Once in a while, travelling also means going somewhere and doing nothing. nada. That’s what I dreamt of when we planned our Easter break with the children. In truth, it rarely happens in our family ie. to go somewhere and stay put. So we decided to do just that in Bahia. We told the children: Breathe in, And Go with the flow. (well, almost. It’s BozAround after all.)
I have talked about my love for Brazil many times on this blog. Well, it was a bit of a schlep to get to Trancoso: 3 planes from London to Lisbon to Salvador da Bahia, and finally to Porto Seguro. Plus 1h30 drive to Trancoso. But I was determined to share this corner of paradise with my family.
I had visited the NorthEast of Brazil quite extensively when I backpacked around in my early twenties. I was an exchange student with a university in Sao Paulo back then. My budget was tiny and I toured the whole region by bus, back and forth from Rio – I still remember the 18hour ride. That’s when I stumbled upon Trancoso, and fell in love with the place. I won’t claim to have discovered it, there were already a few happy hippies on the beach who had arrived in the early 1980’s. Over the years, celebrities have been visiting in the summer months (Dec-Jan) and raising the profile of the village. I was curious to see if it had changed.
We went in low season and it didn’t feel too different from what I had known. The vibe is unpretentious and very very chilled. Exactly what the doctor prescribed.
The heart of the village is the Quadrado, which means square but in truth is a large rectangle made of grass (a perfectly natural football pitch!), with the most perfect little church on one end, overlooking the ocean, and an array of colourful little houses lined up, shaded by century-old trees. The quadrado is a poem in itself, or rather a bossa nova song, especially at night when the artisanal lights are turned on in the trees, and musicians come to perform at the many small restaurants. It’s magic and ultra photogenic.
What did we do in Trancoso apart from doing nothing?
Well, we had delicious breakfasts at Uxua. We ran around Lior all day long (except when he was taking his naps – finally!!). And we all jumped in the waves to the rhythm of the tides. It’s rare to find such perfect water: soft waves yet fun to play with, warm temperature yet refreshing at midday, real tides but never too deep to be scary for the children. We went horseback riding on the beach. We took the children to a Capoeira lesson at the local community center with all the children of the village. We got lost on a deserted beach (ok, not exactly, but almost). And we – well Ceki and I – had more than one caipirinha (a day)!
Here is a breakdown of what we liked / heard about, together with precious addresses that my friend Jan Eleni shared with us. Jan, who is a NY-based interior designer, rents out her incredibly pretty holiday home in Trancoso.
Where to SLEEP:
– Although the walk to the beach is a good 15′ from the village (plan a baby carrier for the little ones) with a good hill on the way back (cheap taxis if needed), I strongly advise to stay by the Quadrado vs. the beach, because you’d miss half of the fun and the charm otherwise.
– We rented a house from Uxua, Casa Nozinho. Everything was perfect (except perhaps the mosquitoes.. but c’est la vie!). The owner Wildert opened the hotel 10 years ago, designing it solo A to Z and building it with locally sourced materials. It is one of those very special, effortlessly beautiful places that you dream of never leaving.
We had an enclosed garden (ideal with Lior running around), a little kitchen (which we barely used) and we ate most of the time at the hotel or in the village.It’s all very casual.
– I have heard good things about Pousada Etnia, simple, charming with a location in the village and also on the beach.
– And of course, Jan’s Casa Lola, a jewel set of boxes located 5′ away from the Quadrado. Note that the house is perhaps better suited to families with children in age of swimming on their own as the pool is a bit near the living spaces.
Where to EAT:
– There’s a fruit and veg stand right in front of the Quadradro in the early morning or Arte de Fruita on the Main street of town – if looking for fruit.
– A Saturday morning market, down from the Old square in town. It’s a local market with animal guts and all!
– The deli Le Marche has great groceries, treats, nice wines, croissants etc . There’s a kid friendly table in the center of the shop where kids can color while you eat or shop.
– Doms pita sandwich shop and cafe is a bit of an institution for lunchtime, right across from Le Marche
– Some good local restaurants: Ceviche in town, across from Arte de Fruita. Pele Local Churrascaria for meat lovers near the ceviche restaurant, inside the town too. And Thai Coso has good reviews, right near the church on the quadrado.
– El Gordo is a bit of a grown up place for a drink and to watch the sunset overlooking the ocean. It’s on the Quadrado but it’s not ideal with young children as there’s a small pool right by the tables (i.e. I was chasing Lior the whole meal…)
– Glorias, on the Quadrado, and next door to Uxua serves a feijoada every Sunday, i.e. the traditional sunday lunch., It’s open only on that day from 11am until 7/8pm.
– Campim Santo was one of our favorite, located in a pretty garden, in an alley right off the quadrado.
– Maritaca is a bit pricey but the laid back ambiance and very good Italian food was a great place to celebrate Amalya’s 6th birthday. My big little girl, who was only 2 when we were last in Brazil, travelling around the world. How time passes…
– There’s apparently a good sushi restaurant, in the back of Cale ceramics shop, but it is only open in season. Remember that Brazil has the largest community in the world of Japanese outside Japan.
Must-Eat while in Brazil:
Acai!! It comes from the Amazons, is packed with antioxidants and often prepared for breakfast as a soft ice cream with granola on top and sliced bananas. Take it without honey, it’s sweet enough!
Tapioca crepes!! you’ll see people queuing at the stand of the lady closest to the Quadrado. Her crepes make an easy and cheap meal with the children, to be eaten under one of the 100 years old tree on the Quadrado..
Moqueca!! I have always loved this traditional Bahian dish, but it’s not easy to find outside Brazil. I used to get my fix in New York at this sweet little eatery called Casa in the west village. Moqueca is a sort of stew of shrimps and fish in coconut milk and lots of other yummy ingredients. We had fun taking a cooking class at Uxua with our newly met friends from New York , Melissa & family.
Pao de Queijo!! this is a killer. It’s a little ball of dough with melted cheese inside.
Where to SHOP:
Apart from a bathing suit from local brand Sinesia Karol (50% on sale in April is perfect timing for the European summer!), I did not bring back anything fancy. What’s the point when there are so many quality handicrafts made locally. (note: the shops on the Quadrado open around 4/5pm and stay open until late.)
Beautiful dream catchers made by the local Indian communities. Jewellery made of seeds that still looks stylish and wearable back home.
Baskets of weaved banana leaves made by the talented Rodrigo on the beach ([email protected]). He is often by the Quadrado at night. Amalya loved spending time watching him create his pretty things.
What to DO:
Days at the beach can be spent lazily on one of the large day beds at Uxua or one of the spots by the water, hoping to spot a turtle sticking its head out of the waves.
Wildert from Uxua organises a low key full moon party every month, the children loved preparing the bonfire on the beach, watching the capoiera under the full moon, feet in the sand.
We took a long horseback riding trip along the beach organized by the hotel. You do see plenty of horse owners offering their services.
And a cooking class at Uxua to prepare our own moqueca, shared over a wonderful meal with our new friends in the hotel.
We attempted a boat trip to Caraiva (a place that I don’t even want to mention because it should remain a secret!! (Ok, it’s at the end of the world, it’s magic, and it’s where i would like to retire. one day. enough said).
But we got caught in a storm and had to retreat in some sort of a Robinson Crusoe adventure. The boat left the 5 of us on a very very long beach with nothing and no-one, waiting for a car to collect us a bit further inland. We were barefoot, empty handed, in our bathing suits, with not even a drop of water to drink. We had to have faith in the fact that a driver would show up at some point to save us. And he did, after almost 2 hours! In truth, the children would have preferred that he did not, so that we would camp on the beach around a bonfire of our own! They had even started to collect woods and branches. It was Amalya’s birthday that day, and none of us will ever forget this fun little adventure.
So we’ll have to come back for Caraiva… I am told that it has not changed much since I last visited in the 1990’s..Still no electricity, still feet in the sand with a few small hotels here and there.
That same day, we made it to Praia do Espelho, a much talked-about long beach further south (about 1h30 drive). We had lunch at Silvinha’s who is a bit of a legend in the area. A strong and inspiring lady who set up her shack some 20 years ago when she left her life in Sao Paulo. She serves a different menu everyday on the 2 tables facing the waves. You need to reserve, and she is known for having refused to serve clients with whom the chemistry does not work:). Her little restaurant is inside Cala e Divino, a low key compound run by a Swedish woman where you can also rent pretty houses.
Drive thru the Buffalo and the Indian shops on the way to Praia do Espelho, they make quality handicrafts.
Sign up the children to surf lessons or learn to kite surf. The children can also join in a capoeira lesson at the local community center (Uxua can arrange, they are strong supporters of the local community).
Late afternoon, return to the Quadrado, have another caipirinha (!). Ok, have a pineapple juice. Ok, have a coffee. And watch your children play football (soccer) until the sun sets. Smile.
USEFUL LINKS & READS:
– We had a long journey because we really wanted to visit Salvador da Bahia on the way back. You could get to Trancoso faster from abroad by flying into Rio or Sao Paulo and straight onto Porto Seguro. Check out the internal flights of AZUL or TAM. Don’t bother renting a car, you won’t need it much,. You could take a bus (well maybe not after 36hours of flying..) or arrange a driver with the hotel. Portomondo can help for logistical help locally.
– Some reads about the NorthEast:
this interview that I featured about Morro de Sao Paulo, this piece in Fathom, or this interview featuring Recife and Olinda further north in Brazil. And 25 things to love about Bahia.
– Elsewhere in Brazil:
we loved our time in Ubatuba, and in Rio. We had a thrill spending time near the Iguazu falls in the South during our trip around the world. Paraty was my first love when I was a student.
– Here’s a little lexicon that might come in handy.
– The blog of Alexandra Loras: we had an interesting and lengthy conversation after we casually met on Praia do Espelho, while we keeping an eye on the children splashing in the river.
Alexandra is a French journalist relocated in Sao Paulo for the job of her diplomat husband. We discussed the issue of discrimination in Brazil, and the underlying racism across this society seemingly so joyful on the outside. She told me stories from her everyday life as the black wife of a white high-powered husband. And how she is using her profile to shed a light on the many positive and inspiring stories of successful black people.
Travelling always leads to unexpected and memorable encounters.
We stayed 2 nights in Salvador da Bahia on the way back. Loved it but the weather was awful for a good part. I will follow up with a post shortly.