As our plane descends, and Goa emerges out of the cloud cover, a couple of things quickly become evident.
Firstly, this place is green. Not just grass-and-a-few-trees-here-and-there green, but properly lush, dense vegetation cascading down hills and onto the plains, straining to blur the borders of towns and villages. We're only a couple of hours from Delhi, but this seems like another world; only an informal cricket match, played out on red soil hundreds of feet below, provides some vague continuity.
That feeling of disconnectedness is echoed in the architecture. There's the slew of beachfront shacks, destined to be dismantled before monsoon season, plus all manner of riverside dwellings, with their jetties and miniature boats. Mainly, though, there are the churches, brilliant white against the fauna, that would not look out of place on Brazil's gold trail, or atop the hills outside Lisbon.
There is good reason for this, of course: Goa, for much of its history, was under Portuguese rule, only becoming part of India in 1961. That east-meets-west intrigue, visible in the buildings, road signs and place names, is part of what has made the area such a draw to visitors over the years. Goa may be the smallest of India's 29 states, but it packs a punch.
The same can be said of THE Park Baga River, the newly-opened, adults-only hotel nestled in a peaceful spot a few minutes from the region's party hotspots. Part of The Park Collection of intimate, bespoke properties, the hotel's charms become immediately obvious upon our arrival: did someone say poolside foot massage while sipping a cocktail from a coconut in the afternoon sun? Yes please.
Suitably relaxed, we head out for a stroll on the beach (water temperature: warm!) and then to THE Park Calangute Goa for an evening meal on the sand. The seafood – Goan prawn curry, grilled lobster – is as spectacular as the setting, and a glass of the local port eases us into the evening nicely.
We hit the tourist trail early the next day, plotting a course to south Goa. Our guide explains that this was the region's seat of power, until a cholera outbreak in 1635 forced a mass relocation to Panjim, the capital city today. Little remains of the old Cidade de Goa, but two prominent buildings did survive: the Basilica of Bom Jesus, home to the mortal remains of Saint Francis Xavier, and Se Cathedral, just over the road.
Both are imposing feats of construction and together made this an important outpost for Portuguese Christianity when Old Goa was at its peak. Little wonder that this place used to be referred to as 'the Rome of the East'.
With local culture ticked off the to-do list, we change tack to enjoy some of the nature Goa has to offer. A boat trip on the tranquil Chapora river turns out to be just the ticket, although our desire for a late-afternoon swim means the captain's kind offer of look at something called 'crocodile island' gets short shrift. Instead, we head out towards the sea, stopping for a memorable dip near a sand bank, river eagles soaring overhead and the sun creeping over the horizon.
Hunger growing, it's then back to THE Park Baga River for one last feast. We eat by the pool, lit up in the balmy evening, and enjoy mountains of fresh fish, freshly grilled just a few metres away. It is the perfect end to our stay: classy, relaxing and a little bit different. Just like Goa itself, then.