Anonymous review of Etnia Pousada and Boutique
Tiger-striped, postbox red, lemon yellow and startling turquoise are the colours of just four of the kaleidoscope of butterflies I spotted while relaxing on the decked terrace of my luxury bungalow in the jungle gardens of Etnia Pousada in Bahia, Brazil. Hummingbirds darted away from the peach hibiscus as Mr Smith bought over a coconut juice from the poolside bar, a pool which I could glimpse sparkling through the palms and passion-flower plants. Too indolent to move, I pouted to indicate I expected him to bring the straw to my lips on my behalf, and he kindly obliged. After only a couple of hours at Etnia, we were already acting like the stars of a Mills & Boon novel.
Our arrival saw us skipping down pathways from a bougainvillaea-draped doorway into Etnia's private 7,000sq m tropical forest. We passed giant symmetrical palms, banana trees and hundreds of other parrot-bright blooms, as Alessandra, the hotel manager, pointed out the seven other bungalows hidden in the foliage. Ours, she explained, was called Mediterraneo, and the others have similar travel-inspired names – for example, Kyoto and Goa – which hint at their interior design. Our suite consisted of three airy interconnected rooms, and when I peeked into bungalows Gypsy and Marrocos, they were similarly spacious.
A lifebelt saying Bienvenue À Bord greeted us as we came into the first room, where a giant lounging bed tempted the lazy with a plethora of plump striped cushions. Up a couple of steps, and we were in the bedroom where a four-poster bed, swathed in a white mosquito net, conjured up the Scarlett O'Hara in me. How can something so useful, also be so utterly Gone with the Wind romantic? Meanwhile Mr Smith was investigating the bathroom, with its fit-for-two shower, which we later discovered had windows at eye-level so we felt like we were washing under a waterfall, without the worry of curious eyes. Luxurious Granado green-coconut and chestnut scented products, anchor hooks for towels and pictures of yachts at full flight added to the feeling we'd stumbled onto a luxurious ocean liner.
Alessandra had suggested lunch by the pool, so we smartly stripped down to our swimming costumes and meandered down, spying dragonflies and admiring birds-of-paradise blooms along the way. Our table was waiting for us, sheltered under a poolside parasol, with a red hibiscus bloom sharp against the white linen. The sitting room, dining area and bar are set deep in Etnia's tropical estate, so the only sound as you eat, swim or sunbathe is birdsong and the gentle hiss of sprinklers. As we enjoyed our feast of chicken with passion fruit and locally caught fresh fish, we each remarked on the design decisions we liked the most – the linen-covered sunloungers for two, the mock-colonial travel trunk, the faux bone-handled silver knives.
Keen to explore Trancoso in the late-afternoon sun, we grabbed a couple of rolled towels and ventured out the back of the Pousada's grounds to walk to the beach. Ten minutes later we were crossing a long rickety walkway over a mangrove forest with the sound of the sea growing louder, until at last we could see the waves kissing the shore. Praia dos Coqueiros (south of the mangroves) and Praia dos Nativos (north of them) are the first of many beaches of sugary sand, with a mixture of deserted stretches and chill-out bars, which attract both hippies and Brazilian glitterati alike.
After kicking the surf at each other and unsuccessfully trying to shake coconuts out of the trees, we headed into the famed centre of Trancoso, the Quadrado. This is large car-free rectangle of grass, with a white church at one end and dozens of boutiques and restaurants housed in fruit juice-coloured cabanas along either side. The shopping is to die for – don't buy any kaftans or bikinis before you come to Etnia – in fact, bring an empty suitcase, because you'll want to fill it with confections of wafty chiffon and sequins from the hotel's own high-end boutique (halfway down the Quadrado).
As we wandered past a sushi joint and a crêperie, a horse stopped alongside us to munch at the grass, and a tribe of barefooted children booted a football in our direction, tempting Mr Smith into a quick kickaround, while I tried on some of the latest Brazilian fashions. The fairy lights outside the restaurants were just flickering on as we headed back down a cobbled road to the Pousada.
At night Etnia is exquisite. Italian/Brazilian owners André and Corrado really understand the aesthetic value of low-level light. Candles in white filigree wrought-iron lanterns lit our way to the pool for our pre-dinner drinks. In the flickering shadows, we toasted each other with hugely generous pineapple caipirinhas and relaxed to the sound of frog flirtations and discrete bossa nova before heading out to the Quadrado for dinner. André had recommended the restaurant Maritaca, as only breakfast and lunch are served at Etnia – I recommend the grilled octopus.
I'll skip past our slightly tipsy return to our room later that night, and the jungle-inspired Tarzan and Jane reenactment, to the magnificence of the breakfast at Etnia. The morning staples of eggs any style, fruit salad, juice and honeyed yoghurt are joined by local Bahian delicacies, served in miniature, so you can try all of them without feeling guilty. For our breakfast, Lita, Etnia's chef, had prepared fried bananas sprinkled with cinammon, pão de queijo (cheese puffs) and coconut pavé (creamy cake).
There were many things we could have done for the rest of that day – a trip to Espellho (one of Brazil 's top-ten beaches), a surf lesson at Itaquena or a capoeira display, but indolence reigned supreme, and instead we plumped for reading by the pool and a massage. And as I lay face down in Etnia's candlelit spa, with the masseuse kneading my back with surprising strength, I realised that despite only rare visits to botanical gardens in the past, Etnia's jungle estate was in fact my natural habitat.