A visit to Fontainhas, Panaji’s old Latin Quarter, dispels the notion of Goa being a commercial tourist destination, known only for its beaches
A visit to Panjim’s Fontainhas neighbourhood feels like a journey through a postcard of a pretty street in a European city. The winding alleyways are adorned by tiled-roofed houses in spectacular shades of blue and reds. The houses, some dilapidated, others standing solid, untouched by the onslaught of time, brings alive Goa’s Portuguese past.
The architecture of Fontainhas (fountain in Porto) is sophisticated; the old meets the new in a way that lends the neighbourhood a unique character.
It is difficult to believe that the neighbourhood developed haphazardly without much attention paid to its design, for the streets, despite being narrow, appear ordered.
Fontainhas is beautiful not only for its architectural design, but also for its natural surroundings. It is bordered on the east by the creek of Ourem and on the West by the Altinho hill.
My stay at the Mitaroy Heritage Homestay enhances my visit to this quaint neighbourhood. Originally the ancestral heritage home of hotelier Mihir Nayak, The Mitaroy affords just the kind of privacy a lone traveller or even a honeymooning couple craves for.
The architecture of the homestay is quintessentially Portuguese, consisting of two suites: one downstairs, the other upstairs, each of which has a bedroom; a large living room with a fridge adequately stocked with alcohol and even a balcony where I spend some much-needed time alone.
The homestay has been restored by local craftsmen, using local material, and the colonial-styled furniture makes it grander.
The Mitaroy is also perfect for those who like to laze well into the afternoon and return late after exploring north and south Goa. The breakfast offered is delightfully Goan, complete with freshly-baked Goan bread, an assortment of jams, a local preparation of potato curry, and fruit juices and tea, brewed to your satisfaction.
Once I finish visiting the highly recommended sites of the 400-year-old St. Sebastian’s Chapel, the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the relatively unknown Aguada Fort in North Goa and the Miramar beach located 10 minutes away from The Mitaroy, I go for a stroll in the evening around the neighbourhood.
It is no wonder that the neighbourhood is a UNESCO World heritage walk; I feel like a contemplative writer walking down a street in Lisbon.
The tranquillity is broken occasionally by the hum of conversation that travels from popular restaurants, which are as old as the traditional houses. Here and there, I notice residents exchange warm greetings or happy nods of acknowledgement. Intrigued, I enquire about the people who live here.
I am told that the feeling of community runs deep, and that some of the more illustrious Goan families, who once owned popular restaurants and homes in Fontainhas have grown too old to run these places anymore. Nonetheless, the neighbourhood has an old world charm to it that evokes a sense of nostalgia — a feeling artists and history lovers are so familiar with.
There are a number of art galleries spread across Fontainhas; some even double up as cafes. The art works, in watercolours and oil, have a distinct character to them. There are even sketches and cartoons, including some drawn by the master cartoonist Mario Miranda, a native of Goa, that are on display at these galleries. Bakeries such as the 31 January Bakery serves an assortment of fresh, warm breads.
The night bird in me checks out the river cruise on the Mandovi River, which turns out be quite entertaining.
The Mitaroy is located at 31st January Road, behind People’s High School Mala - Fontainhas, Panjim, Goa. The suites at the Mitaroy are priced at Rs. 6,400 per night, including breakfast and complimentary beer, homemade feni, wine, cashewnuts etc. It is recommended that reservations be made in advance. For details call: 09448087708 or 23617708.