Quadrado, Trancoso, Bahia, Brazil
“Hippie chic” has become a cliché term, but it’s pretty apt in the case of Trancoso. Inhabited by Tupi Indians before the arrival of Jesuits in the 1500s, the tiny fishing village remained off the world’s radar until it became a hippie hot spot in the 1970s. Electricity and paved roads arrived in the ‘80s and ‘90s followed by jet–setters in the early aughts. Although many hippies have never left, the chic is settling in with a vengeance.
Since it opened in 2009, Trancoso’s most luxurious address has been Uxua Casa, a rarefied tropical escape that, while playing refined riffs on lingering hippie elements, eschews chic like the plague. This is because Uxua’s Dutch creator and owner, Wilbert Das, had already done his time in the realm of high fashion – for years he was creative director of Diesel – before visiting Trancoso and succumbing to its spell. Particularly alluring was the Quadrado, the town’s vibrant grass-carpeted main square. Flanked by brightly painted bungalows and anchored by a whitewashed church, it offers sweeping views of Atlantic rainforest, mangroves, winding rivers and a diaphanous sea.
Das was so taken with the spot that he purchased his own villa on the Quadrado from a couple of Swiss hippies in the throes of a divorce. The property included an immense jungle of a garden filled with fruit trees; an Edenic spot for the 10 guesthouses that comprise the Uxua Casa Hotel. With the help of Google SketchUp, Das meticulously designed each one, as well as the library, spa (featuring locally sourced, organic beauty products), and restaurant/bar overlooking the pièce de résistance: a surreally blue–green swimming pool, lined with 40,000 aventurine quartz crystals known for their healing properties.
Truthfully, Uxua Casa proves therapeutic for all the senses (not to mention the soul). Colors, textures, scents, and sounds all conspire to soothe. Drawing on Bahia’s wealth of organic materials and artisanal traditions, the hotel bears no traces of Das’ high fashion past. Nothing is design–y, even though everything – down to the elemental yet exquisite copper faucets and shower heads – has been artistically wrought in a manner that is both simple and striking. The sprawling and very private casas, each with its own distinctive personality, are all beautiful paradoxes in which rusticity and luxury collide.
A unique sensation of well-being stems from elements such as extravagant bouquets of freshly cut heliconia, a bedside lamp ingeniously fashioned out of a coconut, and polished floors made from recycled native woods that demand you go barefoot 24/7. Creature comforts are hardly lacking – a/c and Wi–Fi, scented linens (600 thread count), mountains of fluffy towels, candles lit at night, even the bottles of Uxua mosquito repellent made of citronella, cloves, and patchouli – but their presence is as subtle as the flat screen TVs, slyly camouflaged in travel trunks.
Das’ mission is to offer his guests a synthesized (and idealized) piece of Trancoso. Instead of merely taking you away from it all, Uxua also plunges you right into the middle of it. The hotel’s prime Quadrado location means you’re only footsteps away from the village’s vibrant nerve center. This means easy access to myriad romantic restaurants – although Uxua’s own locally inspired food is outstanding – and upscale boutiques. (Depending on your casa’s location, it can also mean exposure to some ambient noise).
It also means the chance to get involved in village life. Guests are invited to take capoeira classes, at the gym or in town, and encouraged to make use of their well-appointed kitchens by hiring a cook to teach them how to rustle up specialties such as fish moqueca. Staff will also stock the fridge with regional goodies if you leave a shopping list. You’ll also learn a lot by chatting with the friendly staff, a highly efficient and charming group of young nativos who are a great source of knowledge about the local scene. Particularly helpful are the multilingual concierges who can help you do everything from hire a helicopter to organize a bike ride along the beaches.
Speaking of the beaches, Trancoso possesses a long string of them, in various degrees of seclusion. Reaching the closest one involves a 10-minute walk downhill from the Quadrado, where you’ll find Uxua’s beach club. Those capable of breaking the trance exerted by the quartz pool can swap a poolside sofa for a lounge chair beside the club’s bar, an abandoned fishing boat strategically anchored between a fresh water lagoon and the turquoise sea.
While many hotels succeed in helping you to escape from it all, Uxua Casa goes one essential step further by making you feel utterly at home in – and part of – your new environment. If you want to not just visit Brazil, but live there for a brief idyllic while, there are few temporary addresses more compelling than this privileged spot.
Total Number of rooms: 10
Published rates: $675 to $1,725 BB + 10% service charge
Review by Michael Sommers, photos provided by Uxua Casas