Oct 30, 2010

Flexeiras, new kid on the Ceará block !

by Antonella Kann

The year´s not yet over and I´m already planning Easter. That´s what travel addicts do. It suddenly occured to me that I could use this opportunity when my daughter said she had a wedding to attend in Jericoacoara, in the state of Ceará. So, that´s where I wanna go.

As you are already familiar with some places in this state, as well as its golden dunes, my focus is on somewhere else, nearby, but a little further down the coast.

It´s a small fishermen´s village only 120 km (an hour away) north from capital Fortaleza, and its name is Flexeiras. A couple of years ago I´ve been there on my way to Jeri, and found the place stunning.

In 2011, Easter falls on the end of April, when the weather is warm, sunny and the place tourist free. It will be heaven.

Best part is that I discovered, accidentally, that a brand new five star resort has just opened there. Just by browsing the site, I realized that this hotel (which belongs to the Roteiro de Charme chain, which is our brand of luxury and comfort at its top) is one of a kind. Of course, the pretty setting helps, but suites with private jacuzzi also have their share to contribute for a... errh, phenomenal stay. I sure am looking forward to...

The name is Orixas Art Hotel (www.orixashotel.com.br) . Check it out yourself and tell me if it doesn´t give you the itch to go there…tomorrow. And if you do, before me, just post a comment so that I know beforehand what to expect! I´d rely on your opinions, for sure.

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Oct 25, 2010

A taste of honey: Ilha do Mel , a sweet island.

by Antonella Kann

I had heard about the Ilha do Mel a long time ago. Sort of place you tell yourself “one day I shall go”. But it took me ages. Finally, by mid September, there came the opportunity.

Located in the southern State of Paraná, this tiny island is the sort of haven to visit off peak, as in high season its golden beaches are overcrowded by tourists from nearby capital, Curitiba.

Before booking our pousada Grajagan Surf Resort (www.grajagan.com.br) - I browsed the net to search for the more starred accommodations. Unfortunately, there were none to be found.

Note that although I love being pampered, I am not the kind of person to sulk about the rusticity of a hotel or complain easily about whatever caveats there might be found in a room, but I knew that this destination had been definitely launched by hippies and surfers, a brand of visitors whose interpretation of comfort or luxury do not go beyond peaceful sights and perfect waves – respectively.

As we headed in the taxiboat to cross from the continent to the island, the weather turned grey and rainy. I had checked and was aware that we might run into a cold weekend and this worried me. There would be nothing to do if the temperature dropped even a couple of digits. September is not a warm month in the south of Brazil.

If you have a penchant for natural environment and preserved hippie era atmosphere, the Ilha do Mel has it all. The whole island is car free, with sandy streets, scattered villages with fishermen´s houses and a handful of simple inns and lodges, art crafts sold in tourist shops near the harbors.

Lucky us, next morning the sun made its appearance against all predictions. So, after a hearty breakfast we planned our day: a long walk around part of the island, exploring a couple of well known touristic sites like the Encantada´s Cavern. Along the way, extensive stretches of white sandy beaches.

I would call the Ilha do Mel a refuge for those seeking an escape from civilization, but not a place to be in summer or during holiday period. Nature lovers will not want to share the island with hundreds of visitors. If ever there´s a time to go, choose March through November.

A world away from hip seaside resorts and other trendy beach temples, the “honey island” also attracts surfers in search of good waves year-round.

Although we had fun, I left the island with a sweet and sour aftertaste. In order to attract another type of visitors – and more investments - local authorities should reinvent the facilities and give the accommodations as well as the restaurants a makeover.

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Oct 14, 2010

Caraívas, the melting pot of the south of Bahia.

by Antonella Kann

The first time I heard about this fishermen´s village was in 1995. It was the right place to go if you were the hippie-minded traveler. Whatever was left from the Aquarius era was still there.

But I wasn´t the hippie type anymore, did care about a good shower after spending a whole day on the beach, didn´t want to sleep surrounded by mosquitoes and had an issue about mobile connections. So I just acknowledged its existence.

It took me another decade to get personally acquainted with Caraívas.

By then, the small community, with simple houses, only 40 kms away from trendy Trancoso , still had no electricity, mobiles didn´t work, and the few rustic pousadas did not offer private bathroom or hot water. And, of course, none of the tourist business was there to make your stay more comfy. Nevertheless, you would have a remarkable and intimate relationship with the natives and connect with their way-of-life very easily.

Now, oh, well…Caraívas became fashionable, though. Mobile phones still remain disconnected but there´s electricity power. And now it´s really cool to say that you´re going there instead of spending a fortune in the neighboring high end beach of Praia do Espelho or even Trancoso.

But the village hasn´t changed much, due to its geographical attributes: it´s a river apart from the main dust road, so, naturally, it´s car free. Or almost, as you´ve got the buggies to move around as a mean of way of transportation. Or do as the locals, use the donkeys ( just kidding…).

Though it´s more than fun to go for a ride on this 4-wheeled-kind-of-jeep, very much in use in the northeast as it can easily stroll through thick sandy roads, dunes and the beaches.

Sandy alleys melt into the sandy beach as there´s no road or pavement in Caraívas. The village is framed by the sea and the river, and fishermen carry on their chores as in the past. The tourists come in flocks, some even carrying their own pillows and sleeping bags, and everyone crosses from one border to another by hand driven canoes, provided by the locals. You´ll pay a (negotiable) fee for each person, one way. I remember last time it was a mere R$ 2. On the other side, everyone walks to his pousada – which, fortunately, have been revamped. You do find cozy accommodations with a touch of amenities such as the Pousada Vila do Mar (www.pousadaviladomar.com.br ) Rest assure : it´s not a five-star, but you´ll be comfy enough. And, guess what – you are spending most of your time lying down on the beach, sipping coconut water.

I´ll introduce these last lines from now on, in every post. Hope you´ll take full advantage of these Insiders´tips:
Do´s : take only one duffel, pack as light as you can, because you´ll be wearing nothing else than shorts, swimming suits and t-shirts. As for walking on sand all the time, no other shoes than brazilian flip-flops, please! ( and don´t forget your sunscreen…)
Don´t: Carnival ( March 3-13th 2011) is the busiest and noisiest time ever. Not a jolly season to pick up for those looking forward to a relaxing holiday.

Oct 10, 2010

Another of Bahia´s idyllic fragment:Praia do Forte

by Antonella Kann

It´s no secret that Bahia´s coastline is dotted with the most dreamy stretches of sandy beaches, but no doubt very few places are as enchanting as Praia do Forte, located around 50 kms north of Salvador´s airport. My first visit to this seaside resort was more than 20 years ago, long before it became a tourist´s hot spot, and since then I would go back countless times.

It´s also one of the few places on earth from where I don´t want to leave. Unfortunately, it´s been a couple of years since I ´ve scheduled a weekend there, but I made up my mind to mend this very soon, be assured. It´s less than two hours´ flight from Rio or São Paulo.

A quarter of a century ago, Praia do Forte was a tiny fishermen´s village and off the beaten track. Until it became the birthplace of Projeto Tamar, an ecological plan meant to protect the sea turtles which come ashore to lay their eggs. This project has gathered several international awards for preserving the environment.

So, fortunately, this village reinvented itself as a hub attracting ecotourists as well as those who are looking for an escape with a twist – Praia do Forte´s small hip village is car free, full of cozy boutiques and small shops, bars and fine restaurants serving from hearty Brazilian dishes to international cuisine, and its pousadas have been given a makeover.

Besides, there are dreamy beaches bathed by dozens of natural pools which emerge when the tide is low. Nature lovers will not want to move from the pretty setting – there´s a very interesting visitors´ center where all kind of sea turtles can be seen before being released into the ocean - and there´s lots to do in the area – from shopping to long walks, horseriding, snorkeling, surfing and mountain bike.

Anytime is good. And if there´s a time to go, just go. Chances are you won´t want to leave this place. Just like me.

the natural pools of Praia do Forte: warm and calm waters

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Oct 2, 2010

New Year´s Eve getting closer...have you made up your mind yet? (part II)

I promised I would be back with more places for you to spend the last day of the year. So here are some ideas, but not the least of the last. There will be some more to appear, let´s say, near the deadline, and when you´ll think every mortal soul will already have a booking, some last minute baits will pop out of the blue and….that´s where you´ll catch the best deals.

But for the time being, here are some places near Rio where you could consider spending New Year´s Eve. Once in your life you should contemplate the idea of watching the fireworks from Copacabana beach, though you´ll be sharing it with, errr…one million people. But ( and it´s a big BUT) you can also try to find a room at the Copacabana Palace, the iconic hotel facing the sea. Give it a click, www.copacabanapalace.com.br - you never know….

On the other hand, why not run away from crowds, and the heat altogether? Just a mere 120 kms uphill and you´ll reach the bijou hideaways of the mountainous Vale das Videiras and the Vale do Cuiabá. Two luxurious (almost secretive) retreats deserve your attention and will pamper each guest with gastronomic treats. The silence, the cool temperatures, the unpolluted and stunning scenery come for free. Try www.videiras.com.br and www.tankamana.com.br My bet is that they might still offer interesting packages for this time of year.

the Pousada Tankamana (top) and the Fazenda Vale das Videiras

Búzios, 190 kms from Rio, is not an off-the-beaten track destination, and certainly not an option for party poopers as with plenty of pousadas, restaurants and bars, New Year´s Eve is as sizzling as it gets. And you will easily find a way to have the time of your life. Consider the threat of melting your credit card, but there are occasions when it can be worth it. And the beaches are certainly the best venues for you to dip your right foot into the sea by the first minute of 2011.

To bring nature along isolation and perhaps less agitation, I also thought about Ilha Grande, a fragment of paradise, just about a 100kms from downtown. But there´s a caveat: traffic is strangled from the beginning of the BR-101 and unless you consider driving a day or two before the 31st of December, be prepared to spend hours bumper to bumper on the road. And on the way back too. Mangaratiba is your final port, from where the ferry crosses to this big island. In the Vila do Abraão, there are several small rustic pousadas. And it´s car free, so my hint is that you could hike every day to a different amazing beach.

And what if you want to discover a land absurdly rich in history, continue on this very road until you reach Paraty. Nestled between the sea and the glamorous Mata Atlantica, this gorgeous little colonial town is a must-see. Though you may probably have a wet New Year´s Eve, the cobbled-stoned pavements, the narrow alleys, the 18th century houses and churches, altogether with the inherent charm of Paraty, will get you under its spell. And if you want to splurge, take note of the Casa Turquesa, certainly one of the finest pousadas you´ll ever set foot in. www.casaturquesa.com.br It´s the place to be when you´ll want to get away from the street parties.

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