A few miles inland from Goa’s present-day capital Panjim, vast churches lie within palm tree enclaves.
This is Old Goa, a snapshot of past Portuguese religious grandeur, where cathedrals, convents, chapels and churches stand in close proximity.
They are solid edifices to Catholicism and Christianity, which today is still one of Goa’s main religions alongside Hinduism.
With most of the churches still in use, the focus is the Cathedral of Bom Jesus which holds the incredible relics of Goa’s patron saint, St Francis Xavier, with his body visible in a glass-fronted sarcophagus.
Old Goa is a must-see. Once the capital of the Portuguese settlers, who retained Goa until its return to India in 1961, the location was abandoned in the 18th century due to plague outbreaks, prompting the Portuguese to relocate to Panjim.
But what remains at Old Goa are these magnificent churches.
Close to the Cathedral of Bom Jesus, an edifice supported by huge flying buttresses, is the Se Cathedral - the seat of the Archbishop of Goa - and the Convent of St Francis of Assisi, while just beyond is the Church of St Cajetan.
Less visited and no longer used for services, it is a magnificent structure, modelled on St Peter’s in Rome and built in the second half of the 17th century by Italian Friars in the Corinthian architectural style with a rectangular tower either side as a belfry.
Beneath a central dome, the interior of St Cajetan’s is impressive, and with a hidden secret below the main altar.
Lift the wooden lid on the floor beneath the altar and there is a well, though little agreement remains as to its purpose.
Some say it was created to absorb the damp because of the proximity to the river, while others suggest it was a secret link to underground tunnels to enable messages to be dropped down when danger threatened.
Also nearby are the remains of the Church of St Augustine with what is left of its 46-metre-high tower. In addition, there were eight chapels, four alters and numerous cells and artistic columns attached to the church.
Built in 1602, it later fell into neglect with the collapse of the vaults in 1842. The façade and half the tower fell in 1931, with further collapses in 1938.
Panjim is only a few miles away and is worthy of a visit where you can wander around the Latin quarter with its Portuguese era houses, see the Church of Our Lady, or enjoy the easy-going atmosphere of the state capital.
I had ventured out to explore Old Goa from the wonderful setting of the Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa on the coast of north Goa at Candolim.
My accommodation was a beautiful one-bedroom villa with a magnificent bathroom, a Jacuzzi in a small courtyard and my own personal garden, laid out with a patio table and sunbeds.
The view was priceless…across a mini golf course beneath the coconut palms, and beyond to a vista of small fishing boats out at sea.
It is just a short walk down steps to Sinquerim beach and the golden sands that wrap around this coast.
The area around Candolim also has strong connections to a Portuguese past. The resort takes its name from Fort Aguada, a once impregnable defense dating from the 17th century.
Its remains are visible today; long walls, high vantage points, ramparts and a seaward bastion against invaders and the elements.
The Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa has more than 140 villas replicating an Indo-Portuguese architectural heritage through Romanesque arches, pillared verandas and sunny courtyards, with the terracotta-roofed suites and villas delivering contemporary luxury within the landscaped gardens.
It is paired with its nearby sister resort, the Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa, which has lovely rooms, villas and 17 cottages within grounds set over the higher terrain of the peninsula.
The resort also has the Jiva spa for treatments and therapies, gym facilities, and squash and tennis courts, while a new outdoor pool has just opened in the Village complex to complement the existing pools in each resort.
The individual cottages at the Taj Fort Aguada Hotel & Spa have a special history as they were originally created to host heads of state when India hosted a congress of international Prime Ministers during the premiership of Indira Gandhi.
Sumptuous food is an important aspect of the resorts, offering a range of traditional and international dishes.
As primarily a Goan fish restaurant, Morisco draws on all elements of the local cuisine for its dishes, focusing on the four elements of sweet, sour, spice and savory.
It combines the Hindu Goan style using tamarind and kokum, with the Christian cuisine, which is heavily influenced by Portuguese cooking.
Rice, coconut milk, fish and local spices feature strongly, along with red chillies and cashew nuts.
The emphasis on Goan fish dishes at Morisco is irresistible. I enjoyed the Goan Morisco grill of half lobster, king prawn and a fillet of pomfret with coconut rice and spinach foogath, having started with the sopa de Marisco with shrimps, calamari and seabass.
Seafood Thali on the Morisco menu
Also on the Morisco menu are magnificent meat or vegetable thalis, plus a seafood thali which includes prawn curry with kokum, crab curry, rawa fried King fish and dry shrimp kishmur, plus dishes such as pork vindaloo and beef assad (roasted tenderloin with spices).
Elsewhere, at the Banyan Tree I dined on Pad Thai and delicious red snapper from the Thai inspired menu, while Caravela is a delightful spot to have breakfast - Indian or European - on the terrace overlooking the beach.
Paper Moon, with its pure Italian menu, underlines the international cuisine of the resort.
Dishes include tomato and mozzarella, squid and king prawns, aubergine, ravioli stuffed with cheese and truffle sauce, sea bass, and sumptuous desserts - ever thought about pineapple ravioli?
The ambience of the Taj resorts is simply relaxing, and it may be tempting not to venture too far with the proximity of the wonderful beaches and warm sea, or step out along the strip at Candolim to shop for souvenirs and artefacts.
But the lure of the Taj resorts is constant - a stone’s throw from the sandy beach and warm seas, delightful pools, and an irresistible cuisine to suit all tastes.
The Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa has 142 villas and the Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa has 143 villas and rooms, including 17 cottages. Guests and families can stay at either resort for as long as they wish, with packages and prices tailored to individual needs and requirements. For more information, visit: https://www.tajhotels.com/en-in/taj/taj-holiday-village-goa/ and https://www.tajhotels.com/en-in/taj/taj-fort-aguada-goa/