They say Paraty is falling down, but I say the old girl’s got a few good years in her yet. She’s copped her fair share of rough treatment these past 348 years: countless floods, the mightiest storms, pirate attacks… They don’t make old Portuguese fishing towns like they used to; little wonder UNESCO awarded her world heritage listing. When the moon’s full, the Atlantic creeps slowly up her ancient cobblestone streets, though each time it looks like Paraty might go under, the ocean bids a swift retreat, leaving a bracken water mark across the walls of her historic houses – a permanent reminder of its hold over the town. Sometimes at night, under the soft light of its historic lamp posts and beneath all those blinking Brazilian stars, she can look a little like Venice, as locals paddle about her streets in old boats.
With all that water about, you can bet she can get on the nose: salty and just a little bit fishy. But I think the waft’s endearing, she’d be too pretty otherwise, what with all the summer flowers and flamboyant trees and bougainvillea vines that creep at you as walk, and the ancient coral walls of the old town painted every shade of blue, yellow, crimson, green, mauve and any other colour you might possibly imagine.
Paraty is home to a plethora of trendy cafes, restaurants, bars and art galleries frequented by visitors from across the globe, but she still seems to be the antidote to the frenetic pace – and occasional madness – of Rio.
Trindade and Paraty lie just four hours or so south of Rio, but being here feels more like a bigger journey into Brazil’s colonial history. And as I head back up to the bright lights of Rio, watching jutting peninsulas of untouched forest and deserted islands give way to the urban chaos of a city of 12 million, Paraty might well have slipped right back into the sea: just a memory now of how Brazil used to be.