Pousada Picinguaba

Paraty, Rio de Janeiro Environs, Brazil Book from US$894

Reviewed by Nikki Tinto
Fabulous hideaway midway between Rio and São Paulo combining unspoilt beaches, tropical rainforest and local colour
Half way between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo is an exceptional hideaway of some considerable beauty. The tiny fishing village of Picinguaba is set on the edge of unspoilt Atlantic rainforest beneath tropical mountain peaks. Here you will gaze across turquoise bays and out to velvet green islands. Vast expanses of open beaches seemingly extend forever.

The pousada at Picinguaba, with its 10 rooms and 3-bed villa (ideal for families), private schooner and local guides, brings together all that is great about Brazil. Created with great passion by Frenchman Emmanuel Rengade, it's a charming place built in perfect harmony with its natural surroundings: we awoke to the sounds of the forest in the morning, watched giant blue butterflies and brightly-coloured hummingbirds, sailed to deserted islands through dolphins and flying fish, snorkelled in crystal clear waters, walked through the forest, swam under waterfalls, dined on freshly caught seafood and finally drank with the local fishermen playing their guitars underneath the stars. Magical.

Highs

  • Perfect mix of style, personal service and relaxed atmosphere
  • Fabulous views and unspoilt surroundings (there are no other hotels in the vicinity)
  • You can be as active, adventurous, cultural or lazy as you like - the longer the stay the better
  • Local guides can take you on jungle hikes and to Paraty - a beautifully preserved colonial town 20 minutes away
  • Meeting other guests and the friendly villagers
  • There's no need to hire a car or organise a thing - transfers from either São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro airports are arranged for you
  • The owner has a great commitment towards preserving the local environment and community

Lows

  • No TVs, limited WiFi and patchy mobile signal (unless you walk down to the beach) - but in the end, we were grateful for this!
  • Don't expect luxurious bedrooms or big bathrooms; they're simple but they do have terraces with hammocks
  • You may experience occasional power cuts
  • This stretch of coast is rainier than most
  • The last 250m to the hotel is on foot. The hotel has its own private parking and they will meet you on the beach to carry your luggage

Best time to go

From the end of March to November, sunny weather is the norm (though it can be quite cool at night from June to September). The rainy season, from November to March, is hotter and more humid, with frequent afternoon showers cooling down the summer heat. There are sea breezes throughout the year. Christmas, New Year, January, Carnival, Easter and Parati's International Literary Festival (normally held in July) are high season and you'll need to book well ahead.

Our top tips

Bring swimwear, casual clothes, a hat, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, walking shoes and flip-flops. If going in winter (April to September), you'll also need something warmer for the evenings.

We recommend taking out personal travel insurance that covers the activities and excursions offered. The pousada's insurance doesn't cover hazards occurring in the course of its organised activities.

Great for...

Beach
Family
Great Outdoors
Eco
Foodie
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 10 + 1 villa
  • Breakfast + dinner included (other meals on request)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Each of the 10 rooms is decorated in simple rustic style: wooden double or twin beds draped with mosquito nets, polished tiled floors, whitewashed walls, a potted orchid, and a small bathroom with a shower only (no bathtubs).

Don't expect luxury - there are no TVs or DVD players - but you will find air con, a ceiling fan and screened French doors leading onto a private balcony with a hammock, ideally positioned for gazing out to sea and spotting hummingbirds in the garden. Four of the standard rooms have an extra bed for a child. The bathrooms include natural Ekos Line toiletries from the Amazon.

We highly recommend the Honeymoon Suite which is set apart from the other rooms, is much larger, and comes equipped with a fully stocked minibar. The view is fabulous and there's a Jacuzzi set into a platform by the bed - let the staff know it's a special occasion and they'll decorate the room with candles and flowers.

In addition to the rooms, a 3-bedroom villa called Casa Verde is available for longer stays (normally at least 4 nights). Formerly used by owner Emmanuel (who now spends most of his time at his inland fazenda), it's a minute's walk from the pousada: a lovely single-storey house facing the sea, with a wraparound balcony screened by dense tropical foliage. Screened doors slide open into the gorgeous open-plan sitting and dining room, with open eaves and those white leather sofas which are de rigueur in upscale Brazil beach houses. A fireplace, sound system, drinks cabinet, an old gramophone and a surfboard hanging on the wall combine to create a look of effortless colonial-meets-surfer cool.

There house also has a small kitchen and 3 double bedrooms. The master bedroom is superb, with ample wardrobe space, a large ensuite bathroom and a private sit-out; the other 2 bedrooms are on the small side (not really big enough for 2 adults), so we'd advise a maximum of 4 people in total (or 4 and a baby; a cot is available).

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Mosquito net
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Food at Picinguaba is one of the highlights, and among the best we encountered on both our initial Brazil recce and our recent re-inspection. Guests meet at 7.30pm for drinks either in the gardens or in the sitting room amid Brazilian artefacts and glossy books on local culture and nature, all to the tune of Samba or Bossa Nova. It's a convivial atmosphere and the wicked passion fruit caipirinhas (made with the local cane liqueur) will set you up nicely.

Everyone dines at the same time but at different candle-lit tables; though if you meet a good crowd, tables are often put together. There's a set daily menu so if you have any special dietary needs you should mention these beforehand. The emphasis is on Brazilian cuisine using the freshest local produce, and it really is fresh - wander down to the beach late afternoon and you'll see the fishermen haul in the day's catch, squid perhaps or prawns, the best of which will invariably be served at the Pousada along with black bean stew, rice, potatoes and crisp salads. Meat is served a couple of times a week, normally beef or chicken, but expect fish most nights. Puddings are simple - perhaps a zingy lime or chocolate mousse. A good selection of Brazilian coffees are available, as well as French Champagne and South American wines. It was the first time we'd tasted (or heard of) Brazilian wine - the white was surprisingly good.

Breakfast is served in the same airy colonial-style room but in the morning you get to enjoy a fantastic view of the bay. Help yourself to freshly-squeezed orange juice, cheese, ham and tropical fruits you may never have heard of (eating the cashew fruit was certainly an interesting experience). We loved the little cheese rolls, hot out of the oven, and the homemade chocolate carrot cake. Don't be put off if you see the occasional small insect hovering near the honey pot - these are in fact harmless mini bees.

If you're spending the day lazing by the pool, there's a pool bar and light lunches can be ordered - we highly recommend the tender baby squid with citrus dressing. If you're out on an excursion, you'll probably stop at a local café (one day we shared bowls of mussels, prawns and fried manoic on the beach; the next, we stopped at a roadside shack perched by a spectacular waterfall and feasted on spicy homemade sausages cooked over a wood fire, washed down with cold beers and Pinga - the local firewater). If you decide to spend the day at the beach a packed lunch can be organised.

Dinner and breakfast are included in the rates. Drinks and lunch are extra.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Half board
  • Lunch by arrangement
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

Set in the heart of a protected area of outstanding beauty, this is a paradise for outdoor pursuits. The pousada organises exclusively for its guests a wide range of activities which allow you to discover the region's nature, culture and friendly people. We recommend you book the 4-day or 8-day package, which include a number of excursions.

Beaches:
Just below the hotel is the village beach where colourful wooden boats bob on the water, fisherman haul in the day's catch and children play football. Enjoy a cold beer in one of the tiny wooden bars and watch the world go by, or head down late at night for a jamming session with the local musicians.

Within a 10-minute walk there are several unspoilt beaches with calm waters ideal for swimming. A short boat ride away, small islands and sandy beaches await for picnics of fresh fruit. Nearby, Praia Fazenda - a 4km stretch of deserted beach backed by forest and only one house - is perfect for jogging or an invigorating walk.

Sailing, snorkelling, diving, surfing, fishing:
Take a day cruise on the hotel's private schooner to explore local deserted islands and go snorkelling in crystal-clear waters (equipment provided). The neighbouring bays also have some excellent, and relatively empty, surf beaches. Scuba diving, water-skiing and fishing with the local fisherman can also be arranged.

Hiking in the rainforest:
Hike in the tropical rainforest with the pousada's guide. Bathe in the many waterfalls and cool natural pools. Visit local communities in the hills harvesting sugar cane, bananas and manoic. Discover old fazenda mills, still operated by paddlewheel, producing the famous cachaca (sugar cane alcohol), a regional specialty.

Sea-kayaking:
Just minutes from the pousada you can paddle upriver among mangrove swamps that team with exotic birds and butterflies. Sunrise and sunset are recommended. If you'd like to make your stay a bit more active, Emmanuel would be delighted to assist - the more adventurous the better!

Colonial Paraty:
About 20 minutes north of Picinguaba lies the delightful town of Paraty: wander among its cobbled streets lined with brightly painted colonial houses, quirky bars, cafés and restaurants, as well as a host of craft shops and galleries. The atmosphere is tasteful and unspoilt, retaining the colonial charm. Either take your own car, hire the pousada's car with a driver, or go with one of the guides.

If all this sounds too much you can just relax by the hotel's freshwater swimming pool, and in the tropical gardens surrounding the pousada!

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Massage and accupuncture service
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Yoga

Kids

Children are welcome and there are frequently families staying during holiday times. Children under 6 years of age stay for free, there is a charge for 6+ year olds, and cots, highchairs and babysitting can be arranged. Some of the rooms have an extra bed for a child. Alternatively, Casa Verde (the 3-bedroom villa) is a great option for families - it's perfect for a family of 4, or 4 people plus a baby.

There are no specific activities for children but there is a swimming pool, plus lots of sandy beaches with safe swimming. Older children will enjoy the adventurous activities on offer and it's best suited to those who can swim. Note that it's a long drive from the airport.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Private villas sleep up to 6 and are the best option; deluxe rooms have enough space for an extra bed if there are 3 of you.

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available by arrangement. It's not necessarily with an English-speaker.

Baby equipment:

  • 2 cots
  • Baby bedding
  • High chair
  • Potty
  • Night light
  • Bottle warming

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

There's an early dinner for kids plus children's menus, half portions and food available all day. Private villas can book a visiting chef too.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Swimming pool
  • Games room

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Surfing lessons
  • Kayaking
  • Schooner trips
  • Rainforest hikes

Families Should Know:

There are mosquitos (though there's no malaria and there are fewer from March to September) and annoying little black flies which bite, so children will need to wear insect repellent.

Distances:

  • Airport: 4 hours
  • Hospital: 1 hour
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
9/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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