WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE FONTAINHAS, PANJIM
Avisit to Panjim’s Fontainhas neighbourhood in Goa is just like walking into a picture postcard of an old European city. It’s a story of Panjim that’s freely told but rarely heard by visitors, the beauty of the past lining the streets hidden in plain sight. A heritage walk around the charming districts of Fontainhas and Sao Tomé will have you gawking in awe at just how beautiful it is. Add an extremely knowledgeable local guide who unveils her history with fascinating tales, and your day will turn out to be quite an interesting one. One of India’s most relaxed state capitals, Panaji (Panjim), crowds around the peninsula overlooking the broad Mandovi River, where cruise boats and floating casinos ply the waters, and advertising signs cast neon reflections in the night. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that Panjim started to flourish and that too only after the fall of Old Goa as the erstwhile capital. Prior to that, Panjim was a fishing village, a marshy land devoid of the architectural wonders of today. The city’s oldest heritage building, and a beautiful one at that, is the riverside Idalcao Palace, which was built by Yusuf Adil Shah. It was later taken over by the Portuguese, turned into residences for the viceroys and, eventually, became the (former) Secretariat Building. A glorious whitewashed church lords over the animated city centre, a broad leafy boulevard skirts around the river, and grand colonial-era buildings rub shoulders with arty boutiques, old-school bookshops, state-of-the-art malls and backstreet bars. But it’s the tangle of narrow streets in the old Latin Quarter that really steal the show. Nowhere is the Portuguese influence felt more strongly than here, where the late afternoon sun lights up yellow houses with purple doors, and around each corner you’ll find restored ochre-coloured
mansions with terracotta-tiled roofs, wrought-iron balconies and arched oystershell windows. The oldest, and by far the most atmospheric, Portuguese-flavoured districts of Panaji are squeezed between the hillside of Altinho and the banks of Ourem Creek, and make for attractive wandering with their narrow streets, overhanging balconies and quaint air of Mediterranean yesteryear. Fontainhas, said to take its name from the Fountain of Phoenix spring, which stands near the Maruti Temple, is the larger of the two districts, comprising pastel-shaded houses that head up Altinho hill. The land here was originally reclaimed in the late 18th century by a returning self-made Goan, known as ‘the Mosmikar’, so-called for the riches he had amassed during a stay in Mozambique. This little throwback of a place, with its colonial aesthetics, winding narrow lanes, tilted gable roofed houses in spectacular shades of red and blue, green and yellow, is an open door to Goa’s Portuguese past. Located to the north of Fontainhas, the tiny area around the main post office is known as Sao Tomé. The post office was once the tobacco-trading house for Panaji, and the building to the right of it was the state mint. The square that these buildings face once housed the town pillory, where justice turned into spectacle when executions took place. It was here that several conspirators involved in the Pinto Revolt were put to death, for plotting to overthrow Portuguese rule in 1787. Though Fontainhas can be covered in two or three hours, to do more justice to these alleys, pencil in some more
walking time. A day or two in Panjim’s Latin district is an essential part of the Goan experience.
Wood framed Indo-portuguese houses in saturated colours in these haphazardly designed narrow streets predominate the area and the 17th-century Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception stands like a jewel in Fontainhas’ Latin-style crown. Set atop a hill, it glows like a giant torch of faith guarding the aesthetic riches of the neighbourhood. Built in 1541, it is believed to be one of the oldest churches in Goa. Its four tiered zigzagging stairway was added three centuries later. The magnificent bell of the church weighing over 2000 kgs is second only to the golden bell of the Monastery of St Augustine (now in ruins), in Old Goa.
The small but pretty Chapel of St Sebastian, built in the 1880s is another gem you can visit in Fontainhas. Mediterranean culture pervades every street – houses are painted in bright, cheerful colours, with beautifully written nameplates outside homes, galleries, neighbourhood bakeries, churches, blue petal curls drawn in white ceramic tiles and residents greeting each other in Portuguese. Fontainhas is full of such delights, to be explored at leisure.
Old wooden bakeries tickle the nose with the aroma of Goan breads, often
doubling up as a works of art from a bygone era and small cafes beckon at the corner of an alley where one can sit and engage in casual chat with residents over some homemade sausages or a glass of port, with Goan music in the background and the welcome of a world which is unexpectedly open to strangers. Sample the street food, where everything is accommodated in pushcarts, from sweet beef samosas, prawn cutlets, squid soup to grilled ham sandwiches or pop into some random bar or old taverna with live music, great food, and random strangers ready to open up to you for a cheerful chat.
There is a kind of amusing history overflow in the streets – there is a Rua 31 de Janeira (31st January Road) street which relates to the date of Portugal’s independence from Spain in 1640 and the Bustling 18th June Road named after a date in 1946 when Ram Manohar Lohia (an Indian independence activist) called a meeting that led to the end of Portuguese rule in India. So if you find a differently sounding street name or a street named on a date, don’t hesitate to enquire about its history.
Art Galleries are an indisputable reason to visit Fontainhas. One shouldn’t miss the Gallery Gitanjali, adjacent to Panjim Inn. It has a collection of contemporary art and Scandinavian lithographs, lino prints and etchings from the 1950s and 1960s, plus it often doubles up as a cool venue for poetry readings, art discussions, launches, movie screenings and numerous discourses on movies and art, with a cafe to refresh body and soul.
Velha Goa Galeria is another beautiful place to stop by to shop for gorgeous traditional hand-painted ceramics,
including azueljos (tin-glazed ceramic tiles). A little towards the main city is the Gallery Attic, where period furniture, pottery and antique glassware are painstakingly restored to their original glory. Marcou Artifacts is another small Fontainhas shop that showcases one-off painted tiles, fish figurines and handcrafted Portuguese and Goan ceramics.
And the food – Ah! How can one miss it? While the small, winding streets of Fontainhas are an open invitation to shrug off your beach lazing and explore; the aroma of cooking from decades-old establishments perched in old buildings, provides an invitation impossible to resist. It is said in Fontainhas past and present live under the same roof.
One must-stop should be Hospedaria Venite, marked with its graffiti-laden walls, beer chandeliers and authentic Goan and Portuguese cuisine. On 31st January Road, Venite is one of the oldest lodging and boarding establishments in Panjim. With its cute rickety balcony tables overhanging the cobbled street, Venite has long been among the most atmospheric of Panaji’s Goan restaurants. The menu is traditional, with spicy sausages, fish curry rice, pepper chicken steak and seafood, but Venite is popular with tourists and prices are consequently inflated. Drop in for a beer or shot of feni (Goan spirit) before deciding.
Well known to tourists, Viva Panjim is a little side-street eatery, set in an old Portuguese house and with a few tables out on the laneway, which delivers tasty Goan classics at reasonable prices. There’s a whole menu page devoted to pork dishes, along with tasty xacuti (a spicy chicken or meat dish cooked in red coconut sauce) and cafreal (a marinated chicken dish), seafood such as kingfish vindaloo or steak, crab xec xec, sizzlers and desserts such as bebinca (richly layered Goan dessert made from egg yolk and coconut).
It is the old, ancestral home of Linda D’souza, tucked away in a rather small, unassuming corner of Fontainhas. The place retains its old world décor, rich dim interiors, pop music of the 60s and 70s, and makes dining here an unique adventure. From the tables on the patio you can see all the activity on the street.
Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro is a anytime visit for sweets and savouries. The oldest bakery on 18th June Road in Fontainhas, it is famous for its sweets, pav breads and the delicious Goan cake called Bebinca.
It’s well worth a trip up to Altinho Hill to visit Cafe Bodega, a serene cafegallery in a lavender-and-white Portuguese mansion in the grounds of Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts. Enjoy good coffee, juices and fresh-baked cakes around the inner courtyard or lunch on super pizzas.
Sharing interesting premises with a wood-craft gallery, Baba’s wood café is an upmarket Italian restaurant in a quiet street near the Maruti Temple, which has a lovely little alfresco dining area and a menu featuring more than 20 different pasta dishes from ravioli to
carbonara. Pizzas are wood-fired and pasta homemade, while desserts include tiramisu and chocolate fondue. The colonial atmosphere, the earthy appeal of the décor, the rare Italian wines straight from the Mediterranean and above all, the enticing aroma of the wood oven pizzas is irresistible. Good for a splurge.
Panjim Inn – achingly serene and steeped in history – is perhaps the best place to immerse yourself in a neverending love affair with Goan culture and charm. On 31st January Road, overlooking Ourem Creek, this is undoubtedly the prettiest building in Fontainhas. Sit on the breezy balcony, in its first-floor Verandah restaurant and soak in the intimate interiors, with just a handful of finely carved tables, Fontainhas street views and snappy service. Pork ribs and king prawns are highly recommended.
For accommodation too, Panjim Inn should always be the first name on your list, a heritage property with every room in a different style and décor and a promise to take you back centuries.
La Maison, with only eight private heritage rooms, promises you a place all to yourself. The elegant interiors, informal atmosphere and spacious rooms with expressive works of art and gracefully minimalist decor, makes La Maison a good place to settle into.
Want to ditch the hotels altogether, welcome to the Old Quarter hostel, light on the pocket and eclectically on par with its European counterparts. In an old Portuguese house in historic Fontainhas, this flamboyant hostel offers slick fourbed dorms with lockers as well as private doubles in a separate building, along with the Urban Cafe, arty murals, good wi-fi and bikes for hire. Brighten your holiday with lively smiling faces, backpackers from different corners of the world and a refreshingly laidback experience. At the little organic café, a wide assortment of teas and morning yoga classes are on offer. So, sink in, take a break, sniff the aroma, and share rooms and smiles with strangers. The Sao Tome-fontainhas Heritage Walk: Treat yourself to a leisurely onehour ramble through Goa’s inextricable Portuguese ancestry. Take-off point is Casa da Moeda (House of Coins) in the midst of Panjim’s historic Tobacco Square. Go past the 400-year-old Sao Tome Chapel via cobbled alleys flanked by brightly-hued homes, pop into an ancient bakery, peer at traditional ceramic name plates, covered porches, art galleries and much else before ending at the character-oozing Panjim Inn for a well-deserved cuppa. Contact Jack Sukhija (+91 9823025748+91 9823025748) for details. You can also take a guided tour with resident expert Luis Dias, whose neighbourhood walks are laced with local trivia and anecdotes. Alternatively, book a guided walk at Panjim Inn, the 19thcentury colonial mansion converted into one of the city’s best heritage hotels.
A lane in Fontainhas
17th-century Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Roof top view of San Sebastian chapel
Beautiful villas in Fontainhas, Panjim
Wood framed houses in the narrow streets of Fontainhas
Velha Goa Galleria
Walking through Fontainhas, Panjim
Portuguese style house
Interior of_velha Goa Galeria
Hotel Venitte, Fontainhas
Verandah restaurant, Panjim inn
Beautiful Panorama of Panjim Church
Gallery Gitanjali, next to Panjim Inn
City view of Fontainhas and altinho Panjim
Vasco de gama arch, Old Goa
Raining in Goa