x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A cultural tour of Old Goa

A reader planning a visit to Goa wants advice on the Indian state's landmark historic sights.

I'm interested in spending a few days next month exploring the old Portuguese architecture and attractions of Old Goa. What are the most important landmarks? Can you suggest a couple of luxury hotels in the capital? Also, what's the best way to travel between Goa and Mumbai?

Old Goa, also called Goa Velha, lies on the banks of the Mandovi River in the northern part of the state, about 10km from the capital, Panaji. The city was built in the 15th century by the Bijapur kingdom, and later became the capital of Portuguese-dominated India until the 18th century - it was abandoned after outbreaks of malaria and cholera ravaged the population.

Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, Old Goa's most famous landmarks include the 16th-century Tuscan Se Cathedral, one of the largest churches in Asia. It took a whopping 80 years to build, and the ornate Corinthian-style interior has 15 separate altars. The church also houses a massive golden bell, used during the infamous Goa Inquisition. Nearby is the Church of St Francis of Assisi, a Baroque-style building with a convent that houses an archaeological museum.

Spend a day at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa's biggest draw, a 400-year-old church and mausoleum containing the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier. The church is the centre of a festival celebrated in December each year, attracting both residents and tourists alike. Another monument of note is the Viceroy's Arch, built of laterite stone and restored in 1954.

For a taste of history and discreet luxury, check into Vivanta by Taj Fort Aguada (www.tajhotels.com; 00 91 832 664 5858), located across the Mandovi River from Panaji. Constructed on the ramparts of a 16th-century citadel, the resort offers private villas and cottages and is close to a pristine stretch of beach. A double room costs 10,080 rupees (Dh825) per night, with breakfast and taxes. The Crown Goa (www.thecrowngoa.com; 00 91 832 2400 000), situated high on a hill overlooking Panaji, is surrounded by "hanging gardens" and sweeping views of the Mandovi. A river-facing double room costs from 6,000 rupees (Dh490), with taxes.

If you have time, the best way to travel between Goa and Mumbai is by train. Comfortable and inexpensive, the journey takes about 12 hours. The ideal way to do it is overnight on the Konkan Kanya Express, which departs from Margaon at 6pm daily. A first-class, air-conditioned sleeper costs about 1,800 rupees (Dh147) per person. For more information, visit www.indianrail.gov.in.