Where to Go in 2019: Goa’s Treasured Portuguese Charms
“My home is older than the Taj Mahal”, says Maria de Fatima Figueiredo de Albuquerque as she shows me around her family home, an almost-430-year-old mansion in Loutulim, South Goa. Unlike the mausoleum, the Figueiredo Mansion is lived in, and has been in the same family since it was built in 1590.
Figueiredo Mansion’s simple pistachio-green facade topped with a red-tiled roof gives no inkling of the treasures within. The living room is crammed with vintage furniture, porcelain plates adorn the walls, and an elegant Belgian chandelier hangs overhead. I gingerly sit on a 16th-century teakwood chair with a plaited cane bottom, and listen to Albuquerque narrating her family’s history. “Ours was a Saraswat Brahmin Podiar family that came from Sancoale to escape a bubonic plague epidemic in the late 16th century. Part of the family settled in Shiroda in North Goa and they are Hindus till today, while the part that settled in Loutulim converted to Christianity and took the name of Figueiredo,” she relates. Her mother Maria de Lourdes now owns the house, but taking care of a 53,800-square-foot property is no easy task. So, in 2015, Albuquerque quit her job of 25 years in Lisbon and returned to Goa to help.
The house is divided into three parts: the rooms where the family resides, an eight-room homestay, and four rooms that have been opened as a museum. As we wander through the home, Albuquerque points to two tall, Ming-dynasty vases doing sentry duty by the ballroom door, embossed leather chairs from Portugal, and a wooden cabinet with inlay work, standing on the backs of four intricately carved lions. The dining room is flanked with armoires holding porcelain sets from Portugal, China, and Japan. The family was an illustrious one, and in the 19th century the king of Portugal granted it a coat of arms. Albuquerque proudly shows the chinaware in the family colours of orange and gold with the lotus motif from their coat of arms. I’m impressed, but even more so with Albuquerque’s determination in keeping her family’s legacy alive.
My next stop is Palácio do Deão in Quepem, a sunny yellow-and-white house surrounded by gardens, complete with manicured hedges, a loggia, and decorative stone figurines. In 1787, Jose Paulo, the town’s founder and the dean (deão) of the local church, built the 10,765-square-foot house on the banks of the River Kushavati. It changed many hands and ultimately fell into disrepair. Ruben Vasco da Gama, its current owner, says, “The house was in ruins so my wife and I decided to restore it. We went to Portugal to learn more about the deão. He was an important man, so there were records we could study.” The couple worked on the house for three years and did it up with 18th-century furniture to restore it. It’s not as opulent as the Figueiredo Mansion, but there’s a lightness to it, perhaps it’s in the sparse furnishings, in the windows thrown open, or the proximity to the river.
Behind the house is a belvedere where da Gama and his wife Celia serve a home-cooked Indo-Portuguese meal that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in Goan restaurants. We begin with a cooling kokum juice spiked with feni, and go on to fish croquettes, grilled prawns, savoury pumpkin pudding, steamed fish with garlic and shallots, poi, vegetable curry, and red rice. As we wind up our meal with warm bebinca, the late afternoon breeze casts a soporific spell. In true Goan fashion, I’m ready for a siesta. (figueiredohouse.com; open daily 10 a.m.-1 p.m. & 2-5.30 p.m.; entry Rs250 per person; palaciododeao.com; open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; house tours by donation; meals from Rs850 per person.)