If you see Goa as only a hippie place with picturesque beaches, low-priced alcohol and, more recently, a controversy over bikinis, then visit the state once more to discover Fontainhas.
This is the oldest Latin Quarter in Goa, close to the hustle and bustle of central Panjim city, but cut off from the din. On the streets of Fontainhas, flanked by brightly coloured houses that have a strong Portuguese influence in their architecture, you feel transported to another part of the world – the tiny neighbourhood could have been a quaint part of Europe; only the occasional sight of borderline squalor is a reminder that this is India.
Fontainhas, the heritage area of Panjim aka Panaji, has the Ourem creek on its east and Altinho hill on its west. The name Fontainhas is derived from ‘Fonte Phoenix’ or the ‘Fountain of Phoenix’, which was essentially a water reservoir constructed during the time of the Portuguese. The Fountain of Phoenix can still be seen before proceeding to the Maruti Temple in the Mala area.
There are details in Fontainhas that you notice and remember while on a walk. The lively colours lift the mood, and the beautiful house number plates are like works of art. We spotted a building whose entire wall was covered by Azulejo ceramic tiles typical of the Iberian peninsula in Europe.
How was this gorgeous tiny town urbanised? In the late 1700s, the locality belonged to Antonio Joao de Sequeira, a Goan expat who was also known as ‘Mossmikar’ as he had come back an affluent man from the Portuguese colony of Mozambique in east Africa. De Sequeira used the Fontainhas area for coconut plantation. The residents of this area were mainly sailors, fishermen and locals engaged in the process of oil extraction. After the death of Antonio Joao de Sequeira, the land was handed over to the Convent of Our Lady of Carmo at Chimbel.
As a result of the frightful sanitary problems in 1810-1839 that led to repeated outbreaks of plague in Old Goa, numerous headquarters of the Portuguese government were shifted to Panjim and, therefore, this developed into a residential area for rulers and administrators. Soon, small plots in Fontainhas were sold to the populace without any appropriate town plans. This is why, you can see narrow lanes connecting one tapered street to another that only a local can show you. You might come across a couple of street food carts in Fontainhas serving beef samosas and prawn cutlets.
There are remarkable legends behind the street names in this Latin Quarter. The 31st January Road or Rua 31 de Janeira in Fontainhas was named after the independence of Portugal from Spain on January 31, 1640. The 18th June Road was named after Ram Manohar Lohia, the Indian leader who launched the civil disobedience movement that eventually led to the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese in 1961.
To cater to the faith of the Goan community, a small chapel was built in 1818 in honour of St. Sebastian. Hindus go to the beautiful tangerine-coloured temple, the Maruti Temple in Mala dedicated to Hanuman, which stands atop Altinho hill, overlooking the peaceful Latin Quarter of Goa.
Goa in the rains is beautiful if you are not a sunbather. And in Fontainhas, the rain-soaked streets have a special charm. After monsoon, when the pre-winter crowds start descending on Goa for the party season, a quiet stroll through Fontainhas gives you the peaceful holiday you could never have imagined in this heaving state.
Fontainhas is 25km from Goa International Airport and 20km from Tivim Railway Station. The Latin Quarter is best explored on foot, so carry comfortable footwear, and also rain gear if you are visiting during the monsoon.
Where to stay
WelcomHeritage Panjim Inn has 37 rooms spread over Panjim Posauda and Panjim People’s. It is among the oldest colonial mansions in Fontainhas. Every room is different in style and interior décor. Some of them have four-poster beds, carved cupboards and antique furniture. They also have an art gallery called Gitanjali that has contemporary paintings. Panjim Inn also organises Heritage Walks in Fontainhas. Tariff: From Rs 3,500 for a standard room. Contact: +911146035500, 1-800-111-333, www.panjiminn.com
Where to eat
Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro on 18th June Road is one of the oldest bakeries in Fontainhas that serves traditional Goan sweets and savouries. Try fresh pao (bread buns) and also bebinca (traditional Goan layered cake). Contact: 08322225791
Hotel Venite Restaurant on 31st January Road is a popular place for backpackers and tourists. The entrance is shell-encrusted and the walls of Venite restaurant are covered with graffiti art. Chicken steak in mushroom sauce is recommended. Contact: 08322425537, 985046700
Baba Wood Café in Mala near the Maruti Temple serves Italian and wood-fire oven pizzas and home-made gelato. Contact: 0832-3256213; 08322421992
Viva Panjim on 31st January Road is an award-winning restaurant in Panjim for its Portuguese and Goan food. Contact: 08322422405