Curtorim, can be an indulgent but rewarding base to park yourself as you go exploring the Zuari river, lush paddy fields, seasonal lakes and other quaint surprises that Goa 2.0 is bound to throw at you.
How to go:
Olaulim is 38 km/1 hr from Dabolim and 14 km/30 min from Panjim (olaulimgoa.com; doubles from Rs6,000). Curtorim village is 51 km/1.5 hr away from Mapusa; Arco Iris Homestay is 29 km/45 min from Dabolim and 41 km/1 hr from Panjim (arcoiris.in; doubles from Rs6,700).
A few days in any place is hardly enough to get under its skin, but there are tours that now help visitors leave Goa feeling like the ultimate insider. Hyperlocal outfit The Local Beat is one such option. The group partners with locals to provide insights into everyday Goan quirks, for instance why do some homes have little roosters or soldiers atop roofs as sentinels, or why do they have shell windows?
Leisurely village walks will take you into the rural heartland. Explore the island of St. Estevam, famous for its seven-ridged lady fingers. Then there is also Divar Island, which houses an ancient cave, the remains of Saptakoteshwar temple by the river, uncovering stories behind its quiet roads, old homes and churches. Further south, indulge in a breezy saunter by the Rachol seminary. If you are in a more spirited frame of mind, try plucking coconuts and end your adventure with a riverside barbeque.
How to go:
For the Old Goa-St Estevam walk, travel to MG Circle Old Goa, a 13 km/20 min drive away from Panjim and 24 km/40 min from Dabolim (www.facebook.com/pg/thelocalbeatgoa; prices from Rs1,500).
–Chryselle D’Silva Dias