Recently, I was given the tough assignment of reviewing three luxury hotels, along the southern coast of Bahia, for a U.S.-based web site called Luxury Latin America.com.
My mother asked me: “How do you keep all those hotels straight in your mind?”
Aside from the fact that I take copious hand-written notes, and use my camera as a type of sketch book, snapping away at small details that I find to be original (if not always photogenic), I had to confess to my mother that it’s not that difficult.
Perhaps one of the most interesting new “attributes” of luxury in the 21rst century – at least in Brazil (sadly, I don’t “do” luxury in other countries) – is an increasing attempt to make the experience as unique and personalized as possible. As a result, despite certain common denominators – paradisiacal beaches, lavish breakfasts, sheets with astronomically high thread counts, spas – each (increasingly small) hotel really stands out in its own distinctive way.
“Okay,” agreed my mother, after having read the reviews, which were posted last week. “But which one did you like best?”Having mulled it over for a while, I came to the trite but true conclusion that it’s hard to pick a favorite since each of the three hotels is “best” in its own special way.
Mothers have a knack sometimes for posing difficult questions and this was no exception. Having mulled it over for a while, I came to the trite but true conclusion that it’s hard to pick a favorite since each of the three hotels is “best” in its own special way. If I were to recommend each to readers of a travel blog, for example, here’s how I’d break it down in order to help a potential traveler in the mood for some Bahian beach luxury to choose (assuming that he/she doesn’t want to visit all three):
Best Thing: Secluded and Stunning Natural Setting
Opened in 2000, Txai is by far the oldest of the trio. The fact that it’s the only one owned by a group – São Paulo-based Txai Resorts, which is administered by the BHG (Brazilian Hospitality Group) – explains why it’s also the largest and most standardized (its 40 guest bungalows have a certain cookie-cutter aspect to them). However, Txai has a compelling trump card: the entire complex is distributed amidst 100 hectares of protected and extremely lush virgin Mata Atlântica (native Atlantic forest) and boasts a stunning 5-km-long white sand beach. Although there’s no such thing as a private beach in Brazil, this one comes close due to the fact that it’s so far off the beaten path. For this reason, Txai’s Shamash Spa tops those of the other hotels. Due its strategic hilltop location, the views from the infinity pool, yoga studio, and the sauna with its big picture window, are outrageously jaw-dropping.
Best Thing: Utterly Relaxing Home Away from Home
Eschewing a beach-front location, Uxua sits perched upon the grass-carpeted main square of Trancoso, known as the Quadrado. Set amidst a jungly garden stuffed with flowers and fruit trees, the 10 guesthouses are all meticulously and ingeniously designed by Dutch owner and creator, Wilbert Das, former creative director of Diesel. Each casa has its own distinctive lay-out, ambiance, décor, and personality (not to mention fully equipped kitchens) that conspire to make you feel really at home (this isn’t just a hoary cliché; within 10 minutes you completely forget you’re at a hotel). However, Uxua goes one step further by making you feel really at home in Trancoso; Das has brilliantly choreographed Bahia’s wealth of organic materials and artisanal traditions, integrating them into a space of great beauty and simplicity that is utterly relaxing – especially when you factor in the small, but bewitchingly green-blue swimming pool lined with 40,000 aventurine quartz crystals known for their healing properties.
Best Thing: Uniquely Innovative Architecture and Design
Open less than a year, Makenna is the newest, and by far the most original, of the trio. The brainchild of Thilo Scheuermann, a German engineer and artist, Makenna does what no other Brazilian hotel has dared to do: it brought Brasília to the beach. Made of gleaming concrete, sandstone, and glass, Makenna’s 16 cube-shaped casas and main palatial “clubhouse” are inspired riffs upon Oscar Niemeyer’s futuristic constructions. Airy, elegant, light-suffused and incredibly spacious, the cool minimalist architecture provides a beguiling contrast with the heat and lushness of the tropics and, through juxtaposition, dramatizes the landscape of swaying palms, bromeliads, and endless sky and sea. Eclectic art and decorative elements, along with careful lighting, add to the sensation of staying at a wonderful art gallery on the beach.