Portugalís beautiful pousadas are not limited to Portugal itself, but the extraordinary restoration and re-purposing of fine historic buildings make them recognizable even an ocean away.
We entered through a small vestibule decorated in figural tiles, with a small altar at one side, and stepped into the stone-paved perambulatory of a sun-drenched cloister. The reception area faced the cloister, through solid glass doors that didnít distract from the gray stone arches and columns.
Inside we crossed Areolas carpets and checked in. En route to our room, we were waylaid by a waiter offering us our choice of a cool coconut drink or champagne. Refreshed, we continued through a second cloister, this one planted with trees whose thick foliage shaded the edges, where lounge chairs faced a small round pool. As I crossed the cloister, bits of conversation in lyrical Portuguese drifted from the bar/lounge area in the wide arcade of the perambulatory.
This serenely civilized hotel in a restored convent could only be one thing: a pousada, part of the large group of hotels that scatter across the map of Portugal. I have stayed in enough of them to recognize a pousada instantly. And indeed it is, but with a difference Ė an 4000-mile difference. This one is in Salvador, Brazil.
It is not officially called a pousada there although it is part of that group, because in Brazil the word implies a very modest guest house, not the beautifully restored historic properties and stunning contemporary inns of the Portuguese group. This was the first Pousada do Portugal outside the country itself, and Brazilís first historic property to be transformed into a hotel.
Original stone stairs, worn at the centers from centuries of footsteps, led to the second floor (I chose these over the elevator, since the bellman had already delivered my luggage) where doors to guest rooms are surrounded by stone doorframes. More Areolas carpeted our room, which was decorated in warm, creamy colors and original art. Egyptian cotton linens and a duvet made the bed look very inviting, even though I had been able to sleep quite well in my lie-flat Business Class seat on board the American Airlines overnight flight from Miami.
Later, when I asked hotel staff about the history of the building, I was offered a tour. The entrance vestibule, I learned, was the former slaves chapel, since they were not allowed to worship in the church that adjoins the convent.
The sacristy of the church is open only to hotel guests, and seeing it is reason enough for choosing to stay here. This room is considered to be the finest baroque interior in Brazil.
Medallions in the coffered ceiling each contain a painting on wood, and gold leaf-covered carving surrounds these and covers the walls. The room contains a polychrome carved wood statue, Christ Enchained, dotted with small rubies. This and other treasures were brought her for safekeeping in the 17th century when Portugal was overtaken by Napoleonís army.
One of the largest convents in Latin America, Convento do Carmo sits within a short walk from the center of the historic old city, and rooms on the front have views of the broad bay, Baia de Todos os Santos, across the tiled rooftops. The vast buildings easily accommodate its nearly 80 guest rooms and spacious public areas that include, along with the two cloisters, a restaurant, terrace cafť, library and a spa -- where the sauna and whirlpool tubs are free for guests.
The restaurant sits along one side of the inner cloister, serving Portuguese fusion with Bahian cuisine. A carved confessional sits at one corner of cloister, perhaps in case guests eat too sinful a dessert. Tuesday through Saturday evenings between 7 and 9pm, a cellist plays in the cloister bar.
Learn more about this and other pousadas at www.pousadasofportugal.com. American Airlines flies direct to Salvador from Miami, with connections to all major US and Canadian hub cities (www.aa.com). For more information about Brazil, visit www.braziltour.com.