Over three centuries, the Goan gentry, many of them descendants of the Portuguese, built all over the state. A range of architectural styles evolved, but the purest examples of the Goan aesthetic share a few features: brightly painted exteriors; Hindu-style sunken courtyards in the center; and window panes made of oyster shells. By the 1980s, many of these grand colonial buildings were largely crumbling. But in recent years, as Goa became a fashionable place for Mumbaikars and Delhiites to maintain vacation homes, the old houses have become prize investments.
The first to become an official heritage hotel is in the capital city of Panjim, in a district called Fontainhas. That’s where Ajit Sukhija opened the Panjim Inn in the 1980s. Tired of his corporate job, Mr. Sukhija fixed up the family home — built by his great-grandfather, a landed businessman named Francis Assis D’Silveria, in the 1800s — and started renting out rooms to travelers. Mr. Sukhija’s guesthouse was quickly established as an alternative to the Dionysian beach scene, a family-run base from which to explore Panjim’s Latin Quarter, where Catholic churches are as common as mosques and Hindu temples.
The Panjim Inn is now run by his son, Jack Sukhija, who is an active member of the Goa Heritage Action Group, which works to preserve the state’s historic buildings. Situated on a lively corner, the hotel offers 24 simple but comfortable rooms and a restaurant that serves tasty Goan and Indian food on an airy, tree-lined veranda. The house is eclectically decorated with Indian antiques, the odd Scandinavian landscape painting and light fixtures salvaged from shipyards. “I’m the town’s leading junk collector,” the elder Mr. Sukhija said. “It’s amazing what you can do with rubbish.” His son, who is often behind the front desk, is available to give guests a tour of the neighborhood’s most interesting old buildings.