For 432 years, this sprawling heritage villa has been a paragon of flamboyance and beauty in Goa. Today, you can not only check in for a slice of the high life, but also meet and eat with the Figueiredo family to get a true sense of the space.
Picture this. Year: 1590. William Shakespeare had not yet written Romeo & Juliet. The Taj Mahal wasn’t built. Flush toilet was not invented. Sir Isaac Newton wasn’t even born. There was nothing called a thermometer. And the United States of America did not exist as a country.
While the world waited for all this, a prosperous Saraswat Brahmin who had recently converted to Christianity and acquired a new name — Manuel Figueiredo — laid the first brick of his new home in Loutolim in south Goa. The menacing bubonic plague had compelled the rich landlord to move from his ancestral village of Sancoale to Loutolim. And thus began the story of Figueiredo House that sprawls over a carpet area of 5,000 sq ft, its backyard stretching as far as the eye can see up to the foot of a hill. But the measuring tape is not the mainstay of the House, grandeur and opulence is.
Walk up the staircase painted dark blue and orange, step past the two cement benches on the verandah and then wait for magnificence to unfold in the long rooms that flow into each other seamlessly. The original building that dates back to 1590, has Burma teak floors, oyster shells as windowpanes, Belgian chandeliers, carved furniture, a palanquin to carry the weak and ill to hospital, and views of tracts of lush paddy fields stippled with white egrets. The windows have no grills, and the door frames are tall enough for a giraffe to walk in without dipping its neck.
The New Wing, which was added nearly 200 years ago, houses the Museum that is open to public every day. The walls embellished with old photographs narrate history while furniture, crockery and knick-knacks tucked inside locked chests and shelves talk of extreme wealth that the Figueiredos have garnered over 12 generations since Manual Figueiredo moved to Loutolim.
Carved Burma teak and rosewood chairs are arranged neatly behind thick red velvet ropes and golden stanchions. Atop an old ivory German piano is an ivory tusk with elephants carved into it. A huge sandook (chest) has no joints — it was sculpted out of one teak log. There are dainty hand fans made of painted shark fins, combs of turtle shells painted with gold, ivory hair clips, a porcelain crockery set in the Figueiredo House’s signature colours of orange and gold made by the East India Company on the strict clause that the design will never be repeated.
In another room, hang the gown belonging to the family matriarch Maria de Lourdes Figueiredo de Albuquerque, her fuchsia pink Banarsi saree that she wore to her swearing in as Member of Parliament of Portugal, and several other silk outfits embroidered in gold. After served the Portuguese Parliament for eight years, Maria de Lourdes passed away last year and the Figueiredo House legacy is now being carried forward by her daughter Maria de Fatima Figueiredo Albuquerque, who returned to Goa from Lisbon in 2016.
“For nearly 30 years, I was based in Lisbon and worked as the Creative Manager of Estee Lauder. I had been visiting Goa frequently, but it was in 2015 that I had to make the choice between staying in Lisbon or returning to the Figueiredo House for good,” says the 12th generation Figueiredo who restored the glory of the House.
Now, the Figueiredos have turned eight rooms into a heritage homestay replete with old-world charm and modern amenities. The rooms are named after the illustrious ladies of the house: Georgina, Elsa, Amalia, Especiosa and Graça. Two rooms together become the Family Suite that can sleep four.
Maria de Fatima runs the kitchen, rustling up the best of Goa-Portuguese cuisine including heirloom recipes. “There’s a chicken pulao, which is a pulao, but different from anything you would have tasted. There’s the Figueiredo House samosa without an ounce of potato. The pastry is flaky and the filling unusual. The salad is tossed with caramelised nuts, feta and smoked salmon and the crepe is topped with vanilla ice-cream and fresh strawberries.
A crowd favourite is the Portuguese Cataplana, a pork and seafood stew (Cataplana is the word for both the dish and the spherical pot it’s cooked and served in) and fish on salt (fish cooked only with salt and served with boiled potatoes),” adds Maria de Fatima, who honed her culinary skills in the Catering College of Lisbon.
With so much history and opulence writ on its walls, it is no surprise that the House (earlier known as Figueiredo Old Heritage Inn) is a much-sought-after venue for film shoots, weddings as well as product launches. If you have watched the latest film Loop Lapeta, you’ll find vignettes of Figueiredo House in the fleeting frames. The latest Skoda and Budweiser variants were launched here, and a Skechers ad was shot. And countless brides and grooms have said ‘I do’ here too.
“When films are shot here, the actors invariably stay in the House. During the entire shoot, the House remains closed to public,” explains Pedro Figueiredo de Albuquerque, the heir-apparent, who manages the events/shoots.
Before walking out of the Figueiredo House, I step on a few terracotta tiles that hide a tunnel that once allowed the inmates to escape to the hill behind. The tunnel exists but is no longer in use, neither are the gun holes built into the thick walls. I run down the orange/blue steps and imagine the man — Manuel Figueiredo — standing in the large front yard watching bricks being laid for his new home. That was 432 years ago.
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Good to know
Standard room tariff: Off season: Rs 5,000 per night; From October to December 16: Rs 7,500. Mid-December to mid-January Rs 8,000. Includes breakfast + wi-fi, parking, and guided visit to the museum | Family suite tariff: Off-season Rs 8,000. Rs 12,000-14,000 per night in peak season for each suite (sleeps four) | Address: House No 378, Carvota, Loutolim, Goa 403718 | Phone: +919552017514, +919657868090 | Email: email@example.com | Website: figueiredohouse.com | Instagram: @figueiredohouse | Museum timings: Daily from 9.30 am to 1 pm, and 2 to 5 pm | Admission fee: Rs 300 per person. Free for in-house guests | Guided visit timings: 10.30 am / noon / 2.30 pm / 4 pm | City tours: Can be facilitated by Figueiredo House at an extra cost. Meals or take-aways: Order 48 hours in advance.