By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Report
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The seemingly sleepy seaside town of Trancoso is located in the south of the Brazilian beach state of Bahia. Combining charming colonial architecture with a glorious rainbow palette and endless stretches of near-deserted white sand shores, it is so luxuriously laidback that it attracts many an off-duty celebrity, but at various moments throughout the year it come alive with energetic, traditional local celebrations. Today is one of those days.
Following the festival of São Sebastião in January, the Procession of Iemanjá on February 2nd honors the goddess of the sea. The next day attention turns to São Brás, or Saint Blaise, and the town partakes in two days of festivities.
São Brás is both the patron saint of Trancoso and also of the throat. A bishop and a doctor, he earned his saintly status for saving a boy from choking on a fishbone and now is commemorated annually with a festival of dancing, singing, eating and the erection of a large, painted pole in the town’s grassy main square, the Quadrado.
The pole, which represents the connection between heaven and earth, is at the centre of the celebrations. In January a suitable tree is earmarked and chopped down from the surrounding rainforest. It is then stripped and dried before it is decorated in a bright and colorful pattern.
Festival-goers join a procession which goes from the town’s charming church to the Quadrado, where they watch the “king of samba” appoint a new festeiro, or host, and the pole is hauled upright using ropes. Samba, drums and percussion play and the party begins, running until the very early hours with tourists and locals alike dressed in white and dancing the night away.
“It is very common for visitors to soon learn to sing the songs with the faithful and integrate into the party as part of the community,” explains Wilbert Das, the Dutch owner of Uxua Casa Hotel and Spa and who was chosen as a festeiro in 2011.
“We seek to actively participate in these local events because we believe it is a way to keep alive this culture that was totally isolated from the rest of Brazil until the Seventies, when hippies discovered Trancoso,” he explains.
Trancoso was founded in 1583 by Jesuit priests. The area was a landing point for Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral at the beginning of that century but fell off the beaten track until it was rediscovered by travellers in the 1970s.
Now, with many well-heeled residents and visitors, it is renowned for excellent restaurants, design shops and events such as its classical musical festival, Música em Trancoso, that takes place in March.
Its draw, however, will always remain the UNESCO-protected Quadrado and the single-storey, fishermen’s houses that line its edge. Uxua occupies six of the houses as well as having other individually designed casas and suites. Impeccably designed and with five-star service, it is the place to stay in the town.
“I knew it belonged to the former creative director of Diesel and so I was excited to see the style taste,” says Rio-based designer Lizzie Crocker after she stayed at the hotel. “It’s really very classy – meticulously designed and curated, with a lot of local Bahian influence.”
“The level of maintenance of the property rang out and the details were perfect too, like candles lit and music playing when you come in from the beach,” she adds.
Trancoso is best reached from Porto Seguro airport which is about an hour’s drive away. It has daily flights from Rio, which take around seventy minutes.