In the small square close by the magnificent church of Sâo Francisco in the historic Pelourinho district of Salvador stands the Hotel Villa Bahia.
We had called in briefly on our first visit to Salvador some seven months earlier and had decided that should we ever return this was where we wanted to stay.
Four-star and eco-friendly
The hotel was originally two adjoining 17th and 18th century Colonial era houses but under the ownership of Bruno Guinard, a French man who calls Bahia home, they are now combined into a comfortable, charming and eco-friendly four star hotel.
There are 17 rooms of varying sizes furnished with recycled furniture made from items restored or made by craftsmen from Tiradentes in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil.
The bathroom fittings have been restored or made from salvaged metal by iron workers in Velhâo who use the money to raise funds for the local community. The handcrafted natural cosmetic products in the bathrooms are environmentally-friendly and most of the bedspreads have been woven by a local women’s association.
Comfortable bedrooms some with a terrace
However, modern day practicalities have not been forgotten and the likes of air-conditioning, free wi-fi, TVs, etc are in all the rooms. Some of the rooms have their own private terraces – we were lucky, ours did.
On the ground floor
But nice as the bedrooms are it was the ground floor of the Bahia that captivated us most. There’s the welcoming reception area with its delightful staff dressed in their charming relaxed and unusual staff uniforms. These I discovered were based on historic costumes and designed by students from the local School of Fashion Design who also made them.
A lounge and bar
Across from reception a cosy lounge and bar (we got to know the bar fairly well in our three days there – good caipirinhas). And beyond the bar the restaurant and where breakfast is served. We loved that room with its fountain tucked amongst papyrus, ferns and palm trees, and would delay our breakfast till a table was vacated so we could eat sitting there.
Later in the day you could also find us relaxing on the wrought iron chairs at one of the marble topped tables, covered with white crocheted cloths, beside the tiny outdoor swimming pool.
We loved the tiny swimming pool
The hotel also a nice roof terrace, but it was the pool that we loved and we would sit happily admiring the lush vegetation on the wall opposite, and the pool with its blue and white tiles whilst enjoying our evening caipirinhas. The wonderful and obliging waiting staff never had to ask where we would be sitting – they knew.
The hotel has an excellent fine dining restaurant, under the direction of Chef Guto Lago, serving fresh organic produce, or that sourced from family farms. The dishes pay homage to Bahian cuisine but with a modern international spin.
The restaurant is said to be one of the best in Salvador, we wouldn’t argue; one of us still talks about the lamb cutlets garnished with pomegranate seeds.
But it was the breakfast that bowled us over. We awarded it The Foody Traveller’s Simply the Best award.
Our Simply the Best Breakfast award
This breakfast is the breakfast to end all breakfasts.
It started off in a low key fashion - fresh tropical fruit juices, fresh fruit and a basket of homemade breads and preserves along with excellent house-roasted organic pure Arabica coffee.
We thought that that was that. But no, evenly spaced out came a succession of Bahian and international dishes.We were familiar with cheese and ham plus eggs cooked to order, but the Bahian specialities were new to us.
We never knew quite what would eat but we loved the dainty portions of tapioca, carimá or manioc cake; coconut and tapioca cake; tapioca cousous; fried or boiled plantains; beijú (a type of pancake made from tapioca); xerem (a sort of maize based porridge with meat)and mingau (a Portuguese porridge) which kept appearing.
A final Caipirinha
But there was one other meal that we talk about to this day. Egg and chips. It was our last morning and we just had time for a quick lunch before our taxi arrived to take us to the airport.
Apart from the dinner and breakfast menus the Bahia can rustle up light bites too – but one of us was suddenly desperately in need of comfort food - egg and chips (not on the menu). Our obliging bar staff had a word with the kitchen. A little later, at our favourite poolside table, smiling with pleasure Marilene served us perfectly cooked egg and chips along with our final caipirinha.
Hotel Villa Bahia, Largo do Cruzeiro de São Francisco, 16/18 - Pelourinho, Salvador . www.lavillabahia.com
TAP Portugal flies from London Heathrow, Gatwick & Manchester to Salvador via Lisbon six times a week, prices start at £504 return including all taxes and surcharges. Tel: 0345 601 0932. www.flytap.com
Bespoke Brazil: www.bespokebrazil.com.