Paradise found in Brazil
Travellers should warm to the often overlooked province of Alagoas in the north of the country, writes NICOLE MATTHEWS
IF YOU HAVE heard of São Miguel dos Milagres in the northeastern corner of Brazil, you are most likely in a minority. A cursory glance at any of the major travel titles will reveal little to nothing of this fishing village in the Alagoas province of Brazil.
After a tip-off from a Brazilian friend of warm water, friendly locals and delicious food, we were on our way. The three-hour drive from Recife is fascinating: this is tropical Brazil and village life is played out before your eyes with children chasing buffalo and women carrying water and banana bunches home on their heads.
Motorway turns to national route, then local roads which eventually become cobblestoned back roads. A five-minute crossing on a basic car ferry where bikes, pedestrians and cars vie for space completes the journey.
This area is predominantly made up of sugarcane and coconut plantations. While the sugar cane is widely used to produce ethanol, it is also the source for the local Cachaça rum which is drunk throughout Brazil in the form of the ever-popular Caipirinhas. The landscape is dotted with tiny villages featuring Portuguese colonial buildings and churches alongside craft shops and brightly painted houses.
São Miguel dos Milagres is a tiny village, and its proximity to the beach through a thick canopy of palm trees means fishing is the main occupation. This stretch of coastline is known as the Costa dos Corais or coral coast by Alagoans due to the environmentally protected offshore coral reef.
Ongoing preservation work on beaches, seas and mangroves in the region has earned it the title of the Rota Ecológica or ecological route. Pousada(guesthouse) owners share a common preoccupation with sustainable tourism by supporting local community initiatives that range from efforts to keep the beach clean, recycling of organic waste, and the use of solar energy to the organisation of environmental film festivals and educational projects with children from the community.
The beaches are so underdeveloped and empty it feels like stepping back in time. The sea is as warm as a bath and beautifully calm due to the large offshore reef and the only hint of civilisation is the occasional local fisherman on the ubiquitous jangada, a rough hewn raft operated like a paddleboard with a billowing sail.
WE STAYED IN Pousada da Amendoeira, a beautiful low-key pousada that backs onto Praia do Toque beach. Run by an English speaking couple from Israel and São Paolo, it is not just the idyllic setting but also little extras that set the tone for guests – you know immediately you are in a special place where you can truly relax.
There are seven bungalows to choose from, ranging in size and proximity to the ocean, with hammocks and yoga mats supplied to maximise your downtime and extras, such as outdoor Japanese bathtubs with scented oils designed to ensure you soak out any last ounce of stress.
Depending on energy levels, days can either be spent lazing in a hammock or exploring the area on bikes, kayaks or windsurfing, all provided free for guests to use. Jangada boat trips and horse rides allow you to travel further afield to sample different beaches and deep tidal pools.
Low tide is a highlight here as you can walk out along the coral to the piscines naturelleor large rock pools, which are home to an enormous variety of marine life including sea urchins and even manatees on a good day.
In a bid to conserve manatees, which are a threatened species, the village has even developed an enclosure with government funding in the riverbed of the nearby Tatuamunha river. Through this project, these peixe-boias they are known locally, are rehabilitated before being released back to the ocean, so day trips to visit the temporary visitors are a great draw for the area.
Evenings can be wound down with a massage beachside or sampling the aforementioned Caipirinhas and pineapple and lemongrass smoothies before the local chef works his magic on the catch of the day. Half board is standard in almost all the pousadas.
Generally, the smattering of tourists you encounter are from São Paola or Paulistas, but pousada owners say that, in a sense, there’s no tourism as, on any given day, maybe a hundred visitors can be found on a beach 25 miles long.
Some claim Alagoas is starting to get the buzz, which the now popular Bahia resort of Trancoso did 15 years ago, but it’s hard to know how accurate this is when locals still seem happily surprised to see tourists cycling through the village.
The fact remains that the province of Alagoas is still overlooked by travellers to Brazil who go to Rio to party and head south to popular favourites Ilha Grande and Paraty to relax, yet an undiscovered paradise lies far north.
TAM Airlines (tam.com) flies to Recife from Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo. Car transfers to São Miguel dos Milagres can be arranged through your pousada.