Ilha Grande: island of dreams
Just when I was beginning to think that the whole world had been completely Google mapped and Starbucksified, I stumbled across the Brazilian island of Ilha Grande – a two and hour half bus and boat trip away from Rio.
Make no mistake, the Cidade Maravilhosa (marvellous city) lives up-to its name but, after a few days, the neon signs, noise and exhaust fumes can get too much – which is where Ilha Grande comes in.
Far quieter and less developed than the rest of the Costa Verde, this pristine car free island is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoiled world. Note: it’s not the kind of place that Wayne, Coleen and co go on their hols. Yet while Ilha Grande may lack the crowds, it most definitely has the character.
The island retreat was once a pirate’s lair, then a leper colony and lastly a penitentiary, holding some of Brazil’s most violent criminals. For decades the island’s less than salubrious reputation deterred developers and consequently tourism is still in its infancy. Translation? A visit – which involves a thrilling boat journey – remains a genuine adventure. There’s little internet access, no roaming phone signal, an absence of automobiles and ATMS, and a refreshing lack of Western hotel chains. Rather visitors stay in cosy pousadas (traditional guesthouses.)
The basic ingredients – lapis lazuli waters, icing sugar sands, long hours of winter sunshine and beautiful beaches like Lopez Mendes (which often tops the list of world’s most beautiful beaches) – are here in spades. Other assets include virgin Atlantic rainforest and a lively little village called Vila do Abraao that’s home to a smattering of seriously good beachfront bars and restaurants. Apply the ‘never eat what you could have at home rule’ and try the prato feito (plate of the day) washed down with a Caipirinha from a glass the size of a goldfish bowl.
And don’t worry about counting calories: there are plenty of opportunities to don your explorer’s hat and hike, through scenery so stunning it will bring a tear to your eye, to sites such as Cachoeira da Feiticeira (a beautiful 15m waterfall) and Colonia Penal Candido Mendes – the island’s last functioning prison.
That said the ambience on Ilha Grande is so relaxing that even I, someone who usually prefers to be active, found no desire to do anything other than top up my newly acquired Brazilian tan.
One day, of course, the sun may remember what it’s supposed to do and put in an appearance closer to home. For now, idyllic Ilha Grande represents the perfect antithesis to the soggy, snowy grey streets of Blighty. It is, arguably, a holiday in heaven itself…