Like much of South America, Brazil was colonised in the 16th century. The Portuguese landed in 1500 and their mark remains on the country to this day. From pretty painted buildings to elaborate churches, cobbled streets and a rich history, there is much to explore in Brazils colonial legacy. Here are our top 3 colonial towns and cities in Brazil and their best luxury hotels.
Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia, a vibrant city on Brazils north-eastern coast. The jewel in the crown of Salvador is the old colonial district of Pelourinho. This UNESCO word heritage site is the largest collection of colonial buildings in Latin America and a charming maze of pastel coloured buildings and cobbled streets. Located in the Cidade Alta (High City) it sits above the rest of Salvador, proud and beautiful.
The pretty squares and ornate churches are striking landmarks for your exploration of the captivating district. One of the most important is the Sao Francisco church and convent. The interior is covered in ornate gold woodwork and beautiful frescoes. In contrast to the baroque architecture, the art-deco Elevador (elevator) sticks out into the port, a streamlined and striking piece of architecture. It takes people quickly between the Cidade alta and the Cidade Baixa below.
Where to stay
Some of Salvadors best hotels are located in the Pelourinho and one of our favourites is Villa Bahia, located next to the Sao Francisco church. It is spread over two traditional colonial houses and offers panoramic views over the Pelourinho. The 17 rooms are uniquely decorated in a sophisticated and elegant style, in keeping with the historical importance of the neighbourhood. The rooms overlook either the church or the courtyard of the hotel and highlights include dark, polished wooden floors and beautiful tiled bathrooms.
A small pool inside one of the courtyards is a gem not so often found in the Pelourinho and the leafy vegetation provides a cooling and relaxing atmosphere. The cuisine is French, making use of the variety of delicious local ingredients and a rooftop terrace is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view, caipirinha in hand, after a long day exploring the city.
Paraty is a colonial gem on Brazils Southeastern coast, between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. With the Atlantic rainforest on one side and the ocean on the other, this is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the best of both worlds. Paraty itself is a charming collection of cobbled streets and white buildings, a picture-perfect colonial town harking back to the gold-mining days when it was a port.
Paraty is an ideal place to relax and explore, partly because motorised vehicles are forbidden in the city centre and so the streets are clear for pedestrians. A large number of writers and artists have settled in Paraty and in fact it is home to a literary festival in July each year. There are numerous galleries and boutiques, perfect for shopping for original artwork and artisanal products.
For those that want to explore further afield, there are plenty of options. There is an abundance of islands in the bay surrounding Paraty which make delightful day trips. Take a boat out and enjoy a picnic, swimming in the bay and relaxing on the beach. Other activities such as stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling and diving are also popular and in general, visitors can enjoy a variety of water sports.
The rainforest and mountains behind Paraty offer opportunities for trekking or horse riding, for a change from the beach and the town.
Where to stay
The best hotel in Paraty is Casa Turquesa, a beautiful boutique hotel in central Paraty. The façade is of an 18th century colonial townhouse and the interior is an elegant mix of polished wooden floors, fresh white and turquoise and aqua accents. The 9 rooms are each uniquely decorated with art from local artists. Four poster canopy beds and private balconies complete the charming décor with views out onto the town.
The town of Ouro Preto is in the heart of colonial Brazils goldmining region. This is where the Portuguese struck gold and the name Ouro Preto means black gold. This is another town that has been designated a UNESCO world heritage due to the spectacular Baroque architecture. The town is certainly picturesque with a mix of white facades, terracotta rooves, churches, bridges and fountains all surrounded by the Serra do Espinhaço mountains.
Ouro Preto has a rich cultural history as the location for Brazils first independence movement. Today it is an important centre for education and the arts and the narrow, twisting streets play host to 2 different churches and numerous fine examples of the art and architecture of the region.
Ouro Preto makes a good base for exploring the nearby towns of Tiradentes and Mariana, similar in style and almost as charming, they make ideal day or overnight trips and complete a perfect itinerary for anyone interested in colonial history and architecture.
Where to stay
Our favourite hotel in Ouro Preto is the Solar do Rosario. This hotel is housed in an old colonial mansion and offers 41 well-appointed rooms. Decorated in clean, neutral hues with warm accents of polished wood, each room offers views over the town or the hotel gardens. Other amenities include an outdoor pool where guests can enjoy a swim or relax on the surrounding loungers with the mountains and rooftops in full view. The Lady of the Rosary serves delicious cuisine, accompanied by wines selected from the hotels own wine cellar and the scotch bar is the perfect place to relax with a sophisticated drink.
Simon Williams is Director of The Bespoke Travel Group.
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