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Word of Mouth: Paraty

Cachaça, fresh food and local art provide the rustic setting for this historic Brazilian town

by CH Contributor in Travel on 27 August 2014

by Abby Morgan and Blake Whitman

Walking around the maze of streets paved with irregular stones, visitors can feel the Portuguese presence that first landed in Paraty 500 years ago. Situated in a sheltered bay at the edge of the wild Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Forest), the charming seaside town is a relic of Brazil’s colonial past. When the coffee and sugarcane trade dissipated, the old town remained stuck in a time capsule, largely abandoned until its eventual rediscovery by artists in the '60s. Its new incarnation is a proposed UNESCO heritage site and has abundant offerings for discerning food enthusiasts, music lovers and adventurers alike. Also home to a variety of diverse festivals throughout the year, Paraty is a unique stop for a cultural piece of old Brazil.

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Casa Turquesa

Facing the pier of colorful fishing boats and situated on the coastal edge of town is Casa Turquesa, a thoughtfully imagined boutique hotel that pays homage to its historical past. The appreciation for subtlety and the passion for Paraty are evident in every detail. “I wanted something elegant, unpretentious and comfortable above all” explains Tetê, Casa Turquesa’s owner and principle designer. “I wanted a house where I could welcome my guests as friends.” Built within the preserved shell of a 17th century house, the two story structure echoes a traditional Portuguese home, but is appropriately adapted with modern luxuries. All nine rooms are comfortably designed, named after their accentuating shade of color to help promote “contemporary comfort for a warm and friendly ambience.” Guests are given custom Havianas during their stay, as well as Wellingtons to brave the tide, which invades the streets during full moons. Fresh orchids and local art adorn the original stone walls of the dining and lounge area, where—every morning—a rich complimentary breakfast is offered with a variety of local fruits, juices and delicious homemade breads. When looking to explore outside the confines of downtown Paraty, the staff is extremely helpful at arranging special and authentic experiences to help visitors better unravel the magic of the area.

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Touring the Coast with a Fisherman

To fully experience the famed natural surroundings, jump aboard a converted fishing boat for a relaxed, private tour of the numerous neighboring islands and undeveloped, jungle-lined coast. The day trip includes visits to deserted white sand beaches, coves of swimming turtles and beach bars serving fresh fish and cold Brazilian cervejas. What makes this trip special is the authenticity of touring the coast with a local, not an outside tour guide. Boats can be hired at any time along the main pier, or Casa Turquesa can help arrange the trip with some of their recommended (also English speaking) captains.

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Maria Izabel Cachaça Distillery

Just a few kilometers outside town, a washed-out dirt road leads to the enchanting coastal enclave of Maria Izabel Distillery. More than just a distillery (“alambique” in Portuguese), this gorgeously maintained property is also Izabel's home, where she carefully crafts her famous cachaça—Brazil’s national cane spirit. Originally purchasing the land because of its natural beauty, Izabel chose to start cultivating sugarcane as a way to make a living off her land. Drawing from generations of cachaça distillers in her family, she began experimenting with the spirit over 25 years ago, slowly but surely refining her craft. She relies largely on intuition in her process (and a secretly guarded yeast), focusing solely on high-quality small batches. Today, she is still one of the few female distillers producing some of the best cachaça in Paraty. Her special reserve, which is worth the export, is only available by visiting the distillery at her home.

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Punto Divino

While passing the main square around sunset, the sound of alluring samba music can be heard emanating from one of the surrounding façades. Punto Divino, a traditional trattoria found in a not-so-traditional locale, is a popular Italian-inspired restaurant set in the heart of old Paraty. The outdoor garden hosts nightly music and is a beautiful place to try one of its signature dishes, the classic linguine with clams—a plate rightly recommended by Tetê, the owner of Casa Turquesa.

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Pippo

An upscale alternative to Punto Divino (but operated and named after the same owner) is Pippo. Seemingly out of place in Paraty, this high-end Italian restaurant is like stepping into 1960s Italy with its checkered marble floors, white linen table cloths and pictures by famous paparazzi photographer Marcello Geppeto covering most available wall space. The charismatic owner—a fishing enthusiast originally from Sicily—is a self-taught chef whose menu experiments with his Sicilian culinary knowledge combined with local ingredients. Dishes include sea bass eggs sautéed with cachaça, zucchini and hearts of palm; or salmon, brown sugar and vodka. It also has a wine list to relish in, including Bordeaux and a few very exclusive Uruguayan wines.

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Armazem

Entering Armazem is like walking into a trading ground for the indigenous tribes of Brazil. “The tribes don’t have a word for art, it's an expression of the soul,” explains owner Nina Prado, whose careful selection of indigenous goods reflects her understanding of the tribes she works with. From jewelry to fine art, each piece is a reflection of the owner's direct relationship with each tribe, which helps to support these irreplaceable cultures.

Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what's unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.

Punto Divino and Pippo images courtesy of Pippo, all other images by Blake Whitman

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