Brigitte Bar­dot was here

The se­cret life of Buzios, the Saint-tropez of South Amer­ica

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - TONY PERROTTET

CAMERON Diaz is look­ing good. At least I like to think it could be Cameron Diaz, this lithe and golden-skinned god­dess loung­ing in her de­signer bikini on a white vinyl sofa a few me­tres away from me. She has an el­e­gant tat­too on her an­kle and an ar­tis­ti­cally pierced navel.

I am in Buzios, the body­wor­ship­ping Brazil­ian beach town re­ferred to as the Saint-Tropez of South Amer­ica. Specif­i­cally, I am at Rocka, the hippest of hip venues. This res­tau­rant com­mands the rugged head­land above Praia Brava and could well be the world’s sex­i­est beach scene.

Buffed Brazil­ians are ca­vort­ing all around me — preen­ing, parad­ing, pos­ing be­neath Veuve Cliquot-branded um­brel­las, even tak­ing chairs down to the wa­ter line and let­ting the gen­tle surf wash over their bod­ies as they knock back fruit cock­tails and rounds of cham­pagne. It seems as if ev­ery gor­geous fash­ion model in the coun­try has con­verged here.

The beach party scene has been go­ing more or less non­stop in Buzios, 150km north of Rio, since the sum­mer of 1964. That was when the rav­ish­ing French sex kit­ten Brigitte Bar­dot ar­rived in all her erotic glory. BB ( as she is widely known here) and her boyfriend Bob Zagury ar­rived in the then re­mote fish­ing vil­lage and rented a hut on the water­front.

‘‘There was noth­ing in Buzios,’’ Bar­dot en­thused in her mem­oir. ‘‘No elec­tric­ity, nor tele­phone, nor re­frig­er­a­tors, nor run­ning wa­ter.’’ She re­joiced in a bare­foot life amid the hi­bis­cus bushes, and skin­ny­dipped in the sea, which ‘‘bub­bled like blue cham­pagne’’.

The world sud­denly took notice of Buzios, es­pe­cially when pho­tos ap­peared of BB lolling on the sand wear­ing noth­ing but a shell neck­lace, her wild golden hair wav­ing in the breeze, like some Venus tossed up from the wa­ter. The funlov­ing Car­i­o­cas, the res­i­dents of Rio, soon fol­lowed in BB’s steps and to­day Buzios still blos­soms as the coun­try’s hol­i­day cap­i­tal.

‘ ‘ There’s nowhere else like Buzios for Brazil­ians,’’ says Marco, a wiry DJ just in from Rio. ‘‘We come here as teenagers for the night­clubs and the beach scene and we keep com­ing back as adults, to es­cape our nor­mal lives. The mo­ment I arrive, I let out a deep breath. I re­lax.’’

As dusk ap­proaches at Rocka, I re­alise I’ve been star­ing at the Cameron Diaz looka­like for roughly six hours. Be­lieve it or not, there are only so many taut, per­fect bod­ies one can gape at (just as there is a limit to con­sump­tion of char­grilled lula, oc­to­pus and white­fish carpac­cio).

Maybe it’s time to get some bal­ance back in my­beach life. That night, as I stroll the starlit water­front of the vil­lage, I be­gin to won­der if there’s any­thing left of the old Buzios, the nat­u­ral world that hyp­no­tised BB. Are there any beaches that are un­touched, any glo­ri­ous strips of sand the trendy crowd has missed?

Next af­ter­noon, I am bo­ogy­ing around the penin­sula — that is, driv­ing a beach buggy, pro­nounced by Brazil­ians as ‘‘bo­ogy’’. The ve­hi­cle is bat­tered, beaten and eaten up with salt air; there are holes in its floor, no in­di­ca­tors, a squeal­ing clutch and a stick shift that leaps be­tween gears. It’s like driv­ing a grown-up dodgem car.

I screech my buggy to a halt above a head­land and fol­low a path down to some rocks to the far end of Praia Brava, where there are no up­scale eater­ies, blast­ing mu­sic or danc­ing, but just a few Brazil­ian surfers en­joy­ing the swells.

In one shady nook stands a hum­ble sand-floored beach bar dec­o­rated with bleached whale bones. I or­der an iced Bo­hemia beer and a home­made pas­tel neopoli­tana (an em­panada-style roll of cheese, tomato, onion and fresh oregano). For the equiv­a­lent of about $ 3, it’s a taste of vin­tage Brazil.

Now I’m in­spired to fall off the grid en­tirely. Ev­ery time I drive around a head­land, I spot one of Buzios’s off­shore is­lands, re­mote and tan­ta­lis­ing in the ex­panse of cobalt blue. Maps tell me there are a dozen of these al­lur­ing specks, though it’s all but im­pos­si­ble to find any fur­ther in­for­ma­tion. How­ever, the owner of the beach bar knows these lit­tle is­lands well from his fish­ing days.

‘ ‘ None is in­hab­ited,’’ he ex­plains. ‘‘In fact, most of them are so rugged, you can barely land on them by boat.’’ He tells me the ex­cep­tion is Ilha Fea, or Ugly Is­land, which ‘ ‘ hap­pens to be beau­ti­ful’’. Ap­par­ently, it was given its er­ro­neous name by a Por­tuguese ex­plorer who ap­proached it from the north and saw only sheer cliffs topped with jun­gle. But from the south, Ilha Fea ap­pears idyl­lic, with a tiny gold-sand beach pro­tected from the wind and framed by cliffs and rocks.

Per­haps this is where the old Buzios can be found.

The first fish­er­man I ap­proach looks at me as if I’m crazy. ‘‘Ilha Fea?’’ he laughs. ‘‘Why? There’s noth­ing out there.’’

But the next boat owner, with the mar­vel­lously aris­to­cratic name of Adeusnasci (Born From God) Pereira dos San­tos, is happy to take me for a spin.

An hour later we are crash­ing through the waves in his orange and white trawler. Dol­phins race the prow of the boat, fly­ing fish leap from the waves.

Af­ter all the per­fect bod­ies of the main­land beaches, it’s a re­lief to be with Adeusnasci, who is short, ro­tund and miss­ing most of his teeth. He looks like a cross be­tween a bat­tered prize fighter and Danny DeVito.

When we lower an­chor at Ilha Fea, we are the only ones here. The stretch of sand is mi­nus­cule, but it’s just what I have been look­ing for. Jun­gle cas­cades down the cliffs like a ver­dant wa­ter­fall. It’s the same pris­tine world that would have been known to the Tupinamba In­di­ans, the ex­plorer Amerigo Ve­spucci, who drifted by in 1503 or, most leg­endary of all, my beloved BB.

I wade ashore and try to find a trail up the cliff face, even pulling my­self up by vines, but fail mis­er­ably. In­stead, I rock-hop around the sharp, mol­lusc-cov­ered shore­line, in­spect­ing sea caves and pools filled with bizarre crea­tures.

I be­come so en­grossed in this lost world that I don’t notice the ris­ing tide.

There’s noth­ing for it. I jump into the wild surf and plough my way back against the cur­rent.

As I flop pant­ing on the deck of Adeusinei’s boat, he shakes his head in be­muse­ment.

I gaze up at the per­fect blue sky. It’s Fri­day af­ter­noon and the limos will be ar­riv­ing in Buzios with a fresh wave of Rio par­ty­go­ers, all dressed to the nines.

Over at Rocka, the chef must be prep­ping the lula to go with af­ter­noon cock­tails. There’s no ques­tion where to go next. ‘‘Take me back to Buzios, please.’’ Tony Perrottet’s most re­cent book is The Sin­ner’s Grand Tour: A Jour­ney Through the His­tor­i­cal Un­der­belly of Europe; sin­ners­grand­tour.com.

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