When Dutch designer Wilbert Das first arrived in Trancoso back in 2004, the Bahian village was little more than a group of fishermen’s houses scattered around a large, grassy square. The ex-creative director of fashion label Diesel was in search of some time out from the rat race, and – with the village framed by an impossibly pretty sweeping bay of Atlantic coastline – he’d found just the place.
Inspired by the heritage of the native Pataxó Indians and the boho vibe of the resident hippies and artists, who had escaped here in the 1970s, he soon wanted to share his love of Trancoso with other travellers. By 2006, UXUA Casa Hotel was open, carved out of 11 original candy-coloured fisherman’s houses and calling in a glitzy fashion crowd as guests.
Immersed in the local community, the rustic-luxe property is a continual work in progress. At its heart is a sparkling swimming pool, lined with thousands of aventurine quartz stones in a myriad azure tones, and surrounded by nodding banana leaves, lilac orchids and gold-and-flame-hued Birds of Paradise. Going for a swim is like cooling off in a natural rainforest pond. The nearby spa also has an exotic feel with its tree-house treatment room offering therapies based around locally-sourced cacao, fresh coconut oil and restorative almescar oils.
The casas – some found around the pool and others dotted across the square known as the quadrado– have an inside-outside design, with al fresco showers made out of hollowed-out tree trunks, reclaimed wood furniture and vibrant folk art. The latest stage of development is a series of high-end houses, available to rent, and commissioned by private owners such as the CNN newsreader Anderson Cooper and Chelsea-based art collector Ivor Brakor.
Inspired by the rich artisanship of Trancoso (kickstarted by the self-reliant hippies of the 70s who were affectionately called biribandosby locals), Das has been instrumental in encouraging a resurgence of artisan work. There’s the Artists in Residence programme, which sees a visiting line-up of international names come to work in one of the casas (the deal is they have to leave their art behind to be showcased in the house) and a continuing collaboration with many local craftspeople – some of whom – like the weaver Evandro – work directly from the hotel.
Das has also collaborated with many locals to create one-off pieces found throughout the hotel, including hand-woven rugs, basket-woven lampshades and beautifully designed textiles. The result is a richly textured finish, the opposite of a cookie-cutter approach, with unique items everywhere you look. And if you have fallen in love with the indigo throw found on your bed, then you’re in luck: the new UXUA Casa collection means that many of these homewares are available to recreate the look at home.
Days are spent soaking up the sun on the gloriously untouched beach – the same spot, incidentally, where the first Portuguese explorers discovered Brazil in 1500. Here, the UXUA Praia bar, made out of a repurposed fishing boat, has a hip vibe with its bossa nova soundtrack and the best passion-fruit caipirinhas in town. There’s horse-riding, surfing, yoga, or the Brazilian martial arts capoeira to try – if you can be bothered, that is. The charm here is just how laid back it is. At night, the quadrado comes alive, with visitors and Brazilians strutting their stuff, browsing the boutiques and dining under the night sky – don’t be surprised to see the odd A-lister among them (Leondardo di Caprio and Naomi Campbell are fans). At UXUA’s Quadrado restaurant, you can soak up the magic. Order a traditional moqueca baiana fish stew and sit under a lantern-lit jack-fruit tree. It’s rustic-fantastic and there’s nowhere else like it in the world.
Room rates at UXUA Casa Hotel & Spa are from US$410 (approx. £315) per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast, taxes and fees. To book, visit www.uxua.com
TAP Portugal flies daily from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick & Manchester to Salvador via Lisbon, prices start at £665 return including all taxes. For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932.
*A version of this article was also published in the December 2018 issue of Country Life