They say this is the town where São Paulo’s well-heeled come to pretend they’re a little on the less fortunate side. Roughing it up at an alfresco restaurant on the grassy Quadrado, elegantly slumped in a whitewashed armchair fluffed with colourful cushions, beneath lanterns and rustling leaves – whilst sipping on something chilled.
Nearby, local boys kick a soccer ball around in the golden afternoon sun, with horses lazily grazing infront of the white 16th-century Igreja São João Batista – the second oldest church in the country.
Trancoso isn’t only the playground for socialites and old money. This coastal Bahian town attracts anyone that happens to know about it – which still isn’t the whole world – so let’s keep it to ourselves, shall we?
How is it that somewhere as beautiful and idyllic as Trancoso – yet fully embraced by tourism – isn’t ruined by the very industry that helps keep it alive? Well it appears it was the hippies that helped save this small, isolated town in the 1970’s. As many of the locals moved out of town to find work in bigger centres, the hippies saw something in this small fishing village, and helped preserve it.
The grassy Quadrado was closed off to traffic, the old fishermen’s cottages surrounding it were bought up one-by-one; colourfully painted and converted to boutiques and restaurants. Although there are still a couple that are lived in by locals, which is great to see.
Helps keep it real, you know?
During the day, you could walk around the Quadrado and barely see another person. The restaurants and most of the shops are closed – the whole village seems to shut down.
Where is everyone?
All you need to do is take a walk down the hill, through mangroves via a wooden walkway and you find where all the people are. The long stretch of golden sand is Trancoso’s daytime playground. People swim, walk, play volleyball or simply sit at one of the few bars and restaurants you can find there.
If you’re not keen on cooling down in the ocean, then Rio Verde may be the next best thing. It seems this is where the locals choose to hang out and dip in gloriously-cool, tannin-stained fresh water that winds from the nearby rainforest. This was our choice, as well.
Foodies may want to mosey over to Le Marché, a cute little emporium that’s well stocked with international and local foods, wines and kitchenware. A fancy convenience store, if you will.
It may not be the cheapest place to do your grocery shopping, but it’s definitely worth a poke around. They’ll make up a picnic lunch for you – sandwiches, cheeses, charcuterie – or you could sit in-store and enjoy a coffee and something small to nibble on.
Lunch options in Trancoso can be a tad on the sparse side due to just about everything being closed around midday, but there are a few options. There’s always the main supermarket with its small variety of baked goods, or Marcos Padaria & Lanchonete that makes a pretty decent burger at seriously cheap prices. Their caipirinhas are really good, too, and way cheaper than anyone else in the village.
There may be a lot of places around the Quadrado that do food, but only one of them opens for lunch – and it gets packed each day. Rabanete is the sister restaurant to Portinha in Arraial d’Ajuda and puts on a rather fantastic R$59.90 per-kilo lunch buffet that features the likes of octopus salad, fried chicken, slow-cooked pork, beef carpaccio, provoleta and many, many other dishes.
We visited twice and found different things on both days. Great way to fill up!
There’s a room next door allocated just for desserts, and although the choices of sweets is lean, there’s surely something in there for the sweet tooth.
When it comes to dinner, the choices are a much more plentiful. This is when all the Quadrado restaurants fill their outdoor chairs with cushions, lay tablecloths and vases of fresh flowers, light candles and switch on strings of lanterns in the trees.
With so many to choose from, it’s difficult to make a decision.
The Quadrado isn’t the only place in the village that has restaurants. Head along Carlos Alberto Parracho and you have more places to choose from – keep going to Rua Bom Jesus and you’ll find a few more.
It’s here where we tried the specials of the day at Zukkà Comida Caseira, written on a board that caught our attention on the street. For R$15 we could get a filé de peixe (fish fillet) or frango frito (fried chicken) with rice, salad and beans – meals that are typical home-style Bahian cooking.
If eating Brazilian food every day is wearing a little thin, a fix on burgers at Bem Te Vi may resolve that. There are two outlets in town – one that specialises in pizza (next to Zukkà Comida Caseira), and this one on the Quadrado that does burgers.
Take your pick.
While we were in town, burgers on the Quadrado seemed like the thing to do, judging on how busy they were. They’ve got a simple formula here – a small range of burgers and very nice selection of artisanal beers. Too easy.
The downside. Due to the production line the kitchen uses to get the burgers out, leaving them sit in an assembly line in the kitchen for longer than they should results in a lukewarm meal. Nobody likes a cold burger, even in the Brazilian tropics.
Anyone that can’t live without their tapioca pancakes can get their fill from two vendors at the west end of the Quadrado. Tapioca da Elma draws the crowds with creative fillings like turkey breast, rocket, tomato and pineapple chutney – a nice change from the traditional sun-cured meat and cheese. She even uses fresh basil, a herb you don’t really see a great deal of in this country.
Two doors down is Tapioca de Sandra, a much quieter stand that has a less creative and more traditional choice of fillings. If you’re after acaraje, the stand between them can take care of that. Sadly it happened to be the worst acaraje I tried in all our travels – way too much salt and oil – a street food snack that I had to bin halfway through eating it.
How we got to Trancoso from Arraial D’Ajuda.
From Estrada de Trancoso (near the top of Rua Manoel Crescencio Santiago) in Arraial, we flagged down a colectivo van that costs R$7.50 pp. Drive time to Trancoso is around 50 minutes.