Goa is best known for its grandiose churches, exquisitely sculpted temples, and mosques, all three to four centuries old. The most illustriuos structures are Old Goa's se (cathedral) and Basilica of Bom Jesus, where the remains of St. Francis Xavier lie in a silver casket entombed in a Florentine-style marble mausoleum.
If you're here in February just before Lent, you'll see the Goans' zest for life in its finest form. Carnival time remains the official season for nonstop revelry, directed by KingMomo ("King of Misrule"), a Goan appointed by his peers as the life of the party. Festivities include fanciful pageants (with some 50 floats depicting elements of Goa's folk culture, or more contemporary messages like- preservation of the environment), hordes of musicinns strumming the guitar or playing the banjo, and dancers breaking into the mando (a folk fusion of the portuguese fado and the waltz)- all in streets spangled with confetti. This is prime time to have a beer or a feni and savor Goa's legendary warmth.
The Goans' legendary passion for seafood is borne out in the lines of the state's Poet Laureate, B. B. Borkar: "O, God of Death! Don't make it my turn today, because there's fish curry for dinner!" Portuguese dishes are generally adapted to Goan tastes with a healthy pinch of red chili, tempered with coconut milk. Typical local dishes include zesty-sweet prawn-curry rice, chouris pao (sausage bread), chicken cafreal (amply seasoned with ginger, garlic, green chilis, and lime), and ultra-hot vindaloo dishes. Goa's seafood is superb, especially fresh crabs, pomfret, squid, lobster, and prawns. Try pomfret in a red or green sauce, or tiger prawns baffad (in the spicy Goan style). For dessert, bebinka is a wonderfully rich layered pastry dense with butter, egg yolk, and coconut. And no Goan experience is truly complete without at least a taste of feni, the potent local brew made of either palm sap or cashew fruit.
Most of Goa's ritziest hotels are in the Bardez district, north of Panaji, but you might want to try one of the little lodging houses that have sprung up along the coast in recent years. If you want to explore Old Goa, Panaji has several grand hotels, most notably the Hotel Fidalgo, complete with a shopping arcade that sells everything from postcards to pearls. From December to February, traveling hordes often fill the hotels, so be sure to reserve in advance. During the monsoon season, prices fall by up to half. Unless mentioned otherwise, hotels have central air-conditioning, room service, doctors on call, and currency-exchange facilities, and rooms have cable TV and bathrooms with tubs.