In Brazil, a beautiful country touched by the gods, the small colonial town of Trancoso is considered one of the most captivating places among the many treasures that make this country so attractive for international tourism. Evidently, visitors from all over the world have reached the same conclusion since, when you walk around the town’s quaint streets, you’ll hear different languages spoken. Many visitors during the last few years have been famous celebrities: Matt Dillon, Leonardo di Caprio, Calvin Klein, Valentino, Al and Tipper Gore, and several of members of the Agnelli family, to mention only a few. Other notables, such as Count Philippe de Nicolay and Georgina Brandolini have settled here in recent years, mainly in the luxurious enclave of Terravista.
The town is part of the municipality of Porto Seguro in the State of Bahia. Sao Joao Baptista dos Indios (Trancoso) was established on a cliff top in 1586 to defend the region against smugglers of the pau Brazil tree, whose bark produces a red dye highly coveted during the colonial era. Until the 1970s, the village remained quite isolated because of difficult access to the site. The isolation was such that residents were not even aware of the change of currency that had taken place in their own country.
The first outsiders who settled in the village were the progeny of wealthy Sao Paulo families trying to escape the oppressive atmosphere that reigned in the country under the military dictatorship. They traded land for commercial goods, such as gas stoves, refrigerators, and cattle, even cases of beer, to acquire property in this distant area. Ten years later, in the 1980s, Trancoso was connected to the national road network, and in 2000, a two-way road was built, which facilitated further communication with the outside world. But nature lovers should use the old road to access Trancoso: this will allow them to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of swamps, tidal rivers and lush Atlantic forest; virtually the same way the Portuguese colonists saw them when they landed at Monte Pascoal. In the coastal strip between Arraial d’Ajuda and Caraíva there are dozens of beaches of pristine waters and golden sands dotted with palms and coconut trees that stand out against red cliffs of clay stone.
The social life in Trancoso revolves around the quadrado, a rectangular meadow shaded by large trees with low houses painted in bright colors and a white rococo church, very charming in its simplicity. All the important celebrations take place at the square, such as the traditional carnival and the Festival of Yemanja, a sea goddess in the Afro-Brazilian religion (Camdomblé), to whom locals dance, sing, pray and play drums until well into the night. In summer, especially on the days leading to the New Year’s Eve, the quadrado takes the appearance of a fashion catwalk, with elegant members of the Sao Paulo jet set walking around the square, clad in the latest trends. This time of year, it is not uncommon to see supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bündchen relaxing in one of the surrounding terraces. By evening time, the square is lit with paper lanterns that hang from tamarind trees as the soft sea breeze cools the air to the intoxicating embrace of bossa nova tunes.
This small fishing village maintains the essence of the Afro-Brazilian culture, the result of intermarriage between native Pataxó Indians, African slaves and Portuguese colonizers. This melting pot gave rise to cultural manifestations such as the samba, Afro-Bahian music and dances, religious syncretism and unique local cuisine, as well as the relaxed joie de vivre of the locals. This legacy is also found in the simplicity of the architecture and decor of their houses, which inspired Wilber Das, Diesel’s former artistic director, who founded Uxua Residence Hotel, consisting of ten small houses in the style of the traditional homes of the local fishermen, but with most of the comforts of the 21st century. Six of the houses are set amidst a verdant garden and the rest face the quadrado.
He personally decorated each house in collaboration with Brazilian artists and craftsmen, creating a warm environment. On polished and colored cement floors, the texture of rustic elements is combined with recycled materials and modernist Brazilian furniture from the 1950s. Das paid attention to every detail: the swimming pool is shaped like a lake and is completely lined with 40,000 pieces of quartz from Bahia, said to have high therapeutic value.
The cuisine of Bahia is delightful and multicultural with seafood as the main ingredient. At Capim do Santo restaurant, they make an excellent moqueca de peixe, a fish stew with root vegetables, cilantro, malagueta pepper, coconut milk and dendê oil, cooked over low heat in a ceramic pot. Other local dishes are acarajé, crispy black bean flour balls fried in palm oil, and vatapá, a delicious shrimp puree with garlic and coconut. In Praia do Espelho, Silvinha’s Restaurant specializes in fresh grilled fish, notably the arioco. ■