Miniature hot-air balloons of red, violet, lime and canary swing with dancing painted ladies from the ceilings of handicraft shops. Bossa nova beats spill out of bars and restaurants. A grey-haired woman stares out of a first-floor window, keeping watch over the cobblestone streets. This is the scene I discover in Paraty, a 17th-century town on Brazil's Costa Verde, or Green Coast.
An old port of call nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bocaina Mountain Range, Paraty is the kind of place where you could write your memoirs, lying in a hammock overlooking a waterfront dotted with wooden fishing boats in bold greens, blues and oranges.
There are no cars to disrupt the serenity of this hideaway. Bright colors pop out of door frames against all-white buildings. One of these buildings is Casa Turquesa, a bed-and-breakfast tucked into the heart of the old quarter. True to its name, the 18th-century stucco is embossed with turquoise moldings. The owner, Tetê Etrusco, treats the boutique hotel as her home and welcomed me in.
A small library on the first floor is filled with coffee-table books and novels that Etrusco has collected on several trips abroad. I picked out a collection of spy stories and took it to the inner courtyard, which is encased by vine-covered stone walls. In the center of the courtyard sits a swimming pool, lined with turquoise tiles that give the water a jeweled tone. After a dip in the pool, I nestled with my book between white cushions in a bungalow perched above the water. A waiter brought me the drink of the house, a blue cocktail made with cachaça, Brazil's national liquor made from distilled sugarcane.
If you're feeling adventurous, you might hike the Caminho do Ouro, a trail once used to transport gold and precious stones from the mines in the mountains to Paraty. The trail, which was built by slaves, is paved with large irregular stones that lead you into the jungle. The three-hour trek through the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina takes you past colonial churches and plantations and provides views of Paraty and the bay.
At night, a friend and I wandered the streets of the city's historic quarter, populated by boutiques and art galleries. Many art galleries double as ateliers, and often you find the artist inside, creating a new piece. After a dinner of unspeakable proportions -- which I came to realize is the norm in Brazil -- my friend and I stumbled upon a cafe where a live bossa nova duet set the perfect backdrop for a round of caipirinhas, the national drink of Brazil, made from cachaça, sugar and lime juice. It didn't take long for me to realize that caipirinhas are not for the faint of heart. Or liver.
"What do you think this place looked like 300 years ago?" my friend asked me as we walked home through the old quarter, trying not to trip over the over-sized cobblestones while looking up at the stars.
"Probably just about the same," I replied.
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