CANDOLIM is prime package tourist country, and not a resort that sees many backpackers but, with lots of pleasant places to stay tucked away down quiet back lanes, it can make a good first landfall if you’ve just arrived in Goa. The busy strip running through the middle of town holds a string of banks and handy shops where you can stock up with essentials before moving further afield, and there are some great places to eat and drink, frequented mostly by boozy, middle-aged Brits and young Russians.
The one sight worth seeking out in the area is Fort Aguada, crowning the rocky flattened headland to the south, at the end of the beach. Built in 1612 to protect the northern shores of the Mandovi estuary from Dutch and Maratha raiders, the bastion encloses several natural springs, the first source of drinking water available to ships arriving in Goa after the long sea voyage from Lisbon. The ruins of the fort can be reached by following the main drag south from Candolim as it bears left, past the turning for the Fort Aguada Beach Resort; keep going for 1km until you see a right turn, which runs uphill to a small car park. Nowadays, much of the site serves as a prison, and is therefore closed to visitors. It’s worth a visit, though, for the panoramic views from the top of the hill where a four-storey Portuguese lighthouse, erected in 1864 and the oldest of its kind in Asia, looks down over the vast expanse of sea, sand and palm trees.
From the base of Fort Aguada on the northern flank of the headland, a rampart of red-brown laterite juts into the bay at the bottom of what’s left of Sinquerim Beach, which was virtually wiped out by a series of particularly heavy monsoon storms in 2009. This was among the first places in Goa to be singled out for upmarket tourism. The Taj Group’s Fort Aguada resort, among the most expensive hotels in India, lords it over the sands from the slopes below the battlements. Off-shore, the hulk of the MV River Princess lurches in the shallows, more than a decade after it ran aground in a monsoon gale. Several attempts have been made to refloat and tow the wreck away in one piece, but to no avail: the River Princess sinks deeper into the sand each year – a surreal spectacle so close to India’s flagship tourist beach.
Lots of wonderful old mansions and typically Goan houses nestle in the palm trees around Candolim, some of the best of them in the folk and architectural museum, Calizz, on the south side of the resort. Comprising five beautifully restored period buildings spread over a site of several acres, the complex showcases various styles of traditional Goan homes – both Christian and Hindu – from humble mud structures dating from pre-colonial times to a sumptuous Portuguese palacio with chapel attached. On display inside is an engaging array of antiques, furniture, religious icons and daily artefacts.