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Brazil's Hidden Beaches

João Canziani A new lodge at Fernando de Noronha.

Photo: João Canziani

Raia da Pipa, Rio Grande Do Norte

In the seventies, surfers began migrating northeast from Rio and eventually discovered this primitive fishing village one hour south of Natal. Once roads were completed, in 1994, and widespread phone service was installed, in 1999, an upsurge in tourism followed, and Pipa began its makeover from bohemian to bourgeois. Praia Principal is packed with bathers and bars, but it's a different story just around the corner at Baía dos Golfinhos. This dolphin and sea turtle sanctuary is Pipa's claim to fame: an immaculate 1.2-mile stretch of postcard-perfect sands backed up against steep cliffs of oxidized clay. Above the bluffs sits Pipa's cobblestoned main drag, Avenida Baía dos Golfinhos, a mile-long thoroughfare that draws an international crowd.
WHERE TO STAY Most rooms at the small inn Sombra e Água Fresca (Rua Praia do Amor; 55-84/3246-2144; www.sombraeaguafresca.com.br; doubles from $123) hug a sharp incline overlooking Chapadão (a flat red-clay plateau, the defining landmark of the area) and the Atlantic beyond. The rustic chalets at Toca da Coruja (464 Avda. Baía dos Golfinhos; 55-84/3246-2226; www.tocadacoruja.com.br; doubles from $206) are furnished with 19th-century vanities and wardrobes, rescued from Brazilian farms, and ceramics by sculptor Francisco Brennard.
WHERE TO EAT Part Willy Wonka oddity, part gastronomic adventure, the eccentric culinary sideshow at Camamo (Fazenda Pernambuquinho; 55-84/3246-4195; dinner for two $132)—10 minutes from Baía dos Golfinhos by car, in Tibau do Sul—is not to be missed. Chef Tadeu Lubambo only welcomes eight people per night to his little farmhouse stuffed with indigenous art, childhood toys, and other oddities. His self-proclaimed "exotic gastronomic ritual" is a six-course prix fixe introduction to nouveau Brazilian cuisine, featuring dishes like grilled lobster with thyme and cinnamon-laced mangos.

Morro de São Paulo, Bahia

A two-hour boat ride south from the Bahian capital of Salvador makes Morro de São Paulo, the main village on the 232-square-mile Ilha de Tinharé, an easy weekend jaunt for Salvadorans. Even so, until only a few years ago the town was rough around the edges, with run-down guesthouses the only places to stay. Now the sandy one-lane strip spills over with an interesting mix of modern hotels and colonial relics (a ruined 17th-century stone fortress greets visitors at the dock) before giving way to five consecutive beaches. Creatively named First through Fourth (except for the nonconforming Praia do Encanto), the white sands benefit from a tropical Bahian climate that hovers around 77 degrees all year. The Patricinhas and Mauricinhos—as Brazilians call the Beautiful People—eat on the First Beach, drink on the Second, and sleep on the tranquil Praia do Encanto.
WHERE TO STAY It's a bumpy 30-minute ride over cratered dirt roads from Morro to the Ánima Hotel (55-75/3652-2077; www.animahotel.com; doubles from $94), which just opened among the pink bromeliads and coconut trees on Praia do Encanto. Its nine bungalows are the model for Morro's upgrade, each done with graceful touches such as bamboo towel racks, Kiri Indian maracas from Porto Seguro, and ceramic lamps from Maragojipinho. In the kitchen, cheerful Bahianas cook wonderful breakfasts like grilled beiju, a tapioca pancake. The shabby-chic lobby at Villa Dos Corais (3rd and 4th Praias; 55-75/3652-1560; www.villadoscorais.com.br; doubles from $179) makes a startling contrast to the 40 brightly colored yellow, orange, and green villas that straddle the property between the Third and Fourth beaches (rooms 43 and 44 have the best ocean views).
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK French-trained Brazilian chef Silvana da Matta Machado melds Brazilian and Thai traditions at the Ánima Hotel (dinner for two $41), the most refined dining destination on the island. Joe Moutinho's pioneering barraca (tent), Caipifruta da Joe (Praça Aureliana Lima; 55-75/3652-1108), has been serving the masses for 19 years. A Bahian atabaque drum squad provides the sound track as Joe artfully turns kiwi, guava, graviola, and passion fruits into cachaça-laden cocktails.

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