The Recôncavo, the early Portuguese plantation zone named after the concave shape of the bay, arcs out from Salvador along 150km of coastline, before petering out in the mangrove swamps around the town of Valença. It’s one of the most lush tropical coastlines in Brazil, with palm-covered hills breaking up the green and fertile coastal plains; it’s still one of the most important agricultural areas in Bahia, supplying the state with much of its fruit and spices. Only the sugar plantations around Recife could match the wealth of the Recôncavo, but, unlike that region, the Recôncavo survived the decline of the sugar trade by diversifying into tobacco and spices – especially peppers and cloves. It was the agricultural wealth of the Recôncavo that paid for most of the fine buildings of Salvador and, until the cocoa boom in southern Bahia in the 1920s, Cachoeira was considered the state’s second city. The beauty of the area and the richness of its colonial heritage make it one of the more rewarding parts of the region to explore.
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The modern market town of CANDÉIAS is nowhere special, but 7km outside there’s a good introduction to the history of the area in the Museu do Recôncavo (Tues, Thurs & Sun 9am–5pm), situated in a restored plantation called the Engenho da Freguesia, where pictures and artefacts from three centuries illustrate the economic and social dimensions of plantation life. The owners’ mansion and the slave quarters have been impressively restored, juxtaposing the horrors of slave life – there’s a fearsome array of manacles, whips and iron collars – with the elegant period furniture and fittings of the mansion. The only problem is that no bus service passes the museum; if you don’t go by car you have to take a taxi from Candéias, around R$35.
- Valença and around
- Inland: the Bahian sertão
- Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina and Capão
- South from Salvador
SANTO AMARO, a further 20km from Salvador, is a lovely colonial town straddling the banks of a small river. It was the birthplace and is still the home of Caetano Veloso, one of Bahia’s most famous singers and poets, who sings Santo Amaro’s praises on many of his records. There’s no tourist office, and the best thing to do is simply to wander around the quiet streets and squares, absorbing the atmosphere.