From the airport at Porto Seguro it takes about 75 minutes to reach the languid seaside town of Trancoso, including a short crossing of the Rio Buranhém aboard a local ferry. Surprisingly, since it is known to be a place favored by the famous and the extremely wealthy — CNN’s Anderson Cooper has a house here, as does Adam Clayton of U2 — the last 20 minutes of the drive are along a (reasonably smooth) dirt road. “The residents want to keep out the tourists, so they don’t let the government build a paved road,” our driver informed us, with a grin and a shrug.
Located a two-hour flight northeast of São Paulo, Porto Seguro has special significance in Brazilian history, being the place where Portuguese navigators first set foot on the South American continent in 1500. And today, the old section of town, despite the traffic and the bustle, still retains the architecture and some of the atmosphere of a long-vanished era. Trancoso, however, where almost no vestige of modernity has been allowed to intrude, seems to inhabit a time warp. The town is spread out around the Quadrado, a long rectangular strip of grass, the focal point of which is the tiny, whitewashed 16th-century church of São João Batista. Here, couples stroll arm in arm, shirtless kids kick soccer balls and beach bums rub shoulders with billionaires — the two, in Trancoso, generally being indistinguishable. At one end, the Quadrado culminates in a grassy bluff overlooking a beach and the Atlantic, while its sides are lined with brightly painted former fishermen’s cottages, many of which are now small restaurants or boutiques selling furnishings or jewelry. Elsewhere in town, the roads are narrow, with relatively few cars, and the buildings are uniformly traditional.
UXUA Casa Hotel
Although we have long recommended Etnia Pousada & Boutique (a secluded property of seven bungalows and two villas), located on a quiet side street, on this occasion we opted to stay at UXUA Casa Hotel, a complex of 11 traditional houses set amid tropical gardens, which opens onto the Quadrado. About half of the “casas” are said to date to the foundation of the original village 500 years ago. These have been restored by the resort’s co-owner, Wilbert Das (the former creative director of the Italian fashion brand Diesel), in collaboration with local artisans, using traditional techniques and reclaimed materials.