A Local Architect’s Guide to Goa’s Understated Heritage Hangouts

Beyond Goa’s beaming coastlines stacked with bustling dine and dance alcoves, there are quaint, unpaved in-roads that lead to long-reigning, understated venues, including bars, restaurants, cultural centres and local bazaars. For the discerning traveller who would like to side-step mainstream attractions these rustic hideaways, often brimming with customers they’ve served for generations, offer an authentic glimpse at Goa’s rich heritage and cultural history.

Conservationist architect, Raya Shankhwalker, was born and raised in Panjim. Having grown up amidst the capital’s remarkable skyline of heritage properties, Raya today works to revitalise derelict historic structures into culturally sensitive and sustainable venues. Combining his experience as a Goan native and a connoisseur of its retrospective highlights, Raya curates a rare list of Goa’s most understated heritage hangouts.

ASHOK BAR AND RESTAURANT | PANJIM

Located right behind the head post office in Panjim’s Sao Tome quarter, this authentic tavern has retained its original character – including typical Goan interiors and decor – for over three generations.

The bar and restaurant still have no digital presence. Even popular listing sites like Trip Advisor feature minimal information and no photographs of the coveted joint.

Its low-key exterior, however, is contradicted by the swooning crowds that frequent the establishment every day for its highly specialised menu.

As Raya notes: “They offer a very basic range of drinks apart from feni and has had regulars dropping in every day to engage in bar banter that is usually focussed around local gossip. The reason I go there because he serves Goa’s best Xacuti and that has been the only dish on his menu for over 60 years.”

No option paralysis here. Ashok’s has one clear motto: Do just one thing and do it right.

Find it: Behind GPO, Altinho, Panaji, Goa 403001, 098221 21496

SAVOI PLANTATION | PONDA

Founded and operated by the Shetye family since 1985, the Savoi Plantation is a farm-to-table restaurant that allows visitors the chance to tour the spices and produce grown on its 200-acre expanse before sitting down for an authentic Goan meal made from fresh, organically nurtured ingredients.

The massive estate also offers rustic accommodation options for those who wish to stay on the plantation.

Raya notes, “The food is served in locally made earthenware vessels in a lovely thatched farmhouse veranda. This is not an a la carte menu – in true home-style hospitality fashion, you eat what the owner serves you.”

Find it: Savoi Plantations 50, Savoi, Marcel Ponda Road, Ponda, Goa, 403401, 096378 38389

FRIDAY MARKET | MAPUSA

To purchase spices, textiles and traditional craft-ware the way that locals do, head to Mapusa market on Friday. This open-air expanse embodies all the qualities of eastern bazaars – the dexterity of micro businesses, the crowds, the haggling and the sheer variety of authentic goods.

Among the vast array of products you can choose, Raya recommends woven cane items and earthenware.

“Woven cane items have amazing design, utility and eco-friendliness. And I like buying earthenware, which easily fits every household. It’s also important to buy these products from local craftspeople to keep the source of these traditions alive.”

Find it: Marod, Mapusa, Goa 403507

THE REIS MAGOS FORT

Built in the 16th century as the first line of defence to the Port of Old Goa, the Reis Magos fort –  overlooking the Mandovi River – helped the Portuguese deflect Dutch and Maratha incursions.

Its strategic importance and historic role are matched by its restored and majestic beauty. Its unparalleled view of the Mandhovi’s crystalline waters and Panjim’s distant skyline compel a moment of awe. A guided tour of within its laterite walls further allows visitors the chance to relive the fort’s captivating history.

There are many remarkable places from which to catch Goa’s pastoral views but Raya suggests, unequivocally, that “a sunset seen from the bastions of this fort are to die for.”

Find it: Reis Magos Fort, Verem, Bardez, Goa 403114, 082750 25195

SUNAPARANTA – GOA’S CENTRE FOR THE ARTS | PANJIM 

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Located in an exceptional, historic Portuguese mansion, this art gallery and cafe welcomes visitors through a cobblestone walk through an expansive front courtyard into the sweeping Matisse-blue veranda of what was once a private residence. Inside, several rooms are converted into exhibition space where notable curators and artists convene contemporary shows as well as selective cultural events.

An internal courtyard, flanked by sloping red-tiled roofs and wooden panels, becomes the cosy seating area for the Centre’s in-house cafe, Bodega – which Raya deems, “Panjim’s best cafe and one of Goa’s best, too.”

Bodega is an especially beautiful sight in the monsoons – you can sip a coffee while watching the coastal rain pelt musically into the coy open-air patio.

Find it: Sunaparanta 63/C-8, Near Army House, Altinho, Panaji, Goa 403001, 0832 242 1311

ABOUT RAYA SHANKHWALKER

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Image Credit: Raya Shankhwalker Architects.

Established on the tenets of cultural and environmental sustainability, Raya Shankhwalker’s Neo-Heritage designs synergise traditional design principles with modern, multi-experiential spaces.

In 1996, Raya earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the Goa College of Architecture.

In 1997, he was awarded a two-year research grant by the Goan delegate of Fundacao Oriente to study Indo-Portuguese architecture. This academic foundation supplemented the architect’s personal attachment to Goan history. In 2000, he convened The Goan Heritage Action Group. The organisation, where he continues to serve as Honorary Secretary, is a non-governmental collective of enthusiasts and activists who seek to protect traditional Goan art, craft, literature, architecture and cultural savoir-faire.

Across 2000-2003, Raya undertook pro-bono projects committed to revitalising the city of Panaji. Over the last decade and a half, Raya has continued to seamlessly morph native materials and processes into contemporary frameworks. His luxury private residences, often thoughtful getaways for urban natives, merge ergonomic versatility with old-world charm. The curated intimacy of his boutique bars, lounges and restaurants, extend coastal hospitality to high-calibre nightlife. Pioneering a fusion of conservationist and evolutionary design, Raya envisions spaces that incubate history for the future.

Happy Reading!

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