Small World: Buzios, Brazil

Low-key glamour still lures visitors to Brigitte Bardot's holiday spot

Ugly Island: not the most enticing of labels, but fortunately this isle off the Brazilian resort of Buzios does not live up to its name. Just a couple of hours' drive along the coast from Rio, Buzios is endowed with 26 tranquil coves, plus umpteen pousadas (privately owned inns) and upmarket shopping and eating places.

Ugly Island: not the most enticing of labels, but fortunately this isle off the Brazilian resort of Buzios does not live up to its name. Just a couple of hours' drive along the coast from Rio, Buzios is endowed with 26 tranquil coves, plus umpteen pousadas (privately owned inns) and upmarket shopping and eating places.

Until the collapse of the Argentinian economy, Buzios was the preferred holiday haunt of thousands of Porteños, as the inhabitants of Buenos Aires are known. But now the resort is having to seek business from its European roots.

French pirates first sought shelter in Buzios's quiet coves in the 17th century. Along with the Dutch and the Portuguese, they made it a whaling and slaving station; one of the beaches, Praia Joao Fernandes, is named after a plantation owner. Slavery, on which the economy was based, is still commemorated by a "slaves' graveyard" up the hill beside the little fishermen's church of Santa Ana.

Jump a century and, in 1964, the French returned, courtesy of Brigitte Bardot on an extended holiday. Today the actress is commemorated in the numerous esplanades, night-clubs and hotels named after her, and in a life-size sculpture. The bronze, by Christina Motta, shows her in the familiar jeans and matelot shirt, straw hat in hand and seated on her suitcase - with just enough space for visitors to have their photo snapped sitting alongside her.

In the 21st century, footballers Ronaldo and Romario, and pop-stars Madonna and Michael Jackson have sought ostentatious anonymity here. Yet, with its lack of traffic, casual attire at even the smartest of dinner tables (Jean Troisgrois blazed a trail for Parisian restaurateurs to set up shop here) and mixture of local and visiting populations, there's something beguilingly slow and old-fashioned about the place.

The choice of hotels is vast. It's possible to pay between $250 (£140) a night (on the cliff-edge Galapagos Hotel) or as little as $10 (£6) in one of the many backpackers' hostels on the town fringes. The best rooms, however, are in the middle range. At the Hibiscus Inn, you get bungalow-style comfort set into a hillside garden. Casas Brancas - architect-renovated but still soothingly traditional - offers superlative, inexpensive, luxury. It also boasts a brilliant Uruguayan chef, who uses the best ingredients to create delectable salads and desserts and a mouth-watering lemon risotto.

Despite the tourists and the celebrities, Buzios continues as a fishing port of sorts - anyone swimming out into the sunset from the Praia Azedinha must circumvent the fishermen's nets. While fish are caught in commercial quantities, there always seems enough for each fisherman to carry a bucketful into the prettily whitewashed one-storey beach houses.

And bathers can find fresh fare of their own, choosing between lobster, squid, giant prawns, sardines and a selection of white fish chargrilled at kiosks along the pavement, washed down with copious caipirinhas (Brazil's version of the Cuban mojito: white rum with masses of ice, lime, mint and sugar).

The more permanent restaurants have three-course menus with wine for around $12 (£7): most excellent of all, in our experience, was O Caravelho on the main drag, the Rua das Pedras.

If you're in line for a more energetic holiday, you can take to the hills with a horse or a hang-glider: there are stunning views all round. You can even opt for a night ride when the moon is high. Or sail (with or without your own crew) to the untruthfully-named Ilha Feia (Ugly Island) for some snorkelling or surfing.

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