24-Hour Room Service: Pousada Picinguaba, Ubatuba, Brazil
Saturday 28 June 2008
How to make the perfect caipirinha: top and tail a lime, quarter it, cut each quarter in two, throw into a cocktail shaker with a heaped dessertspoon of sugar, crush with a wooden spoon, add eight ice cubes, a measure of cachaça (or white rum), shake well, pour and drink.
It might not be a conventional hotel freebie, but the caipirinha lessons held at Pousada Picinguaba, on Brazil's southern coast, are much more useful than a pair of cotton slippers or a mini-bottle of shampoo. That they are held regularly instead of more formal pre-dinner drinks also says much about this small, 10-room hotel.
Despite its sophisticated guests, the sense of luxury at Picinguaba comes more from its genuinely willing service and laid-back atmosphere.
The colonial decor makes it appear much older than its 20 years. It was built as a holiday home, but for five years has been run as a hotel by Frenchman Emmanuel Rengade, who chanced on the building while on holiday.
The whitewashed building is surrounded by tropical gardens and a pool and looks out over the colourful fishing boats, islands and deserted beaches of Picinguaba Bay.
Pousada Picinguaba, Rua G 130, Picinguaba, Ubatuba, Brazil (00 55 12 3836 9105; www.picinguaba.com). This is as off-the-beaten-track as it gets on this coastal tract between Rio and Sao Paulo. The pousada is reached via a winding path from the beach and surrounded by Atlantic rainforest. The only distractions are the sounds of the sea, the patter of rain on banana leaves (if you're unlucky with the weather), tiny blue birds flitting from flower to flower, and Fazenda Beach, a 3.5km stretch of empty white sand about 20 minutes' walk from the hotel.
The hotel can also arrange trips to outlying islands in its schooner or guided walks to waterfalls, but the region's biggest draw is Paraty, a Unesco-protected colonial town, 25 minutes' drive away. Each year, Paraty hosts an international literary festival, which this year runs from 2 to 6 July (www.flip.org.br), and the hotel often hosts many of the authors chilling out pre- or post-event.
Time from international airport: Picinguaba is four hours' drive from Sao Paulo or Rio. Most guests arrange private transfers as part of their package at €250 (£208 return), but comfortable buses from either city's bus stations to Paraty cost around R30 (£9) and a taxi from there to Picinguaba is around R80 (£24) each way.
The pousada's 10 rooms are rustic yet stylish, with white walls, painted woodwork, woven lampshades, Brazilian paintings and hammock-strewn private terraces. If you're looking for luxury, be warned that the en-suite showers aren't very powerful. Fortunately, the shabby-chic ethos doesn't stretch to the beds, which have good mattresses and linen. For something more decadent, there is a honeymoon suite, complete with a Jacuzzi.
Kindness is what counts here. The hotel's friendly manager, Priscila, and her staff do all they can to make sure that guests enjoy themselves. Much care is spent on small details, such as providing interesting books in each room or hurrying out with an umbrella if it starts to rain.
Freebies: Good guarana-based shampoo, conditioner and "bath pulp" by Natura, a Brazilian company.
Keeping in touch: The point of being here is to unplug; don't expect TVs, internet access or air-con. When the weather is bad, most guests retreat to the lounge to play board games, flick through the collection of coffee-table books on Brazil or watch classic movies projected on to the wall by an open fire. There's also a cosy sauna or you can book massages (around R150/£45 per hour).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at €250 (£208), including breakfast and a buffet dinner; minimum three-night stay.
I'm not paying that: Doubles at Pousada Rosa (00 55 12 3836 9119; www.pousadarosapicinguaba.com.br), also in Picinguaba, start from around R80 (£25) per night, including breakfast.
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