The bylanes of Fontainhas are a far departure from the bustle of the bars and shacks that hug the shorelines of Goa. You are greeted by splashes of buttery yellows, muddy reds and emerald greens from the walls of the tiled-roof homes down the street. It’s an Instagrammer’s delight and for once, I’m not missing the beach. A white-haired man leans out of his home to serenade passersby with his violin. I take my time to photograph the way the light falls on creepers taking over metal pipes, sturdy wooden doors, and white curtains ruffling across windowpanes.
Casa Nova is a tiny homestay situated at a pleasant five-minute walk from the Old Patto bridge in Panjim. The owners, Antonio Gomes Pereira and his wife Yvonne, opened out the ground floor of their sprawling ancestral home to travellers when their children moved away. The couple lives with one of their sons and an adorable pug on the floor above. A quick tour of their home, built in 1831, reveals high ceilings and heirloom wooden chests. The ground floor comprises a tiny drawing room (with a fridge stocked with beer and water, and a television that I never found the need to turn on), a spacious bathroom, and a master bedroom. Antique wooden furniture add character and cosiness. It’s basic but comfortable, perfect for a couple or a solo traveller, and is a good base to navigate the quaint neighbourhood.
You won’t get breakfast or cooking amenities at the homestay, but do join the locals over milky chai and omelette-pav at the Relax Inn Guest House, a minute’s walk away. I went back every day for their patalbhaji, a coconutty chana (chickpeas) masala that tasted a lot like the Maharashtrian misal pav. Ritz Classic in central Panjim does a Goan fish thali, complete with tisrya (clams) and fried fish, which makes for a wholesome lunch. For dinner and drinks, head to Down the Road, a five-minute walk from the homestay. Opt for a table at the balcony on the first floor that overlooks the Mandovi River. The pork ribs at Route 66, closer to the homestay, are definitely worth going back for. Viva Panjim and Venite are also highly recommended by Antonio.
Set out to explore Fontainhas right after the afternoon siesta, when the locals are venturing out again and the sun is lower in the sky. I chanced upon the quirky Urban Cafe, part of the Old Quarter hostel, that plainly declares its views on a big poster: “The beach is boring.” The cafe has an interesting collection of books and indie magazines that you can browse through over cake and coffee. Close by is the Fundação Oriente gallery (Monday-Friday, 9a.m.-4p.m.) which sometimes holds interesting exhibitions and concerts.
Also count on recommendations from Antonio and Yvonne if you’re setting out to navigate other parts of the state. I found some of the best choriz-pao I’ve ever eaten at St Lawrence Bakery in Agacaim, thanks to them.
The best part about staying in a neighbourhood like Fontainhas is that it is so steeped in history that you have to slow down to admire the details – an old lady in a mauve frock peeping out from a forlorn garden, the intricate cornices adorning a home. For me, on a break from the chaotic rush of life in Mumbai, Casa Nova offered just the kind of quiet solitude I needed.
Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.