The tiny fishing village of Trancoso on Brazil's Bahian coast is one of the most desirable destinations in South America. Its spectacular natural beauty attracted early Native American Indian tribes and later Portuguese explorers and missionaries. More recently, a generation of free-thinking artists and naturalists flocked here searching for 'paradise on earth'. One of those paradise-seekers is Dutch fashion designer Wilbert Das, Creative Director of Italian brand Diesel (below right).
In 2006 Mr. Das purchased an abandoned artists' commune on the Quadrado a 320m-long grassy hilltop square that overlooks the ocean and is the focal point of the village. The Quadrado (below left) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site free from traffic, apart from the odd grazing horse, and lined with candy-colored buildings. Collaborating with Bahian craftsmen, Mr. Das began transforming the traditional Bahian houses and remaining commune structures into 'UXUA'.
What authentic local experiences will guests have access to?
While there are very few nobler pursuits than laying still on a perfect beach under the sun, Trancoso offers a variety of activities which allow guests to enjoy the beauty and culture of the area.
Members of the Pataxó Indian tribe who gave UXUA its marvelous name live on this reserve, at the entrance of a national park 36 km from Trancoso. Called the Indian Reserve Barra Velha, 500 Pataxo tribe families call this naturally beautiful strip of coastline home, living off of their agricultural, fishing and handicraft efforts and demonstrating a lifestyle probably in evidence when the first Portuguese arrived to these shores. The Monte Pascual national park next to the Indian reservation displays much of the spectacular virgin Atlantic forest that has made the area renowned for its beauty.
With 2 rivers in tiny Trancoso alone, canoeing is an ideal pastime while staying at UXUA. Guests can explore the exotic plant life lining the river beds, commune with nature and get a workout, all at the same time. For more adventurous souls UXUA recommends guided tours starting hours upstream from Trancoso, and take a one- to two-hour trip back armed with helmet and paddle.
Capoeira...Visiting Brazil can be an opportunity for learning a Brazilian sport, and this afro-infused martial art may very well be the thing. Once seen as a self-defense method, capoeira is now considered a national sport. Classes can be taken at either the Casa da Cultura ("Culture Center") or surrounded by the balmy breezes on the beach. Capoeira exhibitions take place almost every afternoon at the Quadrado.
What are some amazing things that your Concierge can arrange?
Because of Trancoso's size and accessible nature, bicycles are tailor-made for traversing its small roads and trails. The area surrounding Trancoso is no different, provided one doesn't mind dirt roads. Virgin bush, flowing rivers, spectacular valley views, and even glimpses of local life await bikers heading out for the lush green yonder, and guided tours are available if you are in a less spontaneous frame of mind.
If vehicles of the two-wheeled variety aren't of interest, it's possible to explore with two feet on the ground. The area is rich in trails that cross rivers and plumb the forest depths, revealing to visitors the extent of the natural beauty that comprises southern Bahia. These treks are generally accompanied by professional guides and can include 4-wheel drive, canoeing, cavalcade, and just about anything else that might enhance the trekking experience. Destinations are also variable, including Red Indian villages, historic churches, and fruit plantations.
While UXUA guests won't be expected to round up any cows, dude ranch-style, they are frequently found cantering along the beach with wind in hair on the back of one of the many local horses available for use of guests. This is one of the more romantic activities in town. Rides can be guided by local cowboys, and organized tours can be arranged along the beach, dirt road, or forest trails.
Skin diving is an ideal way to commune with the creatures of the sea at Trancoso, where a confluence of rivers and coral reefs prove ideal for fishing or skin diving. A variety of fish, crustaceans and other marine life can be fished independently or in the company of expert guides who can arrange organized tours even kilometers away.
Kite & windsurfing from August to December, when the Northeast wind blows into the town, can be considered "kite and windsurfing season" at Trancoso. Locals take advantage of this as often as they can, but guests without equipment are more than welcome to rent it from the neighboring village of Arraial D'Ajuda.
Snorkellers should do this math: there are 16 kilometers of coast along Trancoso. That spells paradise for lovers of flippers and funny headgear, who have an astonishing 8 beaches and countless reefs to explore. The best beaches for this activity: Nativos, Coqueiros, Itapororoca and even the privacy-loving Patimrim.
When one thinks of beaches in Brazil, thoughts can turn to Beach volleyball. With the many beaches in the area hosting nets, there's no loss for sand on which to stake personal volleyball battlegrounds (although the one near UXUA Praia Bar is one of the most active). And if visitors are short a player or two, locals are almost always more than happy to oblige.
Soccer is the sport that made Brazil famous around the world and is played all over the country, including in Trancoso; Brazilian soccer fields are so ubiquitous that even a world heritage site like the Quadrado sports one (actually up to 3 soccer games sometimes occur simultaneously in the Quadrado on some afternoons). Visitors are always welcome to play, though they may want to be sure of their skills before challenging the local players, who show mercy to no-one.
Budding Rafael Nadals and Maria Sharapovas need not despair: Trancoso offers ample opportunities to play tennis, thanks to its 4 courts. Two are on the main street and two are on the famous "Monkeys Road", where the court is surrounded by (take a wild guess) forests filled with monkeys who occasionally interrupt play. Rackets can be rented any time.
While no tropical paradise nowadays seems complete without golf courses, Trancoso offers one which is truly spectacular. Terravista golf course looms above the ocean on cliffs about 12 km from Trancoso. It claims to be the first course in Brazil to feature TifEagle grass on all 18 greens, paving the way to a precise and fast putt. Golf carts and equipment are, naturally, available for rental.
Does your hotel have a philosophy?
Imagine: a hotel that is not a hotel. Instead, it's an integral part of a fishing village that happens to welcome guests from all over the world. The objective? To take part in a celebration of southern Bahia: its color, its exuberance, and its spirit.
In keeping with that philosophy, UXUA's design incorporates elements of Trancoso's history. Portuguese, Indian, and local influences inform the architecture, art and antiques that make each casa a unique expression.
Even better, local craftsmanship and recycled materials are deployed whenever possible, making UXUA not only a standing history of the village, but a true embodiment of it, too. Trees and recycled wood and iron made the bathroom fittings; old buildings contributed to many of the roof tiles, door handles, hinges and windows. Local ceramics helped birth floors and décor.
Here, guests are not closed off in an artificial "Brazil" bubble concocted by tourism honchos. UXUA which is not sign-posted from the road or the Quadrado offers total immersion in the daily rhythms of an authentic Bahian town, plus the peace and comfort that travelers have come to expect from a 5-star resort.
What makes your hotel memorable and unforgettable?
UXUA was conceived as a tribute to the region of Bahia. Created using local and recycled materials and traditional construction methods, the hotel was realized over a two-year period in close collaboration with local artisans and builders.
The resulting architectural mix showcases southern Bahian and Indian influences alongside a rustic modernism that nods to founder Wilbert Das's work in contemporary fashion and furniture design. The houses are as unique inside as they are on their exteriors: each is filled with antiques and Bahian art as well as hand-made furniture and fixtures created on site by Trancoso craftsmen.
Many of the specially designed fittings such as sinks and the unique wooden showers have been built on-site from fallen trees and recycled wood (this is known as taubilia) and iron; tiles are reclaimed from old rooves. Doors, windows and beds are hand-crafted, the silky-smooth floors are made of burnt cement, walls are made of a traditional Native Indian wood and clay mix called pau apiki and the traditional Bahian construction methods lend themselves beautifully to modern-day tropical living.
Countless elements have been created in collaboration with local artisans as well as the nearby Pataxó tribe of Indians, the furniture comes largely from local markets and the ceramics from neighbouring boutique Calazan.
Tell us about the dining at your hotel.
UXUA has an exclusive restaurant, as well as associations with many different restaurants in Trancoso, so guests can choose whether they would rather eat at the hotel restaurant, at the Quadrado or even at the UXUA Praia Bar, where we can organize dinner for two or more people. Also UXUA has selected some personal chefs who can cook for guests in their house and serve wherever they wish to eat.
What is the best way for guests to "arrive in style" at your hotel?
We can arrange a helicopter transfer from Porto Seguro airport.
Can you recommend other destinations/hotels nearby (within 300 miles) that your guests should consider combining into a trip?
Caraiva...This beach could epitomize what southern Bahia originally was for a visitor. An hour from Trancoso, Caraiva is basically a fishermen's village, sans cars, motorbikes, or any other motorized vehicle. Sand roads, almond trees and a veritable orchard of fruit trees fills out this charming picture, while an inland Red Indian reserve comprising ¾ of the village makes Caraiva a unique day trip for anyone interested in culture, nature or miles of virgin beaches.
Hotel Profile: UXUA Casa Hotel