Vila Santa Teresa Hotel & Spa combines the luxuries of a beautiful private villa with a 7-suite boutique hotel in the heart of the bohemian Santa Teresa district in Rio de Janeiro.
How would you describe Uxua Casa Hotel in a nutshell?
Ten unique houses make up Uxua Casa Hotel in Trancoso, Brazil. It is a luxury boutique hotel with houses that are up to 500 years old, with thatched roofs, cement and wood floors and surrounded by tropical gardens. Most of the casas are centered around Trancoso’s Quadrado, the UNESCO-protected town square. Through restoring the houses with the help of local craftspeople, designer Wilbert Das has fulfilled his dream to create a bohemian chic getaway and at the same time preserve historic Trancoso and support the local community. The style is quirky, the interiors organic and sensual, and you’ll find yourself just a short stroll from Quadrado restaurant, Almescar spa and Uxua’s rustic beach lounge.
As a fashion designer, what inspired you to start running a small boutique hotel?
It was a reaction really. My plan originally was to build a holiday home but then over time the idea of turning it into a boutique hotel came up. Analyzing it afterwards, I would say that it was a longing to create something that lasts over a long period of time. My professional background is in the fashion business and in fashion you are always making fast products that last a very short period of time. There is a constant process of creating something new. Because of the nature of fashion, things don’t need to last. And creating an atmosphere, a lifestyle or even a little village like Uxua is something much more appealing. Everything you make lasts for a much longer time.
Why did you decide to go to Trancoso?
I fell in love with it. As I said, I was looking for a place to build a holiday home and a friend told me about Trancoso. He just said, ‘It feels like your house’. So I was intrigued and went there to have a look. When I arrived it just clicked. Everything was perfect from my point of view. Trancoso has everything that I like about life, abundant and lush nature, the beautiful beach, the people, the food, the weather and the colonial architecture – I am not a big fan of the architecture of the past 50 years. Trancoso was almost cut off from the world until only recently, the village is very well preserved.
Trancoso has a certain hippie vibe. Before the first road to the village was built about 15 years ago, there were only locals and hippies living here. And they still have a lot of influence on village life today. At first, when we started Uxua Casa, the locals were a bit unsure about this international fashion designer building a hotel in the village. But that perception changed.
Because from the start you were very involved with the local community?
Yes, we talked to the local environmental activists to make sure that they felt like their interests were being served. And we also initiated several other projects for and with the local community. During the building process we worked with many local craftsmen, which was great. We would give them an idea and they would come up with something better. So that worked really well.
We also noticed that many people are illiterate, so we decided to provide classes for the locals. We also organize English classes and we pay local capoeira teachers so the kids in the village can take lessons. All of this of course helped to ease the initial concern about our project. But most importantly, we have been able to set an example. This is something that is not done very much in Brazil and because of us other places had to follow our example.
Where does the name ‘UXUA’ come from?
The Pataxó is a local Indian tribe living on a reserve not far from Trancoso. I had the chance to meet with their chief before we opened and I still visit them every time I am here in Trancoso. Their language is a spoken language only, but the chief prepared a dictionary and I immediately fell in love with the word ‘Uxua’.
And that is your philosophy or the essence of Uxua Casa Hotel?
Absolutely. In your own house at home you don’t have to dress a certain way or talk a certain way. And that is what we wanted to create here, a place that feels like home with the level of service, comfort and small luxuries you would expect from a hotel.
And our guests seem to like that simplicity and the relaxed atmosphere. Today with the Internet, the mobile phone and all the social networks people tend to forget about the simple things in life. So it is really rewarding to see that our guests actually talk to each other, in many cases they are making new friends.
Please tell me about the swimming pool and the therapeutic power of the green aventurine quartz.
When we started thinking about the pool, I wanted something that looks like a very clear lake. We’ve been looking around for a while and eventually discovered the perfect stone, aventurine quartz. We created the pool with around forty thousand specimens of this unique green stone, which is native to Bahia. We didn’t even know about the therapeutic power of the stone. Of course, the hippies knew all about it and were quick to point out the healing power. Apparently it is supposed to calm the mind, reduce stress and, I don‘t know, make your skin softer. (laughs) I don’t know, I just feel good taking a swim.
Do you get to spend a lot of time at Uxua? And what is the first thing you do when you get there?
I call Uxua ‘home’ more than anything else today and I am fortunate enough to be able to spend about 6 months at the hotel every year. There are many things that I do when I first get there. I love horseback riding for example and there is a river nearby where you can ride along a thousand buffalos, which is really amazing.
I also love to just sit on the Quadrado, the square, watching the people go about their lives with the church and the view of the ocean while the moon rises. It can’t get much better than that.
And finally I also always go to the Indian tribe. As I mentioned before, they are living on this reserve at the entrance of a national park about 35km from Trancoso. They have preserved their traditional lifestyle probably from the time the first Portuguese arrived here. It is always fascinating to talk to them, listen to their stories and see how they are integrating modern aspects of life into their traditional way of living.
What has been the biggest reward for you running a boutique hotel?
For me it is gaining the respect of the local people. As I said the local community is very strong and they were a bit afraid of us but today I feel very integrated and very much respected by them. Another big reward is, of course, the fantastic feedback we get from our guests. And for me personally, the biggest reward is our staff. I really love the staff. I love to see how they develop and the fact that they are really happy and that we make a difference for their families. That is a really big satisfaction.
So there are no regrets at all?
No, no regrets. Not even one!