Beautiful Trancoso sits at the southern tip of Brazil’s Bahia region, perched on a low rise plateau looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. It is just 15km south of Porto Seguro, while Salvador de Bahia lies around 400km to the north, and Rio de Janerio about 800km to the southwest.
The coast that runs north and south of Trancoso is known as the Costa do Descobrimento, for it was here, on 22 April 1500, that Portuguese sailors first discovered Brazil. 86 years later, the Jesuits founded São João Baptista dos Indios (now Trancoso) as a centre for converting the natives.
A prolific, superabundant rain forest surrounds Trancoso and, in some places, courses through its streets. Jack fruit, almond, mango, tamarind, dendê and papaya trees flourish untamed, while vibrant flowering plants form an exotically polychromatic palette, reminding visitors, if there was any need, of their tropical whereabouts.
All roads, and, it seems, the flora lead to the centre of town, the Quadrado. This rectangular expanse of grass is surrounded by multi-coloured cottages and runs from west to east up to a proud church, from where dramatic views take in miles of white sandy beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
Remarkably, most of this was created by the original Jesuit founders in the late 16th century. The church, which is dedicated to St John the Baptist, seems to be a blueprint for Iberian colonial religious architecture. Its scrupulously white-washed exteriors have very few windows, the façade is topped by a curvaceous, symmetrical pediment, and a small bell tower sits to one side. The interiors are simple, with white-painted walls, a wood-beamed ceiling, and rudimentary pews. The only flashes of colour are provided by the pulpit and the altar, where cerulean blue and gold add a little Brazilian vibrancy.
A prolific, superabundant rain forest surrounds Trancoso and, in some places, courses through its streets.
The Quadrado is Trancoso’s gently beating heart, a pleasurable spot to while away the hours at any time of day. It is perhaps at its most enchanting, however, from late afternoon onwards. As the sun begins its evening descent, the Quadrado comes alive with a healthy local buzz. Barefoot kids play football, friends sit and chat, horses graze freely, future capoeira champions practise their moves, young lovers stroll hand-in-hand amongst the trees, bars and restaurants open up, lighting their colourful lanterns and laying their al fresco tables in preparation for the quick-falling night. An atmosphere of well-being and relaxation pervades the cooling air, and the gently hypnotic rhythms of bossa nova and samba provide the perfect soundtrack. There can be fewer better places to cool off and unwind after a sun-drenched day on the beach.
Many of the brightly coloured cottages that surround the Quadrado have been transformed into bars, restaurants, hotel rooms, and boutiques selling a range of designer fashions, local handicrafts, jewellery and many other desirable objects.
For shopping with a difference, one can travel to the nearby village of Itaporanga, home to the Pataxo Indians. Keen to sell their craftwork, they entice visitors by draping sloths around their shoulders – a unique, and for many, irresistible sales strategy.
Brazilians from the country's major cities joke affectionately that their compatriots in Bahia live life at a slower pace than even the sloths, and many visitors slip straight into the deliciously relaxed daily routines of the locals. There is, however, plenty on offer in Trancoso for anyone who likes a bit of action, including horse riding along the beaches, watersports, guided treks into the rainforest, golf, capoeira lessons and even impromptu games of futbol (if you can take the pace!) with the local kids on the Quadrado.