Rua Chile, 20, Centro Histórico, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Salvador has no shortage of charming, boutique pousadas, but the 2017 re-opening of the city's original grand hotel has brought luxury back to its colonial heart with a streamlined Art Deco vengeance.
Unlike other large hotels in Salvador, and even much of Brazil, the Fera Palace Hotel has two major things going for it: history and geography.
The geography is a no-brainer. The Fera Palace is located a couple of short, but very scenic blocks from the Pelourinho, Salvador's colonial district, whose dense concentration of baroque architecture has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status. Even more enticing is the fact that it's perched on the edge of the Cidade Alta (Upper Town) overlooking Brazil's largest, and arguably most beautiful bay, the Bay of All Saints.
Unbeatable location aside, the Fera Palace's historical cred is pretty impressive. Constructed in 1934, and modeled after New York's already iconic Flatiron Building, the Palace was the Bahian capital's original luxury hotel. Seated proudly along Rue Chile, Brazil's oldest street dating back to 1549, the hotel hosted the celebrated likes of Orson Welles and Pablo Neruda before falling out of favor in the 1950s, when guests fell sway to the radical new fashion of private en-suite bathrooms. (The Palace had only one facility per floor, which famously resulted in a full-bladdered Carmen Miranda pleading with fellow guests for permission to jump the line).
After toppling into decline like much of the surrounding neighborhood, in 2011 the Palace was purchased by Brazil's Fera group and brought back to elegant life with the aid of Danish architect Adam Kurdahl. Kurdahl, who also tackled the interior, astutely mingles revisited mid-century style with painstakingly preserved original details. This is immediately apparent upon check-in as you enter the cool, vaulted reception area with its black-and-white mosaic tiling and luminous globes.
The lobby stretches leisurely towards the bar, awash in polished wood tables, clubby chairs and chesterfields, and then flows into the Adamastor restaurant. Aside from a la carte lunch and dinner options, a copious and delicious buffet breakfast is served here featuring local specialties that range from fragrant papaya and tart umbu juice to steamed cassava and delicate beijus (tapioca crepes).
The throwback vibe continues as you ascend the polished wooden elevators to the rooms. The soothing coolness of pale pastel walls and upholstery, brushed steel fixtures, and mirrored cocktail cabinets, (hiding well-stocked minibars) is warmed by original parquet floors and wood-framed windows. Minimalist black-and-white tiled bathrooms are outfitted with retro fixtures and sweet scented argan oil toiletries. Conveniences ranging from digital a/c thermostats to smart TVs are standard and unobtrusive. Those with unfinished business might regret the lack of a work space, however.
The lower floors' superior and standard rooms are pretty tight. They also lack the splendid sea views that kick in if you opt for the larger deluxe rooms on the 6th, 7th and 8th floors, not to mention the spacious suites, whose giant bathrooms feature claw-foot tubs. Most glamorous are the corner suites occupying the wedge-like narrowest angle of the building, with living areas, lounges and spectacular views of the Bay of All Saints. Coveted by newlyweds and Brazilian celebrities, the tower suite is actually built right into a circular tower crowned by a copper spire that wouldn't be out of place on top of an Eastern Orthodox church.
The spire is best seen from the in-your-(tanned)-face vantage point of the rooftop lounge. Here a languid bar, tricked out in fishermen's baskets and Portuguese ceramic tiles, shares deck space with a herd of plush and pillowed lounge chairs. A 25-meter long infinity pool merges mesmerizingly with the blue waters of the bay below. Day or night, the rooftop—which also shelters a basic gym and a corner for private massages—is in itself worth the price of accommodation. It was too bad that something as sublime as watching the sunset over Itaparica Island risked being tainted during my visit by the scratched plastic glasses in which wine is served (poolside safety be damned!) and brega music emanating from the personal speaker of the young couple smooching in the pool. Normally, strains of bossa lounge music set a more relaxing tone.
Fera Palace prides itself on being more unpretentiously chill than its more formally elegant new neighbor, the Fasano. However, while both style and service are generally smooth and streamlined, the aforementioned minor bumps, which also include the fraying edges of the otherwise fluffy bath towels, are a bit surprising, if not unprecedented among upscale Brazilian hotels. Happily, they fail to contaminate an experience that, due to its legacy and location, makes the Fera one of the city's most effortlessly distinctive and relaxing refuges.
Total Number of rooms: 81
Published rates: $120 to $720
Review and photos by Michael Sommers.