Goa's Spirited Online Weekly Magazine.

To the manor born

August 5- 11, 2013
Siolim HouseHistory recorded (in the book Originalidade de Goa) that for the first ten years, the Portuguese lived in Goa mostly aboard their ships.  The mansions they built in the 15th and 16th centuries after disembarking crumbled centuries later.  But the ones that survived, and the homes some Goans built influenced by the Portuguese Fidalgos, spawned a growing business venture that for decades nobody considered.
Together, they are being exhibited or let out to tourists who can afford the cost of living under an expensively maintained single-gable tiled roof spread over the entire house, balcao (balcony) and entrada (entrance hall).  One manor, the Solar Souto Maior (1585), opened recently after a Rs 2,00,00,000 restoration and cost investment banker Varun Sood Rs 50,00,000 to buy.  Imagine the Taj Mahal was built 63 years later; Buckingham Place 120 years later!
Built on 2,000 sq m over two acres, it belonged originally to the aristocratic Souto Maior family, of Spanish royal descent.  The manor has an art gallery with a claim to have over 5,000 plants.  “I plan to hold an Asian film fest in February,” says Sood.  He has also turned around the Siolim House, a 300-year-old manor that was at one time owned by the Portuguese governor of Macau into a luxury heritage hotel after a Rs 1,00,00,000 renovation.  Says Sood, who owns an asset management firm in London, “We have just seven rooms, whereas I could have added more.”
In the same tranquil village of Siolim, Moreno Fernandes runs Hilario Heritage Inn, a 130-year-old Indo-Portuguese house once owned by his great grandfather; he had to buy it back for Rs 15,00,000 after the family sold it.  Steeped in tradition, Hilario Fernandes even had a mango Manghilar that he grew and named after himself.
To make the inn operational in November 2005, Fernandes spent Rs 80,00,000 to renovate it.  “I think of us as a home-stay place also, because the kitchen can be used by the residents,” he says.  Still grappling with the business of marketing a stand-alone, Fernandes has kept his tariff at a low of Rs 1,200-1,500 per double room, despite Siolim’s close proximity to the Morgim, Mandrem and Arambol beaches and its own traditional boat festival in June on the feast day of St John the Baptist.
Though these mansions remain priceless today and some owners flaunt them for tourist bucks, many of them do so without even a basic sense of business enterprise.  Their management in some cases lacks professionalism.  And in others, despite sitting on top of a gold mine, there is a strange reluctance to do business.  A case in point is the Deshprabhu family of Pernem.  Says, Jitendra Deshprabhu, an MLA: “My brother Devendra and I were not keen initially, but my wife and sister-in-law felt that part of our heritage should be made known to the discerning tourst.  We relented, so a part of the Guest Palace will be thrown open to tourists soon.”
The Guest Palace was built to give resident Hindu women privacy – they actually wore purdahs then.  “This was the happening place for hospitality during Portuguese rule, where ballroom dancing and banquets happened.  Being a titular family, the Christian gentry, Portuguese, Europeans and Africans trading in these parts were invited – they even solicited invitations,” says Deshprabhu. 
(This article appeared in the February 12, 2006 edition of Business India)

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