Feature / South America / Brazil / Trancoso
The Trancoso Mini Guide
Strange, beautiful, rustic...are all words that have been used to describe Trancoso, a tiny seaside town on Brazil’s Discovery Coast. Founded by Jesuits in the 16th century, it embraced hippiedom in the 70s and until recently this historic village was as primitive as it gets; electricity only arrived in 1982 and for a long time, locals bartered rather than pay by cash. The pace of life is slow, revolving between the stunning beach and Quadrado, which is the grassy square at the heart of the village and it’s become a retreat for wealthy Paulistas (and the likes of Naomi Campbell and Gisele) who revel in the simplicity of the place.
Where to stay:
Jacaré do Brasil is set in a quiet corner of the Quadrado and offers the most stunning views to the beach, which is a five minute walk away. In the evening you leave the confines of the hotel’s garden and you are right there, amid the buzz. There are five houses to choose from; we think one and two are the best. The owners, an interesting couple from Sao Paulo really go the extra mile to look after guests. +55 73 3668 1470; www.jacaredobrasil.com/br
Villas of Trancoso is set right on the beach, with five one and two bed villas all within a golf course. The real difference between staying here and at Jacaré do Brasil (above) is that Villas of Trancoso is a few kilometres away from the Quadrado. This means that it’s a real retreat, but you will need to rent a car or rely on taxis in the evening if you want to go to the bars, restaurants at the Quadrado. +55 73 3668 1151; www.villasdetrancoso.com
Uxua has nine beautifully decorated converted local houses on the edge of the Quadrado (the three best face the square). The owner is the creative director of the Diesel brand and no expense has been spared putting the hotel together. They have a very nice little beach bar too Take breakfast on your veranda or by the pool, flop into a hammock, and play out your biribando fantasy. The only drawback is the prices. +55 73 3668 2277; http://uxua.com/
Etnia means ‘ethnicity’ and the rooms in this eight-villa resort reflect this. The owner Andre, looks after guests very well and excellent breakfasts are served by the pool. The downside of this hotel is that rooms can be a little noisy as walls are thin and the location isn’t as good as some of the other hotel options. +55 73 3668 1137; etniabrasil.com.br
What to see:
The Quadrado, a grassy square, is at the heart of the action, such as it is. The Igreja de São João Batista, the second-oldest church in Brazil, stands at one end of the square in front of a 1,200-foot cliff and a vista of miles of beach. There are sixty brightly painted mud and clay squat houses which frame the square. Traditionally, none of the houses had numbers; locals could identify them by colour alone. Now, many have been converted into artisans’ workshops, boutiques, and restaurants whose tables spill out onto the green. Have a leisurely lunch and watch the odd horse stroll by as impromptu barefoot soccer games are played out in front of you. In the afternoon, most visitors head for the beach, leaving the square deserted except for the hippie handmade jewellery sellers and a lone coconut vendor, who sets up by the church.
If you do fancy a day trip out of town, Espelho is one of Bahia’s loveliest beaches. Beware though, the roads you take to get there leave a lot to be desired. But when you do finally reach your destination, you’ll have the whole beach virtually to yourself. Reserve one of the two tables at Sylvinha’s Restaurante (Praia do Espelho; +55 73 9985 4157) - eating here will make the journey absolutely worthwhile.
Where to Eat
Bar da Costa, part of Pousada Estrels d’Agua, serves delicious lunches overlooking the beach. Try the fresh ceviche and grilled octopus. Pousada Estrela d’Água, Estrada do Arraial; +55 73 3668 1030.
Capim Santo is a traditional restaurant, with a vine draped courtyard, which has been on the Quadrado for over 20 years (there is also a sister restaurant in Sao Paulo). Go for fish dishes like salmon in leek sauce with black rice. On the Quadrado; +55 73 3668 1122; www.capimsanto.com.br
El Gordo is another boutique hotel with a noteworthy restaurant that serves good food with panoramic cliff top views. The bar also serves over 50 varieties of cachaça. On the Quadrado; + 55 73 3668 1193.
Where to Shop
Trancoso is glamour resistant and the dress code is ultra casual (no-one wears heels on the Quadrado). Cerâmica Calazans - João Calazans, a.k.a. Calá, shows his ceramics at his studio on the Quadrado + 55 73 3668 1112; www.ceramicatrancoso.com.br.
Etnia Boutique at Pousada Etnia sells colourful swimwear and dresses as well as accessories On the Quadrado; + 55 73 3668 1669; www.etniabrasil.com.br
For woodwork and furniture, visit Marcenaria Trancoso. They will arrange shipping. On the Quadrado; + 55 73 3668 1023; www.marcenariatrancoso.com.br.
Finally, Havaianas can be bought everywhere but for the cheapest in town, visit Supermercado Nogueira, in Trancoso’s dusty commercial ghetto on the edge of town and pick them up for a quarter of the price of those found on the Quadrado.
When to Go
March and April (Brazil’s autumn) are the best time to visit for warm temperatures and peace and quiet. If you want to experience Trancoso with crowds, come in late December or early January when São Paulo society descends on the Quadrado. During this time, there are queues for restaurants and few parking spaces.
Fly to São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, or Salvador, then on to Porto Seguro. Be advised: Trancoso has few functioning ATM’s, so bring all the cash you’ll need or withdraw it at the airport on your way in. It’s an hour’s drive from Porto Seguro airport to Trancoso.