So perfect they don’t even need a name. They are just The Islands, “As Ilhas”. They lie just a five-minute boat ride off Praia do Barra do Sai which is one of many beautiful beaches in the São Sebastião region of the Paulisa coast. Some of the resorts are heavily built up and being just a few hours drive from São Paulo it’s a favourite weekend getaway destination. There are many expensive holiday homes here and a lot of money washing around, but there are still several unspoilt parts.
Last weekend I visited the islands on a day trip from where I was staying in Praia do Juquehy. There are some agencies there which run larger posher boats, but I think the best way to do it is make your way to Barra do Sai and chat to one of the boat owners who wait for customers at the far left hand side of the beach.
It’s quite expensive to charter a boat unless you’re in a group, but as I can speak Portuguese, I was able to chat to a family and tag along with them. I spent the whole afternoon lying on the pristine sands and swimming in the clear waters, a real luxury considering it’s officially winter here. There’s no restaurant to speak of, but the boatman’s mum and brothers run a little drinks stall and can whip up a fantastic whole barbecued fish. All in all, it was one of the most relaxing Sundays I’ve ever had.
I love boat trips. There’s something wonderful about getting out onto the open sea or a river and taking the pace down a notch or two. Travel is obviously much slower and it gives you a chance to reflect on the journey and increases the anticipation of arrival at your destination. If there is water near where I am, chances are I’ll want to to expore it.
On a recent trip to visit friends on Long Island earlier this month, we took the ferry to Block Island. Technically in Rhode Island, it’s also accessible by ferry from Montauk, the easterly-most point of Long Island. It made for a great day trip.
It’s quite touristy and not exactly cheap, but it has a wonderfully relaxed vibe and some great old clapboard houses dotted around town, many of which have been converted into boutique hotels. But the star attraction for me was the Mohegan Bluffs. You can walk to the top of these cliffs which have wonderful views and there are also steps down to an unspoilt beach, although the steps run out towards the bottom and you have to scramble down the rocks to reach the sand. You are, however, rewarded by a beautiful stretch of sand and a chance to take a dip in the ocean.
Beaches are a way of life in Brazil. For most Europeans the beach is the place where you take your bucket and spade and suntan lotion for a couple of weeks in the summer. But with many of the principal cities situated along the vast coast of Brazil, a lot of Brazilians spend a huge amount of a time at the beach every day all year round. In Rio, in particular, it’s the equivalent of a park – somewhere to sit and have a drink, catch up with friends, do some exercise, chill out.
Beaches in Brazil generally fall into two categories, those with beach bars and loud music and those where there is almost no infrastructure. I prefer the latter and, fortunately, Brazil is blessed with miles and miles of almost deserted and unbroken coastline often backed by mountains where you can walk for hours. As winter arrives in São Paulo and where it can get surprisingly chilly, it seemed like a good time to remember a few of my favourite beach getaways.
Ilha do Cardoso is a gem of an island, situated right in the south of São Paulo state. A ferry from the sleepy town of Cananeia takes you to the island in a few hours and there is a good chance of seeing dolphins en route. I visited the place a few years ago just a week before Christmas and it still felt out of season. Only two pousadas had started operations and only one restaurant was open for lunch on the day I arrived. I was hungry and decided to go for the recommended fish. In fact, the chef had only just caught the fish and was still in the process of gutting and cleaning it. Two hours passed before I got to eat, but it was delicious and well worth the wait.
Almost at the opposite end of the country lies the small village of Algodoal on the island of Maiandeua, a bus and ferry ride from Belem, the major city that lies at the mouth of the Amazon. Algodoal is situated in the Atlantic and, like Ilha do Cardoso, has no motorised traffic. It’s laid-back and gloriously underdeveloped.
Thailand gets a lot of good press and word of mouth about its beaches, but in my opinion Brazil boasts some of the finest in the world. There’s a saying in Portuguese which pretty much sums up the importance of the beach (“praia”) in Brazil: “não é minha praia” which can be rendered in English as “it’s not my cup of tea”. Brazil’s beaches are very much my cup of tea!