Goa: A refined take on the hippie hangout

It has long been favoured by hedonists, but now the partygoers have grown up – and they're heading north, says Alison Smith

Birds of prey circle in the sky above a quiet stretch of beach where turtles nest. Below, under a canvas canopy with gold tassels, a handful of guests have left their luxury tents to lounge over breakfast on oversized flouro cushions amid spherical floor lights on decking painted in perfectly pitched blue. I am in Paros, the latest French-run boutique resort from Amarya. This is Goa for well-heeled hippies and aesthetes who delight in a well-chosen textile or objet d'art – no piles of rubbish or comatose dreadheads in sight.

Paros marks the start of a vast, continuous stretch of beaches in North Goa: Morjim, Ashvem and Mandrem. These have long been enjoyed by nature-lovers who want to get close to the elements and far from the hard-drinking hordes and package tourists at Baga and Calangute to the south. Development has trickled in since the bridge over the Chapora River at Siolim was built in 2002. However, in a recent surge, planning restrictions and lack of infrastructure are being overcome to capitalise on the growing numbers of visitors who want to explore the coastline north of the tourist masses.

The good news is, there has never been a greater choice of places to stay for people who love the simplicity of shack life, but don't want to rough it. I munch superfood salads in the grounds of Leela Cottages among wooden statues of Indian deities; enjoy a proliferation of plug sockets in a spacious thatched dome at Yab Yum; and meet friends on the veranda of their delightful bamboo-fronted hut at Little Palm Grove.

Those with a bit more to spend can find pure luxury with a sense of place. After wading across a saltwater creek, I stumble upon Elsewhere, the ancestral holiday home of a Mumbai-based fashion photographer, which he rents out to paying guests. And I hear tales of the design-led loft suites with cascading plunge pools at Kaju Varo.

Central to any laid-back bon viveur's experience of Ashvem is La Plage restaurant, where you can sit at a table, sink your toes into the sand and enjoy tender seared tuna and wasabi mash for under a fiver. A brief wander down the beach takes me to Jade Jagger's jewellery and beachwear boutique, where according to the sun-dazed, plummy shop assistant, everything without a price tag costs "um … about four thousand" (around £40). Behind the beach, Nana Ki peddles a Parisian take on Indian textiles and leather, while Bebel Boutique stocks glitzy numbers by Indian designers.

The decline of the rupee, and sheer choice of places to stay and eat, means you can live well on a modest budget here, but prices are rising. This is driven in part by conspicuous consumers from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, who – judging by the reviews on TripAdvisor – are less tolerant of power cuts and insects in a luxury tent than European visitors. These savvy, well-travelled Indians are a key target market for two new Ibiza-style beach clubs that have sprung up this season. As Bardo prepares to launch, day beds are being rolled out on to the decking around the contemporary pools and white wicker pod chairs are hung from their hooks. Pretty PR girls take to the sands in the afternoon to hype its opening club night. A few plots down, the 30,000sq ft Sunset Ashram beach club has just opened with "a performance stage, VIP cabanas … and parties that rage after 10pm". It's hard not to have a great time in Morjim-Ashvem-Mandrem, and those who run the resorts and restaurants seem to enjoy the back-to-nature appeal just as much as the visitors. But in the drive to bring more comfort and higher returns, changes are inevitable. More permanent structures are being built, with steel posts and concrete cropping up alongside the grass, bamboo and clay.

A visit to Vagator, the first beach stop south over the bridge, gives a glimpse of what could be in store up north. As we approach the cliffs, corrugated panels are being erected around the huge site of the Sunburn dance music festival. The descent to Vagator beach used to be hazardous – I once twisted my ankle here on the way down. But this season, you can make a grand entrance down the steps of Chronicle – a multi-level, open-air-style bar hewn from the rock face.

As we leave the compound for the beach, a seller approaches. He shows his etchings with flaps that flip up to reveal scenes from the Kama Sutra. My friend states defensively that he doesn't want a sales pitch. "Please – whether you buy is your luck and my luck – why would I push you?" says the man, and he smiles a beatific smile that shows joyful Hindu fatalism towards money, luck and life, that so many Westerners in India have tried to embrace. It's the first time in two weeks that I have encountered it. He pulls a vial of scented oil from a little silk pouch and rubs some on my forearm. "Please, now – time to feel good."

Perfect for the sophisticated hippy in everyone Perfect for the sophisticated hippy in everyone

Travel essentials

Getting there

Fly direct to Goa from Gatwick and Manchester on Monarch (08719 40 50 40; monarch.co.uk) or Thomson (0844 871 0878; thomson.co.uk). Connecting flights from the UK are available on a wide range or airlines, such as Qatar Airways (0844 846 8380; qatarairways.com) via Doha and Air India (020-8560 9996; airindia.com) or Jet Airways (0808 101 1199; jetairways.com) via Mumbai.

British passport-holders require a visa to visit India; they cost £92.20 for a tourist (0905 757 0045; in.vfsglobal.co.uk).

Staying there

Paros, Morjim (00 91 7875224039; parosgoa.com). Tents from R7,500 (£75).

Leela Cottages, Ashvem (00 91 9326 103 486; leelacottage.com). Cottages from R4,500 (£45).

Yab Yum, Ashvem (yabyumresorts.com). Domes start at R4,200 (£42).

Little Palm Grove, Ashvem (00 91 96 57 06 30 46; littlepalmgrove.com). Cottages from €100 (£83).

Kaju Varo, Ashvem (00 91 90 11 07 11 911; shunyachi.com). Suites from US$100 (£63).

Elsewhere, near Ashvem (00 91 99 23 58 77 13; aseascape.com). Tents from £265 per week.

More information

whatsupgoa.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?