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Barefoot Brazil

An Expat Hotelier Keeps It Casual
  • Pousada Picinguaba

    Pousada Piçinguaba

  • Pousada Picinguaba

    Pousada Piçinguaba

  • Pousada Picinguaba

    Pousada Piçinguaba

  • Pousada Picinguaba

    Pousada Piçinguaba

  • Fazenda Catuçaba

    Fazenda Catuçaba

  • Fazenda Catuçaba

    Fazenda Catuçaba

  • Fazenda Catuçaba

    Fazenda Catuçaba

  • Fazenda Catuçaba

    Fazenda Catuçaba

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

Bordered by nearly every country in South America, Brazil stretches from the highlands north of the equator to the southern coast beneath the Tropic of Capricorn, bulging out into the Atlantic to the east and through a vast expanse of the Amazon to the west.

WHY GO

Home to perhaps the world’s greatest beach city in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil knows how to kick back and have a good time. You could spend a lifetime exploring the nearly 5,000-mile coastline, and that’s before you even get to the Amazon.

HOW

Rio’s Galeão International Airport and especially São Paulo’s Guarulhos receive regular direct flights from most major cities in the Americas, as well as many in Europe and Asia.

TABLET TIP

Brazil contains multitudes. Unless you have months on end to explore, don’t try to cram everything into one trip. Once you’ve visited, you’ll want to return again and again anyway.

Brazil, March, 2013

“The world needs Brazil,” says Emmanuel Rengade, and as the owner of two of the country’s finest small hotels, he should know. In part, he means that we need the fantasy. The Brazil of our imagination is a particularly honeyed vision of the good life — gregarious and sultry, with hammocks and caipirinhas.

At least, that’s the Brazil in the minds of expats like Rengade, who grew up in France and was working a finance job in London when a backpacking trip through South America led him to chart a new course. Traveling along the verdant, sparsely inhabited coast south of Rio, he came across a charming old pousada in the tiny fishing village of Piçinguaba (population about 500). At the time it was rundown and abandoned, but he was immediately smitten. Within a few weeks he owned it, and set about turning it into an idyllic retreat.

His ten-room Pousada Piçinguaba is a place of simple pleasures: hammocks on the terraces, communal dinners under the stars, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards for cruising along the uncrowded beaches. Set on a gem-cut coastline of bays and coves and tiny uninhabited islands, it’s pure barefoot luxury.

That there’s no internet access and only the faintest of cell phone signals is simply part of the appeal. Being disconnected underscores the strong sense of place that’s been cultivated at Pousada Piçinguaba. The staff is entirely local, and the village is small enough that virtually the only tourists are guests of the hotel. But it also has a veneer of sophistication, thanks to Rengade’s social connections, taste in friends and ability to attract like-minded guests.

Once the pousada was going strong, Rengade became determined to buy a farm to supply its restaurant. When he found the right piece of land in the highlands outside São Paulo, he discovered that it came with an 1850s fazenda (farmhouse). Soon that farmhouse would become Rengade’s second small hotel, Fazenda Catuçaba, which opened in 2011.

Like Pousada Piçinguaba, Fazenda Catuçaba keeps things simple, the better for focusing on the profoundly peaceful natural environment. Surrounded by rolling green hills that are dotted with lakes, its ten rooms are spacious but homey, with big slate bathtubs that have staggering views. Guests freely wander through the kitchen where meals are prepared, and the staff is from the area. Yet even in such a casual atmosphere, a subtle glamour shines through. Artists in residence have included Pasha Radetzki, who created giant sculptures on the grounds. Brazil’s famous Campana brothers designed a chair for the lounge, and just unveiled an outdoor “bamboo cathedral” for dance, yoga and meditation. Star architect Marcio Kogan designed a handful of eco-houses, which Rengade is selling exclusively to friends and friends of friends.

To Rengade, however, it’s not about Kogan houses or Campana brothers art. It’s about the communities he’s creating, where guests, staff, owners, artists and local workers can come together. The world can use this, indeed.

Ann Abel

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CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

Bordered by nearly every country in South America, Brazil stretches from the highlands north of the equator to the southern coast beneath the Tropic of Capricorn, bulging out into the Atlantic to the east and through a vast expanse of the Amazon to the west.

WHY GO

Home to perhaps the world’s greatest beach city in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil knows how to kick back and have a good time. You could spend a lifetime exploring the nearly 5,000-mile coastline, and that’s before you even get to the Amazon.

HOW

Rio’s Galeão International Airport and especially São Paulo’s Guarulhos receive regular direct flights from most major cities in the Americas, as well as many in Europe and Asia.

TABLET TIP

Brazil contains multitudes. Unless you have months on end to explore, don’t try to cram everything into one trip. Once you’ve visited, you’ll want to return again and again anyway.

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