Offbeat Goa - Explore the Fontainhas of Goa
You must have heard about teleportation? A simple google search indicates that it is the transfer of matter form one point to another without traversing the physical space between them. Does that sound like a superpower to you? Well, we seemed to have possessed such superpower when we visited Fontainhas in Panjim, the capital city of Goa, India. We were physically in Fontainhas but were teleported to quaint European streets. Such is the magic of Fontainhas - it's an experience of Europe in Goa. In our efforts to unearth Offbeat Goa, Fontainhas was an easy find. Yet when we actually visited this area, we were dumbstruck to see it. Read on to know more about Fontainhas in Goa and why you must visit it.
Read other blogs of the series ‘Offbeat Goa’ by clicking on the link or photos below:
Fontainhas of Goa - This article
What is Fontainhas in Goa?
Fontainhas is basically a residential area in Old Panjim. You might say - So what is so special about a residential area? Well, Fontainhas is probably the most visible legacy left by Portuguese who ruled Goa for close to 450 years. Fontainhas is unlike any other part of Goa. With colorful facades of houses, Fontainhas is like a maze any traveller might love to get lost into. The houses and buildings in Fontainhas boast of a strong Portuguese influence in its architecture. Painted in pastels and fluorescents, Fontainhas was declared as a UNESCO world heritage site. Today, many of the residential houses and buildings are converted to heritage hotels, villas, art galleries and some exquisite cafes. Yet it still thrives as a residential area preserving the unique design, architecture and culture of a bygone era.
Where is Fontainhas in Goa? Fontainhas is Goa's oldest Latin quarters located between the Ourem creek and the Altinho Hill. A part of old Panjim, Fontainhas is easy to reach if you are visiting Panjim or even if you are on your way to North Goa. It lies around 28 kms from Goa International airport and takes roughly 45 mins to reach.
Little bit of history about Fontainhas, Goa
The name Fontainhas is derived from ‘Fonte Phoenix’ (Fountain of Phoenix), which was a reservoir of water built in the Portuguese era. These reservoirs used to store water fetched by underground tunnels from nearby water bodies. One such Fonte Phoenix is easy to find and you will come across it towards end of Fontainhas before climbing up towards Altinho hill.
One folk tale says that in Portuguese times, there was a rule to freshly paint the house every year and it is still obeyed by the folks residing in Fontainhas. This is one of the reason why we see such colorful facades all around. You can also find portuguese words in names of the streets such as Corte de Oitero and Rua 31 de Janeiro road each one having its own story and significance. Though some buildings are dilapidated, they still hold their colonial charm. The red tiled roofs, brightly colored walls, projecting balconies, beautiful porches and cobbled paths of Fontainhas are enough to attract anyone's attention for hours to go.
How to explore Fontainhas of Goa
Dotted by picturesque houses painted in vibrant shades of red, green, blue and yellow, the best way to explore the latin quarters is to take a walk in the narrow lanes of Fontainhas. We would recommend early morning walk when most vehicles are parked and you can freely roam around without worrying much about the traffic. Several heritage walks are conducted in Fontainhas that generally start from the post office, takes one through the tobacco square towards Corte de Oitero - Rua 31 de Janeiro - St. Sebastian Chapel - Wishing well - Fonte Phoenix - Maruti temple - Archbishop's house - Chief Minister's official residence - High Court of Bombay at Goa and ends at Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church.
How we explored Fontainhas of Goa
We joined Mr. Ramchandra Salgaonkar for the Panjim Heritage Walk. Ram is a Goan by birth who quit his corporate job to pursue his passion of travelling. Currently he is a founder of Better Goa and Market Warriors and a visiting lecturer in several colleges across India. Ram is very passionate about showcasing Panjim to the world in a very unique manner by focussing on the local trivia as well as the historical aspects. We loved the experience of going on a walk with him and would definitely recommend joining his walk if you plan to visit Fontainhas. You can book his Panjim City walk experience on Airbnb here.
We gathered at Panjim post office early in the morning and the walk started bang on time. The post office premises was once a depot for trading tobacco and hence the street is also known as Tobacco Square. It is this very place where the Britishers executed the conspirators of Pinto Rivolt.
Interesting fact - If you post a letter to someone in Antartica, it will be received in Panjim. Why? Well, the Indian Government's research base station in Antartica is set up by National Institute of Oceanography, Panaji. This very first fact about Panjim by Ram and we were blown by his depth of knowledge about the place.
Later we walked on Rua 31 de Janeiro road (31st January road) towards Corte de Oitero. One of the stretch of Rua 31 de Janeiro road is one of the most vibrant streets you would find with every house on both sides having varied colors. It is no doubt popular amongst couples and wedding photographers for a pre-wedding shoot. A hill used to separate 31st January road from Our Lady of Immaculate Church. To shorten this distance, the hill in between was cut (Corte means 'cut' and Oitero means 'hill') and hence the name.
Interesting fact - Wondering why a road would be named after a date? The Rua 31 de Janeiro or 31st January road was named after Portugal attained freedom from Spain on January 31, 1640.
We next moved in the colorful streets of the Latin quarters to the St. Sebastian Chapel. The white-washed facade of the St. Sebastian Chapel stands tall amongst the surrounding colorful old heritage houses. A bright red well with roosters mounted on it just near the chapel is believed to be a wishing well.
Interesting fact - Eyes of the Christ on the crucifix in St. Sebastian Chapel are open. The open eyes is believed to have witnessed all the brutalities faced by people during the inquisition. This is rather unique as you will never find Jesus with open eyes on the crucifix.
Our next destination was Fonte Phoenix located at the end of Fontainhas which we mentioned earlier. Passing through the azulejo ceramic tiles covered buildings we reached the underground tunnel from where the spring channelized. Said to have derived its name from the Fountain of Phoenix spring, it is a water reservoir constructed during Portuguese times. The base of the Altinho Hill is just round the corner. The saffron colored Maruti temple on the Altinho hill is clearly visible from here.
We ascended towards the Maruti temple on the top of Altinho Hill. Colorful staircase lead up to the temple from Fontainhas. From the open courtyard of the temple we were able to see the coconut plantations in Fontainhas area below. Ram informed us that people flocked in Fontainhas only after it was converted into new capital of Goa. Before that it was just a vast coconut plantation. The temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and overlooks the Latin quarters of Panjim. The temple is designed as if Lord Hanuman is riding a chariot with huge intricately carved wheels.
Altinho Hill is like a hill station with spiralling roads and lots of tall trees forming a canopy throughout the driveway. The Portuguese royals used to stay here as they considered themselves higher in status than the others. Being a very established residential area, Goa's chief minister's residence and Archbishop's palace is located here. The Bombay High Court at Goa is also positioned at Altinho Hill. The High Court is one of the best that I have seen till date and it's grand yellow and white facade is a visual treat.
Interesting fact - Several (close to 65) colorful staircases ascend and descend to and from Altinho Hill connecting Old Panjim to New Panjim.
All roads in Old Panjim somehow lead to the church square which is dominated by Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church at its heart. The church sits on a hill and from a distance looks like a white cake with layers perched on top of another. The site was once a port where ships sailing from Portugal used to land. In those times, the church used to serve the religious needs of the Portuguese sailors. The zig zag stairs that are lined on both the sides makes it a photographer's landmark. The exterior of the church is painted bright white in color with blue touches. The white paint of the church signifies the Immaculate virgin, Mary. It is famous for housing the second largest bell in Goa that is believed to have brought from the Augustinian ruins of the church of Our Lady of Grace.
Ram kept us engaged with fun-facts, travel tips, fun quizzes and other interesting tidbits that we did not even realize we walked for 3 hours by now. At the end of the walk, he treated us with traditional Goan breakfast at a 100 year old restaurant - Cafe Bhosle. The sweet buns and bhaji pav were a wonderful treat. The walk made us realize that Panjim has a lot of essence with each street and building narrating a historic story. We highly recommend the heritage walk to everyone visiting Panjim in Goa. Ramchandra Salgaonkar has invested lot of time in studying and perfecting the walk around Panjim and there couldn't be a better storyteller than him.
After the walk we tried exploring a few other places on our own. Ramchandra had already provided us a better understanding on how to move around the town for the rest of our trip. Read about the other places to visit in Panjim in our blog here.
Stay in Fontainhas
The best way to immerse yourself in the alleys of Fontainhas is by staying right in the middle of these latin quarters. WelcomHeritage Panjim Inn is an old house nicely renovated and converted into a heritage hotel. It is located in Fontainhas area and is the best point that could be kept as a base to cover not just Fontainhas but all the places worth visiting in Panjim. Read about our experience of staying in Panjim Inn here.
Where to eat in Fontainhas
A walk in Fontainhas would not be complete without eating a Goan meal. We highly recommend Cafe Venite located on 31st January Road to all the foodies visiting Panjim. Cafe Venite serves traditional Goan cuisines since 1955. The ambience is charming with tables placed in cute balconies overlooking the colorful street from where you can watch the world go by. You can also have exquisite dishes at Verandah, the restaurant of Panjim Inn.
So as we intimated earlier and hope you too have teleported to a different world while reading this article on Fontainhas of Goa. It is simply an incredible experience spending your day walking around these streets, having some delicious meals at such timeless cafes and staying in heritage hotels.
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Hope you found this article useful. And do plan a visit to Fontainhas on your next visit to Goa. Do let us know your thoughts in the comment section below and share it on social media. Want to understand Panjim better? Read our article on places to visit and things to do in Panjim city here.