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Makenna Resort—Ilhéus, Brazil

Rod. Itacaré/Ilhéus km 16, Ponta da Tulha, Ilhéus, Bahia, Brazil

Makenna is a modernist mirage in a paradise–worthy landscape where the vast majority of Brazilian luxury beach hotels tend to go native. In other words, they strive to blend into their surroundings by incorporating traditional, local architectural styles and materials. Key words to describe this dominant aesthetic would be “primitive”, “rustic”, and/or “hippie chic”. None of these describes Makenna.

Makenna Resort
© Makenna Resort

Makenna Resort is the brainchild of Thilo Scheuermann, a German engineer and artist. Although Scheuermann’s wife is Brazilian, he had never set foot in the country before deciding to move to the Northeast and open this exclusive and visionary resort. After purchasing 50 hectares of preserved native Atlantic rainforest set along a windswept stretch of fine white sand, Thilo hired young São Paulo architect Monica Drucker and together they went to work creating an ecologically friendly project whose design would shatter paradigms. The goal was to dramatize the landscape – rife with swaying palms and bromeliads – by having it contrast, instead of blend in, with pavilions and bungalows whose modernist lines enhance the open vistas of sky, sea, and endless horizon.

Makenna Resort LoungeFive years in the making, when Makenna finally opened for business in late 2010, it racked up a lot of awards (it won the 2010 Best Hotel Architecture Award bestowed by Arquitetura e Construção magazine and was one of five international finalists for building of the year chosen by the prestigious ArchDaily site). It also offered a whole new concept of luxury accommodation in the Brazilian Northeast.

Makenna’s lodgings consist of 16 elevated, cube–shaped casas fashioned out of concrete and regional sandstone, all of which feature wide verandas with sea views. Sliding wooden doors and windows with venetian blinds invite the constant flow of ocean breezes as do sky–high ceilings. The airy 1–bedroom units (the larger super deluxe version includes a living area and Jacuzzi) also come equipped with silent a/c along with Wi–Fi, safes, minibars, and outstanding lighting (a rarity in Brazilian hotels). Nice touches include robes, Occitane bath products, and a nightly turn–down in which lyrical goodnight “wishes” are accompanied by mouthwatering, locally–made chocolates.

Makenna Resort BarWhile the architecture’s clean (some might say stark) minimalism is not cozy, it’s soothing, unpretentious and elegant – especially in the case of the “clubhouse”. Rising above the resort’s enticing long blue rectangle of a swimming pool, Makenna’s centrally-positioned main building riffs upon the futuristic palaces designed by Oscar Niemeyer for the nation’s capital. All gleaming concrete floors and slender pillars framed by glass walls, this is where you’ll find the reception, TV lounge, reading and living rooms, as well as the dining room/bar. The luxurious combination of open space, natural light, modern furnishings, and an eclectic collection of art ranging from West African Fante sculptures and Bahian handicrafts to a giant wooden canoe (not to mention Thilo’s own colorful abstract canvases) make you feel as if you’re living in an art gallery on the beach.

Makenna Resort Pool
© Makenna Resort

The heady sensation becomes downright romantic at night when lamps and spotlights, reflected in the pool, are coupled with a sky full of stars and moonlight; an enchanting atmosphere in which to dine. And dine you must since the food at Makenna is superb. The three-course menu, which changes daily, features fresh local ingredients, cooked to perfection in creative ways, while the banquet–like breakfasts—already a standout in Bahia—are superlative. Although none of the staff is proficient in English, service is impeccable.

Makenna Resort Room
© Makenna Resort

Aside from swimming, beachcombing, and soaking up sun, guests can take advantage of the spa whose minimalism harmonizes with the soothing treatments available, which run the gamut from massages to healing baths made with the fragrant, medicinal leaves of local flora. Those seeking more active pursuits will find on-site activities somewhat limited. The resort’s bonus is its proximity to Ilhéus, Brazil’s cocoa capital (with an airport that allows for quick transfers), and a surrounding area replete with colonial plantations, virgin forest, and secluded beaches.

Makenna’s hard, raised surfaces and sharp edges aren’t very kid-friendly. And even the odd adult might not thrill to the chill of concrete amidst a tropical landscape that’s naturally all about heat, curves, and color. Yet, there’s no denying that the unlikely contrasts are both striking and unique. Many will find them worth the journey, especially when couched in such a high level of comfort. (Just remember to pack a Brazilian Portuguese phrase book). According to the owners, guests from Brasília feel right at home here – if you appreciate art, architecture, innovation and excellence, in a stunning beach setting, you will too.

Total Number of rooms: 16
Published rates: $450 to $690

Review and photos by Michael Sommers.