From life as Tarzan and Jane to the best views, enjoy Brazil the pousada way
There is an undeniable buzz in the air in Brazil at the moment. Whilst other countries languish in the aftermath of the subprime crisis, Brazil’s economy is booming, employment is rising and house prices rocketing. At the same time the country is basking in a new-found confidence from winning the right to host not only the 2014 World Cup but also the 2016 Olympics.
I first travelled to Brazil from England in 1979 and a great deal has changed since then, not least in the options of where to stay. Back then, hotels were really all there was on offer. These days, in addition, there is an ever increasing number of amazingly beautiful B&Bs, guesthouses, eco-lodges and boutique hotels, known in the country as “pousadas”.
Only the best of these make it onto the website I run, specialised in these amazing little hotels, called www.hiddenpousadasbrazil.com and over the next few pages I have prepared a list with the ones that are my absolute favourites in 10 very special categories.
Lençóis, Chapada Diamantina, Bahia
Breakfasts at Brazilian pousadas are generally good; in many places they are excellent and in some they are quite frankly off the scale. I nearly missed the highlight of Alcino’s Estalagem the first time I went as I had been up most of the previous evening drinking local cachaça with Alcino himself, and had not realised how long this particular event takes. From early morning you will find the table is already set with fruit and jams and cold cuts, but the moment you sit down Dona Flor’s specialities start to arrive – with quiches and yoghurts and different pastries and cakes appearing (along with a clean plate) every time you pause to talk to a fellow guest. After that first day I knew the routine. Arrive at 7.30am and spend the next hour savouring the best breakfast in the world before working it off on a stiff hike round the wonderful Chapada Diamantina. Best to avoid if on a diet!
Hotel Spa casinha branca
Near Paraty, Rio de Janeiro
There was a lot of competition for the pousada with the best views and certainly Ilha de Toque Toque near São Sebastião, Pousada Morro do Forte in Paraty and several others deserve runner up prizes- but Hotel Spa Casinha Branca just took my breath away when I first saw the view over Paraty and Ilha Grande. This is a newly refurbished pousada which manages to combine comfort with informality and difficult access with a 4X4 transfer service which will allow you to spend an evening in Paraty whenever you feel the need to and without worrying about getting back. I didn’t need to! All I wanted to do was to sit at the long communal table, eating and drinking with fellow guests, listening to wonderful Brazilian music and appreciating the ocean beyond.
Hotel Casa do Amarelindo
People often complain about how difficult it is to get good staff these days but there are some pousadas which certainly manage it. The best and probably the most unfair test is to arrive, as I did, at 5am in the morning straight off an overnight bus.Obviously there was no room ready, but I was given a place to change, soaps and shampoo to take a shower and a prime place to wait or snooze by the pool until it was time for breakfast and check-in. My luggage miraculously found its way alone to my room (which incidentally had a bed big enough for 6 and super smooth high thread Egyptian cotton sheets) but better still when I checked the bill later they hadn’t charged me for any of it. Top marks!
Pousada Lagoa do Cassange
Peninsula de Marau, Bahia
Eco-friendly pousadas are rapidly becoming the norm in Brazil, and Lagoa do Cassange faced some tough competition. But someone has to win, and Lagoa do Cassange has been working on eco-principles, supporting the local community for longer than anyone. It’s a beautiful place, where individual bungalows blend into the scenery, preference is given to bio-degradable products, organic waste utilised in the gardens and energy, naturally, is solar-powered. Excursions visit nearby communities where guests can buy local handicrafts and eat in typical restaurants, and the pousada supports both an NGO and staff training in tourism (with locals working there). I certainly wanted to stay a lot longer.
Best Beach Locale
Praia do Patacho, Alagoas
I first visited this pousada around this time last year and loved the French/Brazilian design of the place, and owner Christian’s gentle hospitality, but wasn’t able to stay. This year I rectified that and went one better by choosing the night of the March full-moon. This small 5 suite pousada is simply the most beautiful place, located on one of Brazil’s best deserted beaches – in a location that few Brazilians have heard of, let alone foreigners. If, like me, you are a workaholic always on the move, I recommend you just sit for a while in Patacho’s gorgeous deck chairs with a caipirinha or two and only the never-ending sea for company. Somehow the whole world suddenly seems a much nicer and more peaceful place.
Best river beach
Alter do Chão, Pará
After 30 years of travelling I know quite a lot about Brazil – but I still get the odd surprise – and one of those was finding sandy beaches along the tributaries of the river Amazon. One of the most beautiful of these is in Alter do Chão, just southwest of Santarém on the river Tapajós. Beach bars serving fabulous grilled fish appear as the waters recede and once again local character John Lennon is back in business with his small boat (curiously also called the “John Lennon”!).Get him to pick you up on the nearby beach of the very comfortable Hotel BeloAlter and take you off for an afternoon to see the flora and fauna, wildlife and river dolphins. It was certainly the highlight of all the tours I took in the Amazon region.
Best rural retreat
Pousada Mirante do Café
Near Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais
Rural tourism is still in its infancy in Brazil but there is nowhere better to find beautiful ‘fazendas’ (country estates) than the state of Minas Gerais. Pousada Mirante do Café is located close to the historic town of Ouro Preto and is still a working farm that makes a surprisingly good cachaça. This is a place to discover on horseback or on foot – a place to use as a base for visiting Ouro Preto or just for chilling out by the pool, sampling the home grown food. As the name “mirante” suggests the views are fabulous, with rolling green hills stretching out as far as the eye can see. And if you are lucky as I was you’ll see the owl perched on the rooftop of your wonderful chalet just quietly keeping watch over you.
Best gourmet food
Pousada do Capão
Near Diamantina, Minas Gerais
I have always liked Brazilian food but the last 30 years have seen a massive increase in quality and variety, and choosing the pousada with the best gourmet food for this article was extremely difficult. For starters (do excuse the pun), there was tough competition from pousadas along the coast of Alagoas, most of which include half board in the price; also from the Pousada Lagoa das Cores in the valley of the Capão in Chapada Diamantina, which has an amazing restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The Pousada do Capão wins this time as much as anything because of chef/owner Peter, an American who grows many of the vegetables and herbs himself and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the food of Brazil and its former colonies. This is a paradise for foodies, but even better for those who like to savour their food whilst sharing travellers’ tales.
Best for Tarzan & Jane
ArtJungle Eco-lodge, Near Itacaré, Bahia
I am not sure quite how I discovered ArtJungle the first time, but I am absolutely sure no-one mentioned the amazing tree-house accommodation they have here amongst the six stilt houses and spa-suite which curiously seems to be missing one wall! This is quite simply an extraordinary pousada, located on a small hill a few kilometres outside of Itacare, and set in a private park filled with amazing sculptures. The two tree houses themselves are fabulous with en-suite bathrooms, intricately carved washbasins and beds, and flowers everywhere. This is not luxury in the more accepted use of the term. There are no electric plugs and no air conditioning, fans, beauty products or room fridges. But it is definitely paradise. And I, for one, will be back.
Pousada Santa Clara, Ilha de Boipeba, Bahia
No article on the best pousadas in Brazil could possibly be complete without mentioning the place where the whole Hidden Pousadas Brazil project started- the wonderful Pousada Santa Clara on the island of Boipeba in Bahia. Run by 2 American brothers, Charles and Mark, the Santa Clara manages to combine comfort with informality, and value for money with Mark’s superb gourmet food in the pousada restaurant. Boipeba in turn is a traffic-free island paradise where miles of deserted beaches still exist but where there are also laid back beach bars for freshly cooked lobster and a caipirinha at sunset. This is my all-time favourite place in the world to chill out in great company, and I return every year, sincerely hoping it will never change.
Alison McGowan is a Brit with a passion for Brazil, where she has lived worked and travelled for over 30 years. She is the inspiration behind the on-line guide to uniquely beautiful places to stay: www.hiddenpousadasbrazil.com and when she is not checking out new places to add to the group spends her time entertaining friends and listening to Brazilian jazz.