Goa's Fontainhas Latin Quarter is a main attraction in capital city Panjim. It sits below Altinho, an affluent hilltop area in the center of the city, and gets its name (meaning "fountain") from Fonte Phoenix (the Fountain of Phoenix) spring at the foot of the hill.
Fontainhas was declared a UNESCO Heritage Zone in 1984. You'll be transported back in time as you wander past colorful old Portuguese homes, belonging to the last surviving Portuguese families of Goa. Narrow winding streets and lanes, quaint shops, art galleries, bakeries, and restaurants give it distinctive character.
The area was developed into a residential area for rulers and administrators in the early 1800s, when the Portuguese government moved its headquarters to Panjim from Old Goa due to sanitary problems and outbreaks of the plague. Prior to this, it was apparently used as a coconut plantation by an affluent Goan expat.
The significance of the curiously named streets in Fontainhas is interesting. Rua 31 de Janeira (31st January Road) relates to the date of Portugal's independence from Spain on January 31, 1640. Bustling 18th June Road, lined with shops and restaurants, was named after the date in 1946 that Ram Manohar Lohia (an activist for Indian independence) called a meeting that led to the end Portuguese rule in India.
What to See and Do
Art lovers should head to Gallery Gitanjali located adjacent to Panjim Inn. It has a collection of contemporary art and Scandinavian lithographs, lino prints and etchings from the 1950s and 1960s. Poetry readings, art discussion groups and courses on film appreciation are also held there. Plus, there's a cafe.
Shop at Velha Goa Galeria for gorgeous traditional hand-painted ceramics, including azueljos (tin-glazed ceramic tiles).
The well-maintained Chapel of Saint Sebastian, built in 1800, sits at the southern end of Fontainhas and has several interesting artifacts. These include a large crucifix that used to hang in the Palace of the Inquisition in Old Goa, a statue of the Virgin Mary that's originally from the High Court, and three intricately-carved altarpieces relocated from a church in Diu (which once formed part of the colony of Goa). An old well is also attached to the Chapel.
Climb Altinho hill to visit the attractive tangerine-colored Maruti Hindu temple, dedicated to Lord Hanuman, and you'll be rewarded with a scenic view over the Latin Quarter.
Take a Walking Tour
Make it Happen conducts an outstanding Fontainhas Heritage Walk that will immerse you in the area and Goa's past. As well as gaining access to heritage homes, you'll be able to meet a renowned local Goan musician on the tour. The cost is 700 rupees per person. If you're there on Christmas, attend their special Christmas Evening Walk in Fontainhas. There's a special Christmas feast and brass band.
Where to Stay
What better way to immerse yourself in the heritage of Fontainhas than by staying in one of the Portuguese mansions. There are accommodations for all budgets.
- Boutique: La Maison is tucked away off 31st January Road, and has eight elegant guest rooms and a popular gourmet European fusion restaurant (Desbue) that's open to the public. Expect to pay about 5,000 rupees per night upwards, with breakfast included. Mateus is an immaculately revamped 1879 Portuguese mansion on 31st January Road. It has a courtyard with plunge pool, and nine guest rooms starting from 3,500 rupees per night for a double during the low season.
- Iconic: Welcome Heritage Panjim Inn, built in the 1800s, was one of the first big mansions of Fontainhas. It's been owned by the same family for five generations and restored to retain the feel of the bygone era. There are 24 unique rooms decorated with period furniture and antiques. Rates start from around 5,000 rupees per night for a double. Breakfast is included.
- Bed and Breakfast: Hospedaria Abrigo de Botelho, housed in a 150 year-old Portuguese homestead that was turned into a bed & breakfast by local realtor Roy Botelho. He's the perfect host. There are eight rooms spread over two floors. Rates start from 3,500 rupees per night, including breakfast.
- Homestay: Carvela Homestay, themed on a 15th century Portuguese ship. It's run by a welcoming father and son duo, and has a cafe that serves tasty Indo-Portuguese cuisine. Family and suite rooms are available. Rates start from around 2,500 rupees per night.
- Guesthouse: Groovy and quirky Afonso Guest House has seven rooms with rates starting from 2,500 rupees per night. Breakfast, served on the leafy rooftop terrace, is additional. The owners live next door and are always available for assistance.
- Hostel: The Old Quarter Hostel is perfect for sociable young backpackers. Bicycles are offered on rent for exploring the area. Expect to pay 600 rupees per night for a bed in a mixed or female-only dorm. Private rooms are available from 1,700 rupees per night. The standard basic ones are situated in a separate 200 year-old building nearby. The White Balcao is an upmarket option with cafe, boutique and yoga studio. It has three dorms and a twin-sharing room, able to accommodate a maximum of 16 guests.
Where to Eat and Drink
Lively, award-winning Viva Panjim on 31st January Road serves yummy Goan-Portuguese cuisine. On the same street, Hotel Venite, with its art graffiti walls, has an unforgettable ambiance. It's popular with locals and travelers alike. Drop into cute little Cafe Morango in a heritage home on 31st January Road for tea, coffee, shakes, sweets and snacks. Try the chorizo pao (Goan sausage in bread). A hearty English breakfast is available as well.
Café Nostalgia recently opened next to Saint Sebastian Chapel with the aim of preserving authentic Goan-Portuguese cuisine. The owner is a descendant of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese maritime explorer who was the first European to reach India by sea in 1498. What's more, he's the nephew of the woman behind legendary Fernando’s Nostalgia restaurant (founded by her late husband, Chef Fernando da Costa) near Margao. Café Nostalgia serves classic dishes prepared in her kitchen. Irresistible Portuguese custard tarts, freshly made by a neighbor, are another highlight.
Overlooking the river on Rua de Ourem, Horse Shoe is also known for its Goan-Portuguese cuisine. The restaurant is evocatively located in a lovely 300 year-old house. A couple of minutes walk away, on Gomes Pereira Road, Joseph Bar is an old local establishment that's been recently restored to its former glory. This tiny roadside hangout is only open in the evenings from 6-10 p.m. Try the feni cocktail.
To splurge, head to The Verandah at the Panjim Inn. It oozes Indo-Portuguese charm.
Soho, on MG Road, is the place for those who prefer to be somewhere hip and happening. This new designer bar sits above a music store in a 19th century building that used to be a lodge. It's open nightly from 7 p.m. and even has a dance floor.
For the Record, India's first and dedicated vinyl bar, is an extraordinary new entrant on the scene. It has been conceptualized on the vinyl bars of Tokyo. Listen to audio in the analog format on a handcrafted high-end vacuum tube sound system, while sipping the best Indian craft spirits and beers. Feni cocktails are a specialty here too.
Grand Indo-Portuguese Homes Further Afield in Goa
If you're particularly interested in Goa's Portuguese heritage, take this Private Tour of the Braganza House and Palacio Do Deao. It includes a stop at the fascinating fish market in Margao.