Friday, 24 December 2010
We were the last to get off the bus at Praia da Lagoinha in the north of Florianopolis. The stop was on a sharp bend in the road and there was very little around. Reluctantly, we started walking up a gravel pathway behind some buildings. It had been four hours from when we’d arrived at the coach station in Floripa (what the locals call Florianopolis); had we hired a car, the journey would have been at least twice as quick. If you can drive, do it. But the journey was worth it when we found Pousada da Vigia (it was along the gravel pathway). Roughly translated as The Watcher’s Inn, the pousada sits on the rocks overlooking the lovely, long stretch of beach with calm waters (Floripa is a surfer’s paradise so bathing isn’t always possible/recommended on some stretches of beaches). Every morning, we would run along the beach – and sometimes swim back – before jumping into the outdoor, covered pool to do a few laps. Then we’d have the lovely breakfast. The pousada itself only has about nine rooms so it feels really spacious – it has a terrace and living area, as well as the pool and exercise room. The bedrooms vary in size and price quite considerably; from 275 Brazilian Reais (£105) per night for a room overlooking the garden in low season to 590 (£225) for a suite. We opted for a standard room with a sea view, but the suites are amazing. There are two and they are set on two floors, with their own Jacuzzi, sauna and barbecue. The staff at the pousada were absolutely lovely and helpful, and the breakfast delicious. I was a bit disappointed with dinner – the menu was unnecessarily fancy – but I’ve had some recent feedback from a couple who visited the pousada in October and apparently the food was delicious. If you've had enough of the snow here, have your own barbecue instead at Pousada da Vigia - it should be hot and sunny there right now.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
When I arrived in Ilha Grande, after taking a ferry from Angra dos Reis (a couple of hours from Rio), a tiny boat was ready to pick me up and motor across the water for five minutes to the Sagu Mini Resort. There are plenty of inexpensive places to stay at in Abraão, the island’s only town, but if you’re after something a bit special, then go for the Sagu. It only has nine rooms, and they’re all really spacious, with their own balconies and hammocks. What’s lovely about it is that it has been built with the rainforest (which covers the island) at front of mind. You feel that you are deep within it because there are so many nooks and crannies to explore, not to mention all the butterflies and birds fluttering around. The boat drops you off on a long, wooden jetty that leads to the Sagu resort and the owner, also called Ana, was ready to greet me on arrival. Like I said, the room was lovely and big, as was the bathroom, and there was a balcony with lovely views of the sea, and a large (covered) veranda with a hammock, which proved quite handy given that it rained a lot while I was there. And when it rains in Ilha Grande, it really rains. Forget any storm you may have experienced in the UK – in comparison, it’s like a little trickle. In fact, one couple who had come to the restaurant at the Sagu for dinner one evening were forced to spend the night there because it was too dangerous for them to travel back to Abraão. Cars aren’t allowed on the island, so visitors explore it via footpaths. You also need to carry a torch with you, as the footpaths aren’t floodlit. Equally useful when the weather wasn’t great was the living room, where you could choose from a pretty decent collection of DVDs, quite a few of which were in English. But the best activities, as you’d expect, were outdoors. We borrowed kayaks to explore the beaches around the Sagu and trekked to Lopes Mendes (as mentioned in a previous post). There is also a jacuzzi to soothe away the strains of the kayaking. If there was one downside to the Sagu, it was probably its restaurant. The food was expensive and, because the hotel is outside the town and the weather wasn’t great, our options were limited. The setting was lovely though. Another point worth noting – and one which wasn’t a problem despite comments on Tripadvisor – refers to the little black flies in the breakfast area. There are quite a few of them, although they aren’t actually flies; the species is called Irapuã (trigona Spinipes), and there is information about them at the hotel. They are harmless. If you don’t like nature and little insects, then the Sagu might not be the best place for you. But I loved being surrounded by it all; it was part of the island’s - and the hotel's - charm and natural beauty.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Every culture has some sort of culinary symbol with which everyone instantly associates. Say pretzel and you think of New Yorkers, see a baguette and you think of a Frenchman (true, not just a stereotype). In Brazil, the equivalent “snack” (because the national dish would be feijoada) is the pão de queijo – the cheese bread. Walk into any corner shop, petrol station or – less-surprising – bakery in Brazil, and you will find a small, round, bun-like bread filled with stretchy cheese. Sometimes it’s warm, sometimes it’s not. Brazilians eat it for breakfast or as a snack, anytime of day. And it’s very, very nice. So nice, that even Budgens managed to get hold of some. There’s a branch of Budgens near where I live in Belsize Park in London called Thornton’s Budgens. It’s a bit like a posh version of a normal Budgens – it stocks food sourced from specialist and local suppliers, and has a dedicated international section. Among its offer is make-at-home pão de queijo, much like they sell in Brazilian supermarkets. It’s a powder mixture to which you add milk, roll into balls and put in the oven. The supplier is Romulo Lívio de Medeiros, who runs Minas Industries and supplies stores across London and Surrey. And pão de queijo is a big success at Budgens. “We've stocked the product for about two years,” Thornton’s Budgens’ Andrew Thornton tells me. “We were initially approached by Minas, then we did a number of tastings and built a fan club for the product; once you've tasted it, there is no way back.” It’s not just pão de queijo that fills Budgens’ shelves in Belsize Park. I was there recently and found all sorts of things, from tinned feijoada to guaraná (a sweet, fizzy drink). They are sourced from Portugal, not Brazil, but good to know they’re there to fill a nostalgic hole.
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
If the Arpoador Inn in Rio was fit for purpose but lacking in beauty, then the Pousada da Marquesa in Paraty brings both elements together perfectly. It’s situated in Paraty’s old town, right by the harbour, and it’s truly lovely. I would recommend staying in the old town as it’s far prettier than the rest of Paraty and where all the attractions are. I found myself at the Marquesa after failing to stay at the Blue Jungle hostel for the allotted three nights I had planned. Not that there was anything wrong with the Blue Jungle. It has possibly the biggest swimming pool in Paraty and the people who run it are sweet, friendly and helpful. But I’m not 22 anymore, so a biscuit-thin mattress and the surprise visit of a little cockroach at 3 in the morning in the bathroom were enough to make me switch to the Marquesa. Still, if you are 22, on a budget and less of a princess, you could do a lot worse than the Blue Jungle. As well as the pool and the great staff, it’s excellent value for money (about £30 per night), set in attractive surroundings, with clean rooms. Not that the Marquesa was expensive. It was cheaper than the Arpoador Inn at 270 Brazilian Reais (£100) and immeasurably lovelier. With its dark wood interior, offset by the bright white walls and high ceilings, the Marquesa has a colonial elegance that is in perfect harmony with Paraty’s own history. The beds were so super-comfortable and the rooms quiet, despite looking out onto the square. The Marquesa also has a small swimming pool, lovely views of the square and the breakfast is delicious. As well as fruit and eggs, it was the first hotel I stayed at that served bolo salgado (savoury cake). It’s like a vegetable quiche but without the pastry and with a more solid consistency. I doubt I’m selling it to you, but put it this way: my friend Becky, who is the biggest meat lover I know after my dad, and one of the fussiest eaters I’ve ever met, loves bolo salgado. The Marquesa is also where all the authors who take part in the annual literary festival FLIP stay. Its walls as covered in black and white photographs of writers including Paul Auster and Margaret Atwood. If you’re planning on going to Paraty during FLIP, then don’t expect to stay at the Marquesa – all rooms are reserved for the writers. But at any other time of the year, I’d say it’s the best place to stay in Paraty – I wouldn’t bother looking elsewhere.
Sunday, 5 December 2010
(view from outside hotel) Instead of listing the most amazing places to stay in Brazil, the next set of awards from Born in Brazil will focus on the “best” places to stay in relation to the top beaches series of last week. That way, you can plan a trip around some gorgeous seaside locations. Having said that, some of the places I’ll be listing are rather lovely. But not this one. First up, is the Arpoador Inn in Rio de Janeiro. Now, this is no boutique hotel. If luxury is what you’re after in Rio, then your best bet is to stay at the Fasano or Copacabana Palace hotels. The first is the epitome of modern exuberance while the latter is old-school, Art Deco opulence. But both were also out of my price range when I was last in Rio in March so I opted for the Arpoador Inn, on the edge of Ipanema, and bordering Copacabana. If you’ve never been to Rio before, want to be in the centre of things and are a bit worried about crime, then it’s probably a good idea to stay in Ipanema. Not that I had any problems at all while I was there. Tip: when walking around Rio, avoid carrying a lot of stuff with you. In the evenings, for example, I took a small amount of money and a credit card for paying at restaurants – in my pocket. But, back to the Arpoador Inn. It’s pretty basic and, to be honest, nothing special. But it does have the following going for it: it’s the only hotel on Rio’s beachfront that actually sits on the beach – all the others are separated from the sea by the wide, busy road. It’s also on a relatively quiet spot in Ipanema and it’s not too expensive (300 Brazilian Reais or just over £110 per night). Anything cheaper, and you’re likely to be looking at a hostel instead of a hotel. And it’s difficult to find options in-between hotels like the Fasano and Arpoador – for all its sexed-up glamour, Rio is lacking in cool, affordable hotels. Another tip: if you’re going during Carnaval in February, book now and expect prices to soar, although apparently, the Arpoador rates stay quite constant. My room was clean, the shower was excellent and the staff helpful. For the more adventurous among you, I’d be tempted to suggest staying in Santa Teresa, a bohemian suburb largely populated by artists and sitting on Rio’s hillside. It’s not a favela, but is surrounded by them. The residents of Santa Teresa have created a bed and breakfast network – cama e café – in order to encourage tourists to meet locals and experience the “real” Rio. Some of the houses look gorgeous and the owners offer to take you out and show you the sights. Wherever you stay though, Rio is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to go back. And I’d be tempted by the cama e café option, topped off by one night in the Fasano – if I’m feeling a bit richer by then.