The only boutique hotel in the historic main square of Trancoso, Bahia, Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa has become the stay of choice in this beautiful seaside village. The Brazilian elite, not to mention style-savvy visitors from the US and Europe, flock to its 10 private casas all year round, drawn by its stunning beachside location, dedication to sustainable tourism and the sort of interiors that wouldn't look out of place in Wallpaper* or Elle Decoration. Its owners have got the balance between luxury and laid-back style just right.
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A bottle of champagne in your casa on arrival. Members staying five nights or more will receive a special Smith cocktail each and a candlelit meal for two on the Quadrado; Goldsmiths receive a Capoeira class with teachers from Capoeira School Sul da Bahia
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm (again, depending on occupancy).
Double rooms from £433.32 (BRL2,691), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include a Bahian breakfast, a reserved sofa at the beach lounge and parking
Private cooking classes taught by the hotel's chefs, or even Trancoso locals, can be held in your casa's kitchen.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, library, DVD library, laundry service, in-room spa/beauty treatments. In rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, iPod dock, king-size beds, free WiFi, dining table, air-conditioning, minibar, Natura toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
We love the two-bedroom Gulab Mahal casa, which comes with a private tiered garden, a cushion-filled mezzanine, three bathrooms (two of them in the open air) and views of the Quadrado from every angle. It also houses Indian-style stained-glass and carved-wood features, which date back to the 1970s ‘hippie invasion’ of Trancoso. We also adore the Casa do Arvore honeymoon suite, which is built from recycled wood and is situated high in the trees.
Shaped like a lake and surrounded by a huge wooden deck, the hotel pool, constructed from thousands of green aventurine quartz stones, is big enough to do laps. It is gloriously surrounded by tall trees, coconut palms and flowering plants.
The hotel’s Almescar Spa is home to Bahia’s first Vichy treatment suite, where warm water pours down from carved eucalyptus trunks and therapies use indigenous local ingredients like almescar and cacao. Treatments can be carried out indoors or outdoors, there's a Jacuzzi and yoga, capoeira and forró dancing lessons are held frequently. In-villa treatments are available too.
Bring your iPod – all casas come with docking stations, and you can download as many bossa nova tunes as you like thanks to the free WiFi.
Personal chefs are available on request, and will prepare a meal of whatever you desire to be served to you in your private casa. Ask when you check in.
Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa is very much an adult's playground, however, children are allowed. Babysitting can be arranged and baby cots (for tots two-and-under) are free; extra beds are also available for R$700 per night, plus taxes.
Getting a good table is never a problem. However, during the day, we recommend going for a table overlooking the beach, at which you can enjoy views of sand and sea while you eat. By night, sit at a table looking out on the grassy, softly lit Quadrado.
The more casual the better. Flip-flops and shorts are perfectly acceptable – indeed, closed-toe shoes are positively frowned upon.
The hotel restaurant may not have officially been given a name, but it’s known locally as Uxua Quadrado. Chef Ju Pedrosa serves up fresh, locally sourced Brazilian cuisine – moqueca of lobster and king prawns, escondidinho of dried shredded meat, onion, chives, creamed cassava and coconut milk – in the hotel lounge or beside the pool. The atmosphere is informal and laid-back. On Wednesday nights there’s a special Quarta no Quadrado themed dinner menu and guest chefs.
The restaurant, overlooking the pool, serves up drinks, but the hotel's beach bar – between Nativos and Coqueiros beaches – is our pick for an evening of cocktail sipping. It's been constructed from local wood and clay using traditional techniques. An old fishing boat serves as the drinks counter, and bamboo pergolas shade those who come here to sip the signature pineapple-and-ginger caipirinhas, to a bossa nova soundtrack, till sundown.
Dinner is served till around 10pm, and caipirinhas are served in the bar until the last guests shuffle off to bed.
Guests can order from a full menu between 7am and 10pm.
Praça São João Batista (Quadrado Histórico) Trancoso
Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa is in Trancoso.
The nearest airport is Porto Seguro International, 24km from the hotel. Air Italy, Azul Brazilian Airlines, Gol Airlines, Livingston Energy Flight, TAM and TRIP all fly here, often via a stopover in São Paulo, Rio or Salvador da Bahia. Direct flights tend to operate to Porto Seguro between November and February.
It’s 24km to Trancoso from Porto Seguro; there's a paved road that'll take you about 50 minutes, or the journey will take between one and two hours on the sometimes unpaved two-lane road (including the barge ferry to Arraial d'Ajuda). There’s parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
The allure of this remote coastal Pataxó Indian village is never having to make an excuse for frittering away your days doing little more than swinging in a hammock, lounging poolside or strolling the talcum powder-white sand beaches; however, you could pick up a few dinner party tricks at the on-site cookery lessons, where you'll whip up Bahian dishes (moqueca stew, black-eyed-pea fritters and coconut sweets) with the hotel's chefs. If feeling ambitious, you can connect with the multi-lingual guides at Ecotrancoso for a horseback ride through the historic town, or mountain bike through forest thick with mangrove trees or across swathes of sand. Hop on a boat for a tour of Espelho and Caraiva beaches (including food and drink); ask nicely and your captain will stop by a reef, too. A speedboat is available on request. Capoeira lessons(a mix of music, dance and martial arts) are held in the hotel's studio, or you can book an hour-long session with local capoeira champs at the culture centre. Water-based activities include kayaking and surfing, and tours of nearby Caraíva Village and Aldeia Pataxó Indian reserve can be arranged through the hotel.
The hotel’s clutch of casas is set right on the Unesco-protected Quadrado, making it an easy stroll to the artisans’ workshops and restaurants lining the grassy town square. Pop over to El Gordo for seafood-focused dishes – Portuguese-style octopus and fresh badejo fish with savoury banana-flavoured rice – and cliff-top views of the river. Traditional Bahian stews and soups, lobster and chocolate-flecked dishes are on the menu at O Cacau, a laid-back restaurant and bar with open-sided walls that peer deep into the jungle. Should you fancy a break from just-caught fish and rice, decent pizza and pasta can be found at Restaurant Maritaca, an airy and bright room with heavy wooden tables and benches stuffed with colourful oversized pillows. For a unique local dining experience, take a daytrip to Espelho beach where you can swim in the reef-sheltered waters before dining with Silvinha: a resident who runs a tiny eatery serving up homemade Asian-inspired dishes.
Porto Seguro, 700 miles north of Rio, is the spot where the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral bumped into (that is, discovered) South America. That was in 1500 and he was seeking a trade route to India. When we deplane at the tiny airport, we’re delighted to find that there’s little to no security and that the only soft drinks for sale are coconuts. We’re seeking escape and it looks like we’ve landed in the right place.
We’re headed for the Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa in the fishing village of Trancoso, 18 miles south of Porto Seguro, and we have two choices: cross the Buranhem River by road or ferry. Of course, we opt for the latter to enhance the sensation of escape, then Mrs Smith fearlessly confronts the bumpy roads all the way to the hotel. We make the trip in 55 minutes and she flashes me her ‘Aren’t I a good driver?’ smile. (After all, she beat the hotel's predictions it would take an hour.)
The hotel is on the Quadrado, a historic hilltop square overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This large lawn rectangle is lined by a paintbox of houses (red, blue, pistachio, peach), some of them still private homes, with the rest having been turned into restaurants or mini-boutiques that open only at night. Halfway between the entrance to the square and the iconic white São João Batista Church stands the unassuming Uxua Casa. We walk down a small alley at the side and emerge into a frond- and flower-filled garden with a pool of translucent green water, an effect produced by the stones set in the bottom. There are 10 casas here, ranging from authentically restored fisherman’s houses to a sleekly opulent but eco treehouse, the Casa de Arvore.
‘We are in the treehouse!’ whoops Mrs Smith, when we’re shown to the room. Made of reclaimed wood, the casa is furnished with a huge bed shrouded in muslin, beyond which is an open-plan terrace with a hammock, a sofa and minibar, and on the lower level, a swing and hot tub. Lascivious thoughts immediately descend upon me, and indeed, you can wander naked from the hot tub to the bathroom (but Mrs Smith has imposed a gag order here). In the latter, the sinks, baths, and showers are carved from fallen tree trunks found on the property. It's exactly how a castaway with plumbing and carpentry skills might build his abode.
It was tempting to just close the door and stay in for the duration, but being ardent beach goers, we head out, turning right at the church and then proceeding through a forest of mangroves. We emerge on a broad, large hard-packed expanse of sand – the sort of beach you find on the coast of Wales but far more alluring, of course. Uxua has its own bar here, a shipwrecked boat and a few chairs and daybeds. This day, and many that follow, consist of lazy people-watching, gazing at the sapphire-green sea, nibbling on coconut and fresh cashew, and lunching on grilled charcoal cheese on a stick and iced Bohemia beer.
Several hours later, after Mrs Smith treats herself to a body scrub at the new spa, we are in the square, headed for Para Raio, a small indoor/outdoor club, to see two legendary Brazilian performers, Elba Ramalho and Elza Soares. Elba, in her mid-50s, opens with her Mr Smith, who is 30-ish. After an hour, Soares, 81, takes the stage, escorted by her 26-year-old boyfriend. She sings for three hours in a voice that can only be described as half Louis Armstrong, half Tina Turner. (Which could also be said of her physique.) At 2am, Elza is still going strong, but we are not. We wander back through the Quadrado to the church, which looks like a miracle in the moonlight.
A deep, deep sleep later, we awake to the heady scent of the rainforest, the clamour of insects and birds, and crossbeams of sun formed by the slats in the walls. We breakfast on fresh exotic fruits, just-baked cakes and breads, cheese, cereals and squeezed-for-us juice, then we retrace our steps to the beach. A swim here, a snooze there, such is life. The finale is a dinner at the hotel of delicious Bahian cuisine, a fish stew known as mocqueca, casquinha de siri (a crabmeat fritter), and an Argentine white wine.
Had we had more time, we might have taken day trips to Caraiva or the famed Espelho beach. That’s for the next visit. On this one, we happily honed our skills at doing nothing.