Patterned along the lines of Lisbon’s Bairo Alto, Fontinhas in Goa is Asia’s only Latin Quarter! It is located at the base of the Althino hills and is bounded by the hills and springs (it gets it name from the spring Fonte Fontainhas) in the west and the ancient Ourem creek in the east. Reminiscent of the old days when the Portuguese officials lived in the area, Fontainhas retains its colourful and vibrant houses with balcaos and Azulejos on either side of the lovely cobbled streets.
Oh. If you’re imagination is as vivid as mine I am sure that you are mesmerized by the thought of visiting this splendid location and our mentally making notes on when to book tickets for the same.
So to make the next step of planning what you do there easier I have made a list of the 23 things one can do in Fontainhas.
Don’t worry there is something for everyone!
1) Take a walk through the narrow cobbled streets without a plan or a map in hand and get lost marvelling at the beauty that is Fontainhas. Let your imagination run wild and your mind envision that you are a Portuguese official taking an evening walk in your neighborhood. Wow!
2) Learn the history of the place. History hides the best stories ever told and let’s one have a whole new perception on a place. And trust me when I tell you that in every nook and corner of Fontainhas you will find a story that will astonish you. You can either visit the local library and read up a book on the astonishing history of Fontainhas or just join a heritage trail and let the trail ambassador do all the learning and story telling. Victor and I did a trail with Soul Travelling and absolutely loved it. Their ambassadors are so knowledgeable and they make the whole experience so much fun.
3) Grab a café at one of the many coffee shops that line Fontainhas’ cobbled streets. A super fun activity to do is to pick a seat near a window and people watch as you get energized with the caffeine entering you. Our all time favourite coffee shop in Fontainhas is Bombay Coffee Roasters which is tastefully decorated and has wifi, books to read and dorms to stay as well. And check out the exterior of its side wall for a pleasant treat.
4) Make a quick travel sketch of one of your favourite houses. Travel sketching can be a really fun thing to do when alone or with friends and family. The best souvenir to take home is a hand made drawing of what you see in front of you with touches of your personal style. Even if you are not an artsy person doing something out of your comfort zone will be absolutely rewarding and who knows you may actually realise that you have a natural flair for it and may just become the next Picasso. And imagine years from now when you are cleaning your room and find this sketch – a rush of nostalgia enters your body and the artwork makes your day.
5) Reconnect with God while witnessing a holy mass at the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church. Join in the hymns and prayers with the locals as you thank the almighty for all that you have received and be blessed by the father, the son and the holy spirit.
6) Admire the brilliant artworks by local and overseas artists at one of Fontainhas’ many art galleries. And if you do have the budget for it, gift your parents your favourite painting. Investing in art is definitely the new and upcoming ‘it' thing as art at all prices and levels always appreciates.
7) Get your daily fruit dose by sampling the exotic feni while engaging in conversation with the town youth at one of Fontainhas’ many local taverns. Our favourite is Joseph’s Bar which is a small extremely ambient local bar with around 10 tables and chairs spilling onto the street outside and a limited but really tasty selection of Goan snacks to go as accompaniments with the drinks.
8) Visit the annual Fontainhas’ festival that takes place in February. This beautiful event transforms all historic houses into galleries that showcase their prized family treasures and art. This art and culture festival has plenty of music and dance and is super fun to attend. If you visit Goa in February be sure to add the Fontainhas festival to your itinerary.
9) Find out the secret behind the Crucifix at St Sebastian Chapel. For those of you who do not know, a crucifix is a three dimensional image of Jesus on a cross. The crucifix emphasizes Jesus’ sacrifice- his death by crucifixion, which Christians believe brought about the redemption of mankind. Traditionally Jesus’s face shows suffering and his eyes are closed. However, this crucifix has Jesus’s eyes wide open and staring straight ahead.
10) Go on an Azulejos tour and pick out your favourite Azulejos nameplate. The bright blue hand painted tin glazed tiles will never go unnoticed in Fontainhas. You will find these Portuguese tiles used as nameplates on the walls next to the main door of every house as well as floor tiles and wall tiles in multiple locations. Go on a walk only to admire all the genius work of Azulejo art and be sure to pick out the design that is your favourite.
11) Learn how Azulejo tiles are made and handpick one for your home. What better souvenir to take from your memorable trip to Fontainhas then a perfectly painted customized Azulejo tile. If you want to pick one up at Fontainhas visit Galeria Azulejos de Goa. If you have a lot of time to spare head over to Bicholim to visit an Azulejos factory called Turi Azulejos run by Mr Shankar Turi.
12) Make a wish at the wishing well. Attached to the St Sebastian Chapel is a rustic brick well. Legend has it that if one throws a coin into the well and makes a wish the wish will almost certainly come true. Well take a peep into it and see a heap of coins from years of young individuals hoping to have their wishes come true. I made a wish too. And it came true!! Do you think this well is enchanted? Or was it just a lucky coincidence. We will never know.
13) Explore the interiors of a century old Indo-Portuguese home. Put on a charming smile and politely ask one of the old residents whether you can be invited to have a look at their beautiful house. More often than not they will oblige. However if doing this on your own is too forward for your personality, join a heritage tour with Soul traveling who have a lot of contacts in the area and they will ensure that you make a quick visit to one such place. And don’t try to get out of this one because trust me these houses are incredibly beautiful with plenty of ancestral treasures and secrets. If you visit Fontainhas during its annual festival in February most houses will have their doors open to the public making it very comfortable to explore them. (https://www.soultravelling.in/ )
14) Cycle around the locality with a group of like minded individuals. Many of the hostels in the area will provide cycles for rent which are very affordable. However if you haven’t cycled for ages and are unsure if your body is fit enough for the task, consider E-cycling with B’Live Cycle Tours ( https://www.blive.co.in/ ) . We took a tour with B’Live and if we could we would do it everyday. The cycles are effortless. You can cycle like you normally would and if and when you get tired you can switch to the electric mode which is like riding a scooter.
15) Visit one of the historical bakeries of the area and savour some of the unique Indo-Portuguese snacks and desserts that are freshly made. Our all time favourite bakery is the antique hole in the wall 31 de Janeiro which is named after the day that Portugal attained independence from Spain. There are just so many wondrous snacks and desserts to choose from that my favourite most likely changes on every visit. But for now- my favourite is the prawns ressois and Victor’s all time favourite is the Bebinca.
16) Get a mini Instagram worthy photoshoot done. The bright colours and incredible architecture of the houses in Fontainhas makes it a perfect picturesque background for a photoshoot. Click away with every interesting object you find and let your followers become J.
17) Sleep like a Royal! Stay in a heritage hotel in the heart of Fontianhas and live like the Portuguese officials did centuries ago. Many heritage homes have converted to hotels and airbnbs retaining their ancient charm while adding in modern luxury amenities. Some crowd favourites are La Maison and Panjim Inn which also has an amazing restaurant in their balcao.
18) Visit one of the restaurants in the area for a delicious assortment of Indo-Portuguese cuisine. There are quite a handful of gorgeous restaurants in the area serving authentic and elevated cuisine. Our favourite is Panjim Inn’s Verandas Restaurant with an intimate setting and a view overlooking the cobbled street. Confused as to what to order? Try out the Chorizo Pulao, Beef Assado and Prawn Balchao. Yummm!!!
19) Take a basics of Portuguese class with a native speaker of Fontainhas. Sit in the balcao with them and learn the the ‘Ola’, ‘Saude’ ‘Adeus’ while you watch life going on on the street below. How well can you pronounce the word pao? Haha..
20) Fond of games? I spy so many things Portuguese! Click as many pictures as you can of signs that indicate the connection that Fontainhas has with Portugal and share it with is. Fingers crossed! If you impress us you might just receive something in your mailbox.
21) Learn how to make Vindaloo from a senhora in her family kitchen with a recipe from her family cookbook. For those who love to cook isn’t this just a dream come true?
22) Get hooked to the music of Mando and Fado as you watch a live performance at Madragoa. Mando is an indowestern style of music in Konkanni centred around love and longing for love and Fado is a style of music in Portuguese. After listening to beautiful maiden with elaborate clothing holding fans and singing these songs you will definitely understand why Goans are hopeless romantics.
23) Take a bath in Fonte Phoenix. Fonte Phoenix or Fountain of the Phoenix is a natural spring located at the base of the Althino hill after which Fontanhas gets its name. There is a golden phoenix wearing a viceroys crown at the spring which is pretty. End the Fontanhas walk with a dip in the Fonte Phoenix. What a place!
I hope that this list of 23 things to do in Asia’s only Latin Quarters has gotten you really excited. Remember to pick your wardrobe in advance if you want to get awesome Instagram pictures. I know you will like it as much as we did.