By Sarah Coursey, Editor
RIO DE JANEIRO – Welcome to the Capital da Alegría. Salvador, the capital of Bahía state, is actually called the Capital of Happiness. Picture grown men hugging, cashiers smiling and laughing, and a laid-back attitude, and you will start to get the idea.
With a picture-postcard historical center already named a UNESCO World Heritage site and some of the best food in all of Brazil, 48 hours in Salvador is sure to put a smile on your face.
Also known as Roma Negra, or Black Rome, for its Afro-Brazilian population and stunning colonial architecture, dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth century, Salvador boasts rows of pastel-colored buildings lined up like candies along cobblestone streets.
Also known as Pelourinho, the Portuguese-era heart of the city has been carefully preserved. Its clean-up has a dark past, however, as its former residents were shuffled to the outskirts of the city. Despite its loss in authentic local flavor, shopowners keep the area alive by day and restauranteurs entertain by night with their take on Bahian cuisine.
Start Friday night off with some local food – expect spicy, rich African flavors with the best of Northern seafood. The historic center is a great place to begin, with wonderful restaurants and an evening cultural performance highlighting Afro-Brazilian traditions.
Make sure you arrive early to the restaurant Maria Mata Mouro on 8 Rua de Ordem Terceira. The menu offers a mix of traditional cuisine and Mediterranean dishes, all in a beautiful setting. Ask to be taken to the open-air patio in the back, and order the moqueca do pescado for two. Octopus, shrimp, squid and assorted fish are served in a peppery, coconut milk bouillabaisse.
Next head to Babagula, just round the corner on 7689 Avenida Otavio Mangabeira. They host a folkloric event with traditional dancing in elaborate costumes and capoeira demonstrations. Some of the highlights are maculelê, the fishermen’s dance, and Candomblé. The show starts at 7:30PM and includes dinner, but it is best to just join at 9PM for the performance.
A good part of Saturday can be spent at the beach, as the weather in Salvador is usually perfect for sunbathing and swimming. Try Porto da Barra. Portuguese forts dating back to the seventeenth century dot this popular beach area.
There is also Boa Viagem beach. Although not recommended for swimming, this white sand beach with turquoise water is a great place for walking or sunbathing. Another great beach to try, dotted with long, slender palm trees, is Jardim de Alah.
In the afternoon stop by the Mercado Modelo, a great place to buy souvenirs, often at prices cheaper than those offered by beach hawkers. They sell clothing, beach gear (sarongs, called cangas in Portuguese), handicrafts, silver, local music CD’s, and also offer capoeira demonstrations and restaurants at the rear.
In the early evening, watch the sun go down at Cafelier on 50 Rua do Carmo. With an antique interior, delicious coffee and a view over the harbor, it attracts a chic and chilled out crowd who come here to relax between a day spent in the city and a night on the town.
For Saturday night dining, Yemanjá on 4655 Avenida Otavio Mangabeira offers Salvador’s best seafood dishes. Try the lobster soup, shrimp cooked in passion fruit and for dessert a lovely cream of papaya with cherry liquor.
At midnight, the hip and bohemian crowd heads to Borracharia on Rua Conselheiro Pedro Luís in the Rio Vermelho neighborhood. By day, it is a mechanic’s and by night it is transformed into a club, with a thirty-something crowd of in-the-know Bahians. Expect a mix of soul and funk music along with MPB classics.
On Sunday, wander the historic center and marvel at the Igreja São Francisco. It is one of the most spectacular churches in the world, richly adorned with gold, silver and precious stones and ceiling art that has been compared to the Sistine Chapel. Take in the Museu Afro-Brasileira, where the story of slave transport, cultural mingling of African and Brazilian culture and other topics are explored.