Above: Vivenda dos Palhaços, a onetime Portuguese manor house.
Checking into a quartet of quintessential Goan hotels
By Jarrett Wrisley
Photographs by Christopher Wise
In the village of Quepem, in Goa’s green southern folds, Ruben Vasco da Gama spent six years restoring an old estate. The 200-year-old mansion now serves as his home and a restaurant, Palacio Do Deao, where his wife, Celia, serves up wonderful Goan cuisine. But business wasn’t what prompted da Gama to repair this place; it was his desire to protect the state’s architectural legacy. “Goa has so many treasures—places that need to be preserved and passed down,” says da Gama. “Finally, here in Goa, there are more hotels that are taking advantage of that local architecture instead of disrespecting it.”
A Portuguese colony from 1510 to 1961, Goa has its fair share of historic colonial buildings. Centuries- old churches and houses line the streets of Old Goa and the small towns overlooking the Arabian Sea. But weeds are breaking through the chinks, and trees occasionally burst through the old roof tiles. Yes, Goa has plenty of colonial houses —but not enough people to take good care of them. Here are four boutique hotels that are doing their part to preserve this unique legacy.
Vivenda dos Palhaços
“I’ve always been a fan of architecture,” explains Simon Hayward over icy gin and tonics. “I was working in Bombay, and when I came here, to the south of Goa, I just fell in love with the place.” We’re sitting in the bar that serves as the nucleus of his heritage hotel, Vivenda dos Palhaços, which he opened with his sister Charlotte. Set on a leafy estate in the village of Majorda in South Goa, the Vivenda is a rare and wonderful escape. “I guess the concept is ‘house party,’ ” says Simon. “We want you to feel as if you’re staying with friends in the countryside. There’s a strong temptation to go more commercial, have a reception desk and other formalities. But really, there’s no need.”
Accommodation at Vivenda is split over three spaces. Seven individually appointed rooms sprawl over two separate houses: a 1929 Portuguese mansion and a century-old rammed-earth building (the Hindoo house). A large, self-contained tent has been pitched in the rear, replete with antique camping furniture, beside a large swimming pool encircled by coconut palms. Simple breakfasts—fruit salad, fried eggs, and strong coffee—are enjoyed in the stately dining area. A wide beach (one of Goa’s longest) is a 15-minute stroll down the road.
There are many design charms too. Rooms may come with four-poster beds, cast-iron tubs salvaged from the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, teak furniture, or love seats overlooking the garden. Still, the highlight of any stay has to be cocktail hour. Come sunset, guests gather in the bar and share stories over gin and tonics and strong Haywards 5000 beer, the legacy of the old family brewery business, since sold to a large multinational. Great dinners generally unfold thereafter. “Simon and I work together, and it’s been a happy evolution in the way we run the place,” says Charlotte. “We were born in Calcutta; India is in our blood. And we feel very fortunate that we can share it in this special place” (Costa Vaddo, Majorda, Salcette; 91-832/322-1119; vivendagoa.com; doubles from US$73).
Panaji (a.k.a. Panjim) may be the capital of Goa, but for the most part its charms are overlooked by beach-bound tourists. And so, it remains a distinctly local city, with only a handful of lodging options. For many years, the best place in town to hang your hat was the Panjim Inn, occupying a mansion built in the late 1800s. Two years ago, the inn’s owners opened a second, more luxurious heritage property, Panjim Peoples.
Just a short walk from the town square, the four-room hotel occupies a former schoolhouse in the exclusive Fontainhas neighborhood, home to the majority of Panaji’s surviving colonial architecture. “People started heading to this part of town in the 1880s, after the second plague in Old Goa,” explains the hotel’s owner, Ajid Sukhida, as we wander through the airy ground-floor Gitanjali Gallery. “They had to drain all this land—it was once nothing but swamp—to build these great old homes. The hills were already taken by other colonists.”
The rooms at Panjim Peoples are palatial, with lofty ceilings and antique furniture that Sukhida collected on his travels across the subcontinent, like old planter chairs and rosewood vanity units. Mod cons include cable TV and large, renovated bathrooms. Due to its size, services are limited outside the guest quarters: there’s no restaurant or bar as such, although guests are welcome to use the facilities at the Panjim Inn, just across the road (E-212, 31st January Rd., Fontainhas, Panaji; 91-832/222-1122; panjiminn.com; doubles from US$112).
Presa di Goa
“Although we call ourselves heritage, this is actually a new house,” says Edouard Speck, the proprietor of Presa di Goa. Speck, who spent decades managing five-star properties in Cairo and Istanbul, moved to Goa with the intention of finding the perfect old home to restore. When he couldn’t figure out a way to alter the houses he saw to meet his own standards (“Where can you put a bathroom in these rooms? There is no place for one”), he decided to build a new property, with a colonial twist.
Set over a leafy estate in Nagoa, a coastal hamlet in North Goa, the seven bright-hued rooms and public areas at Presa di Goa are filled with antiques and curios, giving the place the air of an old Portuguese mansion. But for your money you’re guaranteed comfort: the water pressure is strong, the amenities are modern, and there’s a large swimming pool in the garden. Come dinnertime, tables and chairs emerge and alfresco meals are served under the stars. Platters of meze are on the menu (a result of Speck’s stint in Istanbul), alongside Goan favorites featuring plenty of seafood. And when you’re ready to explore your surrounds, Goa’s popular Baga and Calangute beaches are just a short drive away (353/1 Arais Wado, Calangute, Bardez; 91-832/240-9067; presadigoa.com; doubles from US$56).
In the quiet coastal village of Siolim, just north of bustling Calangute Beach, Siolim House is an impeccably restored Portuguese manor replete with the soaring ceilings and hand-sawed timber floorboards.
The seven rooms come with four-poster beds and impossibly large bathrooms. Open your window (the frames are inlaid with mother-of-pearl) and you’ll glimpse swaying palms in the large, manicured gardens, home to an 18th-century chapel and an old well. Rooms don’t come with televisions or air conditioners—thankfully the lofty ceilings keep things cool. But there’s free Wi-Fi and a long pool, next to which homey Goan meals are served in a breezy pillared courtyard.
For a taste of the hotel’s old-world charm, have your afternoon tea in the library and living room, which is lined with antique sofas and Queen Anne rocking chairs. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time (Wadi, Siolim, Bardez; 91-832/227-2138; siolimhouse.com; doubles from US$73).
Originally appeared in the August/September 2009 print issue of DestinAsian magazine ( “A Glimpse of Old Goa”)