Panaji blends eastern grace with western town planning. Under the peaceful veneer are undertones of a city struggling to embrace modernity while integrating its heritage. The central zone of the city, with gardens and broad roads built on a grid pattern, makes places easy to find. Old shops such as Loja Camota defy change. Sporting signboards in Portuguese, they hold their own against glass-frontedshowrooms such as Levi's or Benetton on MG road and Wills Lifestyle on 18th June Road.
Panaji continues to retain much of its heritage because of the intervention of local heritage groups. Its tree-lined promenades, church steeples and colourful Indo-Portuguese houses with circling verandahs and stone corbelled roofs make a pretty sight as you cross the Mandovi bridge. Of the four entrances into this island city, the route over the Mandovi bridge is the best approach.
The city's lifeline is the Mandovi River. With unstinting attention, the Mandovi etched the city's shoreline into coves and sandy beaches like Miramar, Caranzalem, Dona Paula and Hawaii beach.
In the 18th century, the river shaped Panaji from fishing village of mangroves, paddy fields and saline lands into a lovely European-styled city.
When the prosperous city of Old Goa fell to disease and death, the Portuguese shifted the city, brick by brick, to Panaji. Mansions and magnificent structures in Old Goa were dismembered and carried via the Mandovi River to rebuild the new capital, Nova Goa. In the early 19th century, Panaji was enlarged and developed with public sewage, an intricate drainage system and gardens. It became the capital of Goa by a royal decree in 1843, and was known as Nova Goa or New Goa. It was later renamed Panaji.
A comfortable bed
Hotel prices peak at New Year. For five-star comfort, Goa Marriott Resort (www.marriott.com; 00 91 832 2463333) at Miramar offers stunning views of the Mandovi, one of the best sunset spots in Goa (double rooms from 7,500 Indian rupees [Dh620], including taxes).
The Mandovi (www.hotelmandovigoa.com; 00 91832 22 2440 509) is one of Goa's oldest hotels, with double rooms from Rs2,675 (Dh221), including taxes.
Panjim Inn (www.panjiminn.com; 00 91 832 2228 136), a cosy heritage hotel in a quiet Fontainhas neighbourhood, is known for its hospitality and clean rooms. Double rooms cost from Rs2,622 (Dh217), including taxes.
Find your feet
Panaji is a walker's delight, best savoured at a leisurely slow rhythm - in a city where nothing, especially traffic, is rushed. From Boca de Vaca Spring on Dada Vaidya Road, water spews from a beautifully sculpted cow head. Next to the spring is the 1818 Mahalaxmi temple, resplendent in its antiquity and history.
Patto bridge is a marvel of civil engineering, once considered the longest and oldest bridge to be built on alluvial soil. Although designed for horse-driven carriages, the bridge now supports heavy traffic.
Walk west along Panaji's riverfront from the Mandovi Bridge and watch the sun set over the Mandovi as you pass historical sites such as the statue of Abbé Faria, the Adil Shah Palace and the old Customs House, now a museum. Further down to the left is Menezes Braganza Institute; step into the entrance to admire the intricate azulejos, a Portuguese art form that involves painting white tiles with shades of blue then firing them. The paintings depict scenes from The Lusiads, an epic poem about Portuguese explorers.
Meet the locals
Wherever you hear music, you'll find a Goan. Heritage Jazz Yatra is music with a mission: to draw attention to Goa's rich heritage. Armando Gonsalves home forms the backdrop to jazz concerts with local and international acts who perform on the street and rev up the usually quiet neighbourhood of Campal with guitar riffs and bluesy saxophone (visit www.heritagejazz.com).
Kala Academy (00 91 832 2420 452) is Goa's cultural centre, known for its architecture by Charles Correa. At times, the academy puts on musical shows and theatre - western classical, jazz, classical Hindi.
Panjim Corporation Market is where you'll find exotic fruits and a variety of seafood. Stop to taste local palm jaggery, kokum, toddy vinegar and coconut feni.
Book a table
Tamari (00 91 832 6633 636; open daily from 12.30pm to 3pm and 7pm to 11pm) does sushi wraps and rolls of tuna, salmon and eel (Rs355, Dh29). For reasonably priced local dishes such as chicken xacuti, rechado mackerels and semolina-fried squids, try George Bar and Restaurant at Church Square. Ritz Classic Restaurant and Bar on 18th June Road and Viva Panjim in Fontainhas near Mary Immaculate School. Hotel Venite on 31 January Road offers authentic Goan and Portuguese food. Arrive early to avoid waiting for a table.
Visit Wendell Rodricks Design Space at 158, near Luis Gomes Garden, Campal, for evening gowns and casual wear in naturally dyed, organic fabrics.
For antique furniture, Luso-Indian items and artefacts from different parts of India, there's Rebelo's Arte e Mobilia Rebelo (Rua de Ormuz, opposite Café Bhonsle; 00 98 2310 0400). Velha Goa Galleria (00 91 832 242 6628; open from 9.30am to 1 pm and 3pm to 7.30pm) specialises in azulejos.
What to avoid
Evening cruises on the Mandovi - they offer a parody of traditional Goan dance and music. On board, you get hordes of Indian tourists hand pumping the air to deafening bhangra music - a far cry from the peace and quiet Goa is known for.
The church square of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the central axis from which Panaji's arterial roads branch out. On December 8, the feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the church is lit up and street vendors line the square, selling everything from furniture to clothes, toys and sweets.
To the left of the church is the heritage precinct of Fontainhas, the Latin quarter of Panaji. Narrow winding lanes, bakeries, violin tunes and pretty homes characterise the neighbourhood.