A Guide to Fontainhas, Goa's Latin Quarter

Fontainhas is Indias only Latin Quarter
Fontainhas is India's only Latin Quarter | © Navin Sigamany/Flickr

Located in Panjim, Fontainhas, also known as Goa’s Latin Quarter, is flanked by an ancient creek called Ourem Creek to the east and the Altinho hills with springs to the west. Many tourists eschew this heritage colony for the spectacular beaches and waves of Goa’s coastline, but its colorful and fascinating sights are more than worth visiting.

Goa was colonized by the Hindus, Muslims, and Portuguese, the latter leaving the biggest influence here, by far, which is clearly evident in Fontainhas. Fontainhas was founded in the late 18th century by a wealthy Portuguese named Antonio Joao de Sequeira. He used this land for coconut plantations. But, in the early 1800s, due to the spread of epidemic in the Old Goa, the Portuguese government headquarters was shifted to Panjim. As a result, this area was transformed into the residential area for Portuguese administrative officers and rulers. In 1984, UNESCO recognized Fontainhas as a Heritage Zone.

A common visual reminder of Portuguese remnants here are the houses and cottages built in colonial architecture and painted in fluorescents and pastels. In addition to that, the names of the narrow cobbled streets can also be traced back to the Portuguese time in Goa, for instance, Rua 31 de Janeira (31st January Road) is named after the day when Portugal got independence from Spain on January 31, 1640; and 18th June Street is named after the day in 1946 that marked the beginning of the end of Portuguese rule in the country.

What to see and do

Fontainhas is best explored on foot, and strolling among its narrow cobbled streets will definitely transport you back in time.

Marvel at the old Portuguese houses that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Painted in hues of green, pale yellow, and blue, along with red-colored tiled roofs, artistic doors, and overhead balconies, you’ll instantly fall head over heels with the rows of traditional Portuguese houses and cottages that cover the narrow, winding landscape. There are cute little cafés and bakeries that are over 100 years old dotting the streets of Fontainhas. One of the intriguing features of the houses and cottages in Fontainhas is that they are painted every year after monsoons; it’s a rule that was laid out by the Portuguese, which is followed today.

One of the historic houses has a red colored wishing well with roosters erected on it. The well is no more in use, but you can spend some quiet time here, enjoy the beautiful sights, and soak up the local atmosphere.

One of the Fontainhas most beautiful and emblematic attractions (besides the colorful houses, of course) is the 19th century Chapel of St. Sebastian, which is especially notable for its pristine white exterior, a great contrast to the seemingly colorful neighborhood. Stepping inside, you’ll find three resplendent altarpieces, a crucifix, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. There’s a unique thing about the crucifix housed here—the figure of Christ on it has eyes wide open.

With colorful Portuguese-style houses and beautiful street art on the walls, the Latin Quarter itself is a wonderful work of art. For a more niche experience, art aficionados must visit the Gitanjali Gallery, situated next to the heritage hotel, Panjim Inn. The gallery houses contemporary art as well as a vast collection of Scandinavian art from the 1950s to ’90s, including linocuts, etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, and serigraphs. While work by local and international artists fills the space, it also hosts poetry and book readings, art and theatre workshops, book launches, and courses on art, history, and film appreciation. There’s a café on-site, so you can warm up with an espresso as you browse the collection.

Also, make sure to drop by Velha Goa Galeria to get your hands on the traditional hand-painted azulejos (tin-glazed ceramic tiles).

While in the area, make sure to visit the Maruti Temple that sits atop Altinho hill, overlooking the picturesque Mandovi River. Dedicated to Lord Hanuman, climbing up the hillock is popular with locals and tourists alike, who are lured by the peaceful atmosphere and panoramic vistas of the Latin Quarter they are awarded with at the top.

Another unmissable spot is the Fonte Phoenix (Fountain of Phoenix) that is located near the Maruti temple. It is a beautiful natural spring that dates back to the Portuguese era, and the name of the town, Fontainhas, is said to be derived from it.

If you happen to be in this historic neighborhood during February, make sure to attend the Fontainhas festival. It is an art and cultural festival in which the historic houses are transformed into art galleries with locals putting on display their artworks that showcase the Goan heritage. In addition to that, musical and dance events are also held.

You can soak up the beautiful sights of Fontainhas by yourself, but to get to know it better, opt for a walking tour instead. Some of the best ones include Make it Happen, SeekSherpa, Wandertrails, and Goa Magic.

Where to stay

There are several accommodation options available for all pocket-sizes. It is recommended to book a room in one of the many Portuguese mansions that exude a nostalgic charm. One of the best options is the 19th-century WelcomeHeritage Panjim Inn that will take you back in time with its period furnishings, antiques, and authentic Goan hospitality. Three options are available—standard, deluxe, and superior, and all offer guaranteed comfort and the feel of the bygone era. In addition to that, a rooftop salon, sunbathers lounge, and dip pool are on offer. Don’t forget to sample the local Goan cuisine along with the famous Goan drink, Feni, at the Verandah Restaurant, located on the first floor of the hotel.

Another great stay option is the La Maison Fontainhas. It is a boutique property great for those who want to experience traditional charm and revel in modern luxury. There are eight palatial rooms kitted out with beautiful furnishings, art pieces, and other mod cons. When it comes to dining, there is a restaurant onsite, named DESBUE, that is famed for its European fusion fare.

If you’re looking for a more extravagant experience, Mitaroy Goa Hotel is the perfect choice. This hotel is as relaxing as it is luxurious. There are four rooms outfitted with a mini bar, balconies to enjoy the beautiful view of the surroundings, en-suite bathroom, and separate sitting space, among other amenities. It’s a dog-friendly property, so you can get your furry friends!

There is no better way to soak in the true essence of Goa’s Latin Quarter than to stay in the local B&B or a guesthouse. The 150-year-old Hospedaria Abrigo de Botelho and Afonso Guest House are your best bets, both offering an intimate take on amenities and hospitality.

For backpackers and young travelers on a budget, OLD QUARTER by the hostelcrowd is the best option, as it is equipped with all the necessary facilities, plus you get to mingle with other travelers. An added bonus: there are bicycles on rent are on offer to explore the area.

Where to eat

There are several restaurants and cafés in Fontainhas. A famed restaurant is Viva Panjim, which serves delicious Goan and Portuguese cuisine. Another restaurant known for its authentic Portuguese and Goan cuisine is Horse Shoe.

If you’re craving BBQ, Barrels & Bones is your best option. BBQ chicken sizzler, sweet soy glazed pork sizzler, risotto, pizzas, pasta, grills, steaks, and salads fill the menu.
Hospedaria Veniteis one of the oldest establishments and a quite popular restaurant that dishes out lip-smacking seafood and local Goan delicacies. The walls are adorned with graffiti that provides an insight into the bygone era. There are beer bottle chandeliers that add to the appeal.
A hidden gem located amid the colorful cottages in Fontainhas is Joseph Bar. With incandescent lights, rustic décor, and an intimate atmosphere, this is a popular hangout spot for locals and tourists alike. It is famous for its Feni cocktail coupled with some Goan delicacies. The place opens in the evening from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m., and fills up pretty quickly.

A not-to-miss spot is the Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro, which is perhaps the oldest bakery in Fontainhas. This bakery serves the best cookies, cakes, and breads. Do relish their swiss rolls, golden puff pasty cones, and the signature dessert of Goa, bebinca.

How to get there

The nearest airport is the Goa International Airport, approximately 16.5 miles from Fontainhas—visitors can take a taxi/local bus the rest of the way. There are several local transport options also available in Goa to reach Fontainhas.

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