A Brazilian Beach Beauty, Refined and Untouched
Andre Vieira for The New York Times
By SHIVANI VORA
Published: January 20, 2012
FROM the balcony of Quinta do Bucanero, a pousada in the center of Praia do Rosa, the appeal of the Brazilian seaside town is obvious. Perched on top of a cliff, the 10-room hotel is surrounded by a tropical jungle and forested mountains, with views of a long, sweeping stretch of golden sand and two lagoons. Surfers dot the waves, and orchids scent the air.
It’s this natural beauty that first attracted Jacqueline Biazus, who owns Bucanero along with her husband, nearly four decades ago, when she was an 18-year-old hippie — and to return 15 years later to build the hotel. “Back then, there was nothing here in Rosa,” she said as she sat at a balcony table overlooking the scenery. “It’s not like it is today.”
Located in the southern state of Santa Catarina, Praia do Rosa is about one hour by car south of Florianópolis, the popular state capital, known for the more than 40 beachesthat have become a mainstay for the international jet set.
Despite its lovely setting, Rosa has been slower to attract travelers or a tourism infrastructure. Even today, it has only two paved streets; the rest are simply dirt tracks. But a stream of new residents who have settled here in recent years to open pousadas, restaurants and bars is turning this formerly undeveloped spot into a chic beachside destination that may begin to draw some of Florianópolis’s regular visitors. For now, it offers delightful natural beauty and a curious combination of sophistication and a barefoot, laid-back atmosphere.
During the antipodal summer, night life usually begins at sunset, when groups of board-carrying surfers head back from the beach, and couples start filling the tables of the elegant boîtes, some of which overlook the ocean and lagoons. As the evening progresses, a smartly dressed, mostly under-40 crowd spills out of the handful of bars around the town’s half-paved main street, sipping mango caipirinhas and glasses of the latest Argentine vintages. Sounds of live reggae and international D.J.’s spinning pop remixes are a constant backdrop.
Praia do Rosa literally means “rosy beach.” The name comes not from the color of its sand but from Dorvino Manoel da Rosa, one of the first fishermen to occupy a house by the beach in the 1970s. Back then, there wasn’t much activity here; the main road leading to the town, BR 101, which connects Rosa with Florianópolis, didn’t yet exist, and access was difficult. Rosa was merely a simple fishing village.
A few years later, groups of Brazilians in their late teens and early 20s discovered the area. Many of them, including Ms. Biazus, came from Porto Alegre, a large coastal city about five and a half hours south. “The beaches down by us were ugly so we headed up north to find better ones and stumbled onto Rosa,” said Ms. Biazus, who first visited in 1978. Why Rosa? There simply weren’t options closer to home that had the same remoteness or such perfect waves for surfing, she said.
Since there were no hotels, she and her friends rented homes from fishermen living by the beach and spent their days taking advantage of the waves. Evenings were spent around bonfires, playing guitar and listening to bossa nova. They were unfazed by the lack of electricity, which locals say didn’t arrive until sometime in the early ’80s.
Today, these same hippies are at the root of the new wave of activity in Rosa. Well-educated entrepreneurs like Ms. Biazus, who trained as a lawyer, have opened restaurants, hotels, bars and boutiques. Others have followed, and in recent years more than three dozen businesses have opened. Judging by the number of buildings under construction, there is more growth to come.
The population is still small — there are about 20,000 people living in Ibiraquera, the area that includes Rosa, compared with 400,000 in Florianópolis — though things are beginning to change.
Hippies singing around campfires on the beach have been mostly replaced by sun-tanning women in bikinis and men in board shorts, like Fernanda Pereira, 29, and her husband, Ricardo, 30. The couple, who live in the Brazilian city of Curitiba, an inland city in the state of Paraná, started vacationing here annually a few years ago and said the increasing number of hot spots, combined with the attractive setting, keeps them coming back. “There is a cosmopolitan vibe to Rosa that didn’t exist before,” said Ms. Pereira, who works in advertising, “but it’s just as unspoiled.”
Beleza Pura, for example, is one of the bars that have perked up the after-dark scene, which now often goes until 3 or 4 a.m. during the high season (December through April; most establishments are usually open only on weekends the rest of the year). Its owner, Luciano Menu-Marque, 35, came to Rosa a few years ago from Buenos Aires for a weekend trip with his surfing friends and ended up staying after seeing that the town had no night spots. Large enough to hold 300 — there is additional space on an outdoor patio — the bar has a cosmic-themed mural on its ceiling and is decked out with pieces Mr. Menu-Marque has collected from his global travels, including autographed soccer jerseys. The bar regularly hosts live bands and D.J.’s from around the world, performing for packed crowds.
Restaurants, drawing from the plentiful seafood coming in from the ocean, are also a draw. The most notable is Lua Marinha, opened in 2001, which serves unfussy but refined seafood dishes using only local ingredients. From a wooden deck that overlooks a lagoon, diners can see fishermen setting out to catch offerings for the next night’s dinner. A recent meal started with an octopus ceviche that got its heat from a sprinkling of finely minced jalapeños, followed by a main dish for two of small and exceptionally sweet shrimp, accompanied by a thick sauce of mixed herbs.
For most of these proprietors, setting up shop in Rosa is less about getting rich and more about soaking up the riches around them. Mr. Menu-Maruque said he used to run watering holes in Ibiza and Buenos Aires — where he earned more than he ever has at Beleza Pura. “There are better places to do business than Rosa so you’re not necessarily going to come here for a financial windfall,” he said. “But no other place in the world is as beautiful.”
Indeed, stunning vistas are available almost anywhere in town, and walks through the surrounding mountains lead to beaches accessible only by foot and completely empty. You might even spot whales breaching, most commonly July through November. During those walks, keep an eye out for colorful flora, including red and yellow bromeliad plants, ruby colored açucena flowers, orchids and jackfruit trees laden with football-size fruit.
As travelers have taken notice, rooms at pousadas are getting harder to come by during the peak season and are also fuller during the off-peak months. Ms. Biazus said that Bucanero is almost completely booked three months in advance starting in December and is now also busy during the typically slower spring; as of a few years ago, her off-season guests were sparse. The Morada da Praia do Rosa is a year-old pousada that’s fully booked on weekends even during the off-season according to its owner, Demian Alaimo, another Buenos Aires transplant.
But while those who come here might think of Rosa as the next must-visit destination on the Brazilian coast, residents aren’t interested in it being the next anything. “Of course we need travelers to come support us, but we don’t want everyone to discover Rosa and for it to have a reputation as a party town,” Ms. Biazus said. “Coming here is really about enjoying the beauty and peacefulness, and with too many people, it’s hard to do that.”
IF YOU GO
WHERE TO STAY
Quinta do Bucanero, (55-48) 3355-6056; bucanero.com.br. Carved into the side of a cliff, this luxurious 10-room pousada has a small spa and beautiful gardens. Rates from 450 reais, or $255 at 1.76 reais to the dollar.
Morada da Praia do Rosa, (55-48) 3355-7342; moradadapraiadorosa.com. Rates from 240 reais.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Beleza Pura, (55-48) 8829-1253; belezapurabar.com. Cocktails are 10 to 15 real. A meal for two, without drinks, is about 60 reais.
Lua Marinha, (55-48) 3354-0613; luamarinha.com.br. Dinner for two, without drinks, is about 150 reais.
Sapore di Pasta, (55-48) 3355-6100; pousadabougainville.com.br. Dinner for two, with wine, is about 180 reais.
WHAT TO DO
Arrange tailor-made trips to Rosa through the Latin-American travel specialistDehouche, (800) 690-6899; dehouche.com, based in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.