It’s approaching that time of year again when the Latino world breaks out the sequins, dons a feather headdress and shimmies to a samba beat. Come February, Carnival explodes right across South America.
Of course, we’ve all heard of the Rio Carnival, but it’s the Salvador de Bahia Carnaval that is the biggest and best street party on earth. It attracts two million people to Brazil’s stunning north-east coast for an authentic festival experience.
The perfect bolthole to kick-back and recuperate after all that partying has to be the, oh, so pretty UXUA Casa Hotel, hidden away in the colonial fishing village of Trancoso in southern Bahia. This eco-retreat manages to be glam and rustic at the same time and consists of 10 individually designed casas all hidden away in a secret tropical garden. You’ll fall in love with its quirky design, recycled furniture designed by local artisans and breezy beachfront location.
Conceived by Wilbert Das, former creative director of fashion label Diesel, you would be forgiven for thinking that this would be a sleek design hotel – all sharp edges, slate and glass walls. But refreshingly, it’s the exact opposite: antique armoires sat next to vibrant Bahian folk art, handmade four-poster wooden beds draped in sheer, white muslin, hollowed out trees made into sinks and quaint thatched roofs. The houses vary from a one-bedroom fisherman’s house to an opulent treehouse. Das wanted it to be as authentic and in keeping with the surroundings as much as possible: “I wanted this to feel like guests were staying in a home and that they were part of the local culture. I think there’s a return to wanting a sense of discovery in travel.”
And what a discovery it is. As rustic as it is, make no mistake – there’s been no skimping on the comfort factor. One of the loveliest villas is the 10th casa, Seu Irenio. This restored one-bedroom fisherman’s house actually originally belonged to a local magician (yes, really) and it seems he has definitely left an out-of-this-world touch here. There are beautiful antique ceramic ceiling tiles (mixed in with modern transparent ones so the casa was flooded with light). Lovely little touches – like a flat-screen TV housed in an antique travel trunk – are cute, too. The enormous bathroom juts out into the garden and features double-shower heads carved out of trees. But the highlight has to be the gorgeous bath tub situated in the open air and surrounded by cactus plants, hummingbirds and nodding scarlet hibiscus flowers. A night-time soak in the tub has got to be truly special with the gardens glowing with lanterns, and the sky lit up by twinkling stars. Truly heavenly.
This is barefoot luxury at its best. Trancoso itself is actually a well-kept secret holiday destination for Brazil’s beautiful people. Attracted by the brightly coloured colonial architecture, the chilled-out vibe and miles of unspoilt beaches, this is the playground of the country’s glitterati.
While you can spend your days lazing in a hammock and ordering passion fruit caipirinhas (guilty, me?), there’s also tons to do for anyone willing to test their mettle. Whether it’s surfing the Atlantic rollers, yoga, capoeira classes or even cooking lessons with local chefs – it’s all on the cards.
UXUA’s main restaurant is al fresco and overlooks the breathtaking coastline. Menus are all based on organic Bahian fusion cuisine and chef Veronica Portilho serves up a variety of local fish, which is caught fresh each morning, as well spicy vegetable dishes, with ingredients sourced from the lush gardens. The star of the show is the moqueca of lobster and king prawns – a stew laced with coconut.
You’ll get a real buzz from diving into the sparkling swimming pool. When I say sparkling – we really mean it – it is hand inlaid with 40,000 pieces of aventurine, a semi-precious green quartz that locals believe to have healing properties. Now that’s how to make a splash.
Visit UXUA Casa Hotel