Pune is an ideal place to live, it really is. The weather is mostly favorable (especially when compared to other parts of India), the people are friendly, and it’s right in the middle of the country, which makes it a good origin point for flying. If the traffic and infrastructure were improved it would be damn near perfect, but I think in my time that won’t happen.
One of the favorite spots to visit from Pune is Goa. The flight is just under an hour and a cab ride will take you anywhere. Many of my friends prefer the beaches two hours in the south such as Agonda and Palolem. They are lovely if you want to get away from it all and just “veg”, as we call it back home in the states. My preference, however, is going to North Goa on the cusps of the high season (October to January), where there is a little bit of everything to fit all tastes and budgets, and when the crowds are not yet in full force.
There are several places that I recommend all over Goa, north AND south, but I’ve got a nice little list of hotels and restaurants that really hit the mark in the north that I'd love to share.
1. Siolim House
Siolim House is one hour north of the Vasco di Gama airport in a small village. The furnishings are reminiscent of the period-style grandeur of the past: simple, yet elegant, with Portuguese flair. They serve breakfast in their airy restaurant in the mornings and have homemade jams and yogurt.
Don’t Miss: cooking classes where you can learn traditional Goan recipes with a local
2. Presa Di Goa
Presa di Goa is 45 minutes south of Vasco di Gama airport, near Calangute. It’s It’s the brainchild of Luxembourg transplant Edouard. He and his dog Tasha, a very sweet black lab, are a big part of the charm of the place. It sits inland about 15 minutes but transportation by cab is affordable and the quietness is much appreciated during the nighttime when the beach resorts are thumping with dance music and crowds of partygoers. They have a well-kept swimming pool with great loungers and the hotel is pet-friendly, something that’s important to me as a dog owner.
Don’t Miss: Breakfast delivered to your door in the morning, and a snuggle with Tasha if she’s around
3. Baba au Rhum
“They serve their café au lait in BOWLS”: this was my initial takeaway from Baba au Rhum. It’s a proper little French spot that sits back off the main road a bit and overlooks a field, but don’t expect doilies, Yan Tiersan music, or kitsch because it is not that. It’s beachy with kind of a stoner vibe. Really perfect for Goa. In addition to excellent coffee, they serve delicious omelets, croissants, and Nutella with baguette, a French staple item.
Don’t Miss: This is a solid breakfast spot…head over in the morning (they open at 9) to nurse your hangover or start the day right.
4. La Plage
Located at Ashvem Beach (near-ish Morjim), La Plage offers an ever-changing menu that features fresh ingredients in a laid-back setting with comfortable and plentiful seating. Originally a plain dirt road led to it but since a few years back they have installed a proper parking area, and some pop-up shops with resort wear, housewares, and jewelry. Go in the morning to grab a spot in one of the beach loungers off the restaurant, have lunch, shop, eat again or have some cocktails, and chill - really an excellent way to spend a day.
Don’t Miss: CEVICHE! If they have it on the menu, get it. It’s really delicious.
5. Go With the Flow
Baga is a great place to be for restaurants but this one is, hands-down, my favorite. The ambiance is funky and fun, with white seating and colorful lighting. The food is plated absolutely beautifully and the menu items are a refreshing blend of old standards with new flavors (chicken pate w/ beet jelly anyone?). The kitchen is also something to see. It looks like it’s straight out of one of those cooking competition shows -- you can have a glance as you make your way to the bathroom.
Don’t Miss: Try to get seated in the elevated dining room overlooking the water. You get there by climbing a steel staircase. Not for those afraid of heights!
This restaurant sits on a tall rocky cliff overlooking the ocean at Vagator Beach, and is one of the most perfect sunset spots in Goa to enjoy a cocktail and get Greek food favorites (think olives and feta, hummus) and seafood dishes. The only downside tot his place is that it’s seasonal. They don’t open until after monsoon, usually Oct 1.
Don’t Miss: If you are there on certain days, they have Greek dancing shows. Call ahead to make a reservation if possible a few days in advance because it fills up, and be sure to see when the dancers will be doing their thing!
Monsoon is here, no doubt about it. Unfortunately it’s a season for lots of car wrecks, terrible road conditions, and mold growing in unpredictable places, but it’s also the most beautiful time of year in terms of nature.
Since our upcoming home visit is this week, we decided to do one more trek before heading out. I chose Tikona because I saw some Instagram photos from other trekkers and it turned out to be my favorite hike in Pune so far, with the exception of Lohgad fort, which I hope to get back to as soon as I return.
It took two and a half hours to reach the fort, and we only overshot Google Maps estimated travel time by 20 minutes, which I thought was pretty impressive given the season. We even stopped twice for snacks; first to get tea and grilled corn with lime, chili, and salt, then again for vadav pav, a potato patty sandwich that usually comes with salty, fried green chilis. It’s the perfect snack on a cold, wet day.
The directions were straightforward, and if you have a driver he should have no problem at all finding the place because it’s marked pretty well. You can drive all the way to the base and park in the lot there. One thing to note is that there are no washrooms. Me personally, I will pee wherever I can find a little privacy, but if you need to go and require a proper toilet, try looking for a rest stop before you get there.
The trek itself is FUN FUN FUN. The paths are clearly marked, and the views are just amazing. It is a relatively easy climb because the duration isn’t long, about 45 minutes to the top, but if you have small children under five it may be quite difficult due to the height of some of the steps, especially at the top. I also don’t have kids so my guesstimate on that age is totally baseless. We took Stella, our maltipoo, and she did pretty well, but she’s an adventure dog and people keep telling me I need to stop comparing her to their kids so…anyway…
There are two plateaus before reaching the summit. One is the ridge of the hill, and there is a path that straddles it so you can walk the length to see some nice views of the land below. It is flanked by ardent grass that looks like a fluffy green carpet, quite romantic to watch in the wind. The second climb leads to a sort of flat, dirt area where there is a tea stall and a more barren flat surface of rocks. Not quite scenic, but a good place to grab a cup of tea. Following that, the climb leads to a water reservoir, a small rock tunnel, a grinding mill, an awesome Hanuman statue, and at the top there is a treacherous and steep set of stairs with an electric cable for holding on to that leads to the vista. Unfortunately we could not see due to the rain that had begun to pour at that point so we just turned around once we reached the top. It was pouring so badly we didn’t dare take our cameras out.
I really suggest you go to this fort during monsoon. It is a super entertaining climb because there is something new and exciting to see at every turn, and the terrain changes from grassy ledge to randomly scattered rock and trail, to proper steps…it makes for a varied and fun trip.
My big recommendation in hindsight is to take an extra set of dry clothes and a towel just in case, or one of those cheap plastic ponchos you see on the side of the road or else you’ll be in a cold car, wet and miserable and dirty in your soaked clothes for the drive home!