The once-sleepy vil­lage of Tran­coso has be­come Brazil’s favoured des­ti­na­tion for international haute-bo­hemi­ans. By Tom Mack­lin

Town & Country (UK) - - CONTENTS —WINTER 2017 -

Tom Mack­lin ex­plores Tran­coso, Brazil’s laid-back bo­hemian re­treat

Golden hour is one of na­ture’s most en­chant­ing ex­pe­ri­ences; ap­ply this magic to an ex­quis­ite stretch of coast­line in Brazil’s Bahia re­gion and it’s the clos­est you will get to the ar­che­typal de­pic­tion of par­adise. Un­der the cir­cum­stances, it’s al­most a shame that I’m ac­com­pa­nied by an old friend and peren­nial travel com­pan­ion rather than the love of my life; even so, it’s a ro­man­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. Re­laxed and con­tem­pla­tive, we take in the serene, red-tinged land­scape lis­ten­ing to the waves gently lap­ping the shore, un­til it’s time to leave our plush, white day-bed and be­gin the as­cent back to the clifftop vil­lage of Tran­coso that has been our home for the past few days. Bare­foot, we walk across small wooden bridges that carry us through dense man­groves to the Quadrado, a five-acre rec­tan­gu­lar lawn framed by mango- and cashewtrees. On one side, brightly painted fish­er­men’s cot­tages stand out against the nat­u­ral set­ting.

We make our way to the white­washed Saint John, a Bap­tist church dat­ing from the 16th cen­tury; dusk falls, and a full moon il­lu­mi­nates the inky sky. The lo­cal chil­dren play­ing foot­ball dis­perse, and the graz­ing horses re­tire as the sleepy square read­ies it­self for the evening ahead. Cot­tages throw open their doors, lanterns and fairy lights sparkle in the trees; the area is trans­formed into a thriv­ing hub of bars play­ing live Brazil­ian music, and street ven­dors sell­ing hand­i­crafts, fresh pro­duce and tra­di­tional dishes.

It’s not hard to un­der­stand why Tran­coso is the jewel in Bahia’s crown. For a decade, this sea­side town has been a fash­ion­able play­ground for af­flu­ent, cre­ative Sao Paulo na­tives (or paulis­tanos as they are known). Kate Moss, Naomi Camp­bell, Gisele and Matthew Mcconaughey are all reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to what is be­com­ing Brazil’s coolest and most de­sir­able des­ti­na­tion.

Tran­coso’s be­gin­nings are rather po­etic. Al­most a cen­tury af­ter the Por­tuguese ex­plorer Pe­dro Al­vares Cabral and his In­dia Ar­mada dis­cov­ered South Amer­ica’s big­gest coun­try (they first docked about 20 miles north in Porto Se­guro), a group of Je­suit pri­ests cleared an area of jun­gle on a hill­side over­look­ing the At­lantic and founded a set­tle­ment, Sao Joao Batista dos In­dios. Re­mark­ably, for 400 years the vil­lage re­mained an iso­lated and for­got­ten fish­ing area. By 1978 it had a pop­u­la­tion of just 50 fam­i­lies, and could only be reached via the beach at low tide.

Then a group of wealthy hip­pie paulis­tanos stum­bled upon it and be­gan to pur­chase land. Sub­se­quently, the town ac­quired elec­tric­ity in 1982, fol­lowed by a high­way link­ing it to nearby Porto Se­guro and its airport in 2000. Tourism can of­ten be the down­fall of such a place, but in this in­stance the lo­cals and the tourists have worked pas­sion­ately to­gether to re­vive a lost com­mu­nity. As a re­sult, its spirit is alive and flour­ish­ing, with­out los­ing that rare charm of a pre­served town from a by­gone era. The sky­line re­mains un­touched and there are no high-rises or ma­jor ho­tel chains, al­though plans to open a de­vel­op­ment of 40 bun­ga­lows and 23 vil­las by the no­table Brazil­ian ho­tel group Fasano are in the works for 2018. This is pre­dom­i­nantly a place where vis­i­tors live side by side with lo­cals, in a host of vil­las and B&BS that sur­round the area.

We chose to stay in Villa Al­tos, a beau­ti­ful de­tached home en­cir­cled by lush veg­e­ta­tion on the hill­top above Na­tivos beach, and boast­ing a tal­ented res­i­dent chef, Jany, who pre­pares de­li­cious Bahian food. Its airy and open-plan in­te­rior – all made from lo­cally sourced ma­te­ri­als – re­flects the essence of Tran­coso’s stylish, bo­hemian vibe. Vast walls of glass ex­tend the ground floor, blur­ring bound­aries be­tween in­side and out. The palm-fringed lawn bor­ders a mag­nif­i­cent pool dec­o­rated in Brazil­ian green quartz stones. Add to this out­door show­ers, a Ja­panese hot tub and a shady per­go­la­cov­ered day-bed perched on the edge of the hill, and it’s hard to find an ex­cuse to leave.

How­ever, there are plenty: a five-minute walk away you’ll come across the Pou­sada Estrela D’agua beach club, for­merly the hol­i­day home of the Brazil­ian singer Gal Costa, one of the orig­i­nal Tran­coso trail­blaz­ers. In­side, the Praia dos Na­tivos res­tau­rant is the perfect place for a lazy af­ter­noon lunch; you can surf with an in­struc­tor or hire a horse for a trek along the coast or in the for­est. Ven­ture 20 min­utes by car and you’ll dis­cover Praia do Espelho, one of the most al­lur­ing beaches in the area. The clear sea forms nat­u­ral pools for swimming, and there are nu­mer­ous bars, ate­liers and a vil­lage, Ita­po­ranga, lined with colour­ful houses. The beach clubs (we loved the sushi at Mel’s) have a leisurely feel, with guests sip­ping cock­tails un­til sun­set. No one is ever in a rush here.

On our last night, we slowly make our way home from the Quadrado via a dirt road, which cuts through the jun­gle, full of re­gret that this is our fi­nal evening in this spe­cial place. Jany has pre­pared fresh, just-caught badejo fish in a rich, fra­grant Brazil­ian sauce; af­ter­wards, we make our way out­side with caipir­in­has in hand, tak­ing one part­ing look out be­yond the palms and down on to the beach be­low. Let’s raise a toast, we say, to Tran­coso; long may she main­tain her unique ap­peal for many moons to come. Villa Al­tos costs from about £1,310 a night (sleeps 12), with SJ Vil­las (020 7351 6384; www.sjvil­las.co.uk).


be­low: the liv­ing area at villa al­tos

left and right: villa al­tos

taipe beach. above: the church of sao joao batista in tran­coso

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