Note: The image above is through the living room window of Dan Blumenthal’s vacation rental apartment in the Edifício Themis in Salvador’s Centro Histórico. More information on this further down…
You’re coming to Salvador da Bahia and you have to figure out where to stay. You have to decide upon a neighborhood and choose between the amenities of a hotel or the independence of an apartment. Or maybe you’re looking for the conviviality and low price of a hostel. Here are some options and observations:
Before getting to hotels, most of which are pricier, I’ll begin with apartments. Before Airbnb came along, every apartment rented via the internet in Salvador was rented through us. A couple of American friends of mine living here — Dan Blumenthal and Alain Zamrini — came up years ago with the idea of talking to Salvador residents about renting their apartments out for Carnival. These residents then got an all-expenses paid vacation somewhere far from the maddening crowd of the Biggest, Loudest Party on the Planet while my friends and I met and oriented visitors from all over the world. It was exhausting but exhilarating. My friends then moved on to year-round vacation apartment rentals via Bahia-Online (me), and then Airbnb turned up to pull the magic carpet out from under our very local endeavor.
Dan Blumenthal (he likes to be called “Daniel” online, but he’s “Dan” to me, so here goes…) showed up here in Salvador around the time I did, in the early ’90s. We scraped and lived with very little money but that period was something of a Golden Age in Salvador and it was an amazing existence. Dan was like the squirrel that planned ahead though and went back to the U.S. for a while to work, and when he returned (and the market was low) he bought two apartments in the Edifício Themis on Praça da Sé in Pelourinho, Salvador’s Centro Histórico.
Themis is the Greek Titaness representative of divine order, this including established folkways, something so important in Bahia. One might wonder about the inspiration for adopting this particular name, for the building appears to have been built in the 1960s of aluminum and glass without a hint of anything divine. Maybe it actually was providence however, because the Themis’ ground floor houses several shops devoted to candomblé, the African religious system transplanted to Brazil. At once bringing divinity and folkways into the picture.
Dan’s apartments are located on the Themis’ fifth floor, one having one bedroom and the other having two, both en suite (you know, each has its own attached bathroom), and both with amazing views out over the bay. He had these apartments completely rebuilt, the idea being to provide a very decent level of comfort to international travellers at entirely reasonable and affordable prices.
Both of these apartments can be rented through Airbnb should one wish, but they can also be rented directly from Dan at a somewhat lower cost. For this you send him an email, to firstname.lastname@example.org (bluemoon is a play on “Blumenthal”), or whatsapp him at +55 71 9974-9557.
Photos of the one bedroom are (will shortly be) here…
Photos of the two bedroom are (will shortly be) here…
Alain Zamrini is the other American, but that’s more like American*. He’s an American citizen but is also now a citizen of Brazil. Alain is as exotic as a Lawrence Durrell or V.S. Naipaul character, a Lebanese/Egyptian who spent years in the Caribbean. Could have stepped right out of Rick’s Café in Casablanca. And like Dan he’s as honest and organized as they come. His passion is photography.
Alain bought and tastefully did up a one-bedroom apartment in the Salvador neighborhood of Barra, directly across from the praia de (beach of) Barra, on the Atlantic Ocean, just up from the lighthouse. Like Dan’s apartments, this place can be rented through Airbnb. But also in common with Dan’s apartments it can also be rented for less by dealing directly with Alain. You can email him at email@example.com or send him a whatsapp message at +55 71 8894-9940. Alain’s Instagram is alainzamrinifotografia.
For a long time hotels here in Salvador tended to be practical affairs. Big or small they were unimaginatively conceived and built, standard issue if that, even if they weren’t particularly inexpensive places to stay. These days though Salvador has emerged from its provinciality in this respect and there are some very nice places around, both in terms of physical space and attentiveness to je nais se quois.
One hotel on the cusp of opening (scheduled to open in December, 2018) is the Hotel Fasano. The Fasano people (Vittório Fasano opened his first hotel in São Paulo in 1902) took over the old A Tarde building (A Tarde is Salvador’s daily newspaper) overlooking the Baía de Todos os Santos and in addition to whatever interior work they’ve done they have really brought out the beauty in what is truly a handsome building! I’d walked past the place almost daily for years and never noticed. A lot of people are remarking on this. It’s like taking a marooned sailor and giving him a bath and a haircut and a shave and finding Richard Burton underneath, not mumbling nonsense but reciting Dylan Thomas as he stares unblinkingly out to the Recôncavo across the bay.
Then the Fera Palace Hotel opened, what?, last year or something. The old Palace — which was inaugurated in 1934 — had lost its way and descended into tackiness. Years ago it housed a casino where Jorge Amado’s fictional Vadinho, Dona Flor’s first husband, the no-good she carnally pined for at night while married to her good and proper second husband, spent her money. Paul McCartney stayed there when he played Salvador.
As per the Fasano, the Palace’s facelift/cleanup did wonders. It is also a beautiful building. The stretch along there from Praça Castro Alves (with the statue of poet Castro Alves standing with dramatically outstretched hand) to Praça da Sé — Rua Chile — was once Salvador’s Bahnhofstrasse, its Fifth Avenue, its Champs Élysées. Apparently the Dude behind the Palace Hotel wants it to be so again. There’s a long way to go but the work is being done. Right now the street is torn up so that the concatenation of overhead cables strung there can be buried underground.
Up the street is an interesting-looking building set to host a number of fancypants restaurants.The Dude has apparently bought a number of buildings along there. To me Salvador’s (manmade) beauty has always been that of a splendid voice ringing out of an old and homely interpreter, with the exception of many of the majestic houses and buildings in what is now called Pelourinho. But if somebody wants to open shops and restaurants out of my price range around here…more power to ’em! They’ll make somebody happy!
Then there are the two hotels on the Largo do Cruzeiro, the public square stretching between the Terreiro de Jesus and the amazingly gold-leafed beyond-rococo Igreja de São Francisco. To the left as one faces the church. They are the Hotel Villa Bahia, owned by Frenchman Bruno Guinard, and Pousada Solar dos Deuses.