Gijoca, Ceara, Brazil
By Lisa Matte
Laurent Michel and Martine Vrignaud share a lifestyle lots of people would envy. The French couple lives the good life in the way-out-of-the-way Brazilian town of Gijoca - in the country's northeastern state of Ceara - where they own and operate a pousada.
Similar to an inn or bed-and-breakfast, Pousada Jardim do Paraiso is waterfront community made up of ten individual guest bungalows. The accommodations are Spartan - but in a romantically charming sort of way. Each bungalow features a hammock hanging gracefully at its entrance. Lace curtains sway gently in the louvered windows of the thatch-roofed cottages.
Interiors are simple - tile floors, bed, fan, mini-fridge, and private bath. Showers run cold-water only, but this is northern Brazil just a few degrees south of the equator so cold water doesn't get very cold. In fact, refreshing is a better description. Bungalows are equipped with electricity - but even that seems silly after a few days. Hair dryers - who needs 'em when getting dressed for dinner means throwing on a fresh sarong and strolling a few yards to the pousada's open air dining room - Chez Loran.
Laurent - or Loran as he's known to his neighbors - is the chef-in-residence. The self-taught culinary artist earns rave reviews for the original cuisine he calls Franco-Brazilian. "I take the Ceara way of cooking and add French influence," he explains through an interpreter. "I try to use what grows here in my cooking."
Laurent, who says he learned to cook when he was a little boy -- avec maman --was living in Rio de Janeiro about a dozen years ago when he first visited Gijoca and nearby Jericoacoara. A friend who owned a dune buggy - currently the primary means of transportion to Gijoca - drove him out to take a look at the lakefront property. He purchased it with the idea of someday opening a restaurant, but ended up returning to France for a few years.
"It was in 1993, one week before I was to return to Brazil, that I met Martine at a Brazilian restaurant in France. She decided to come with me," he recalls with a grin.
Laurent and Martine opened their restaurant, Chez Loran, in 1994. A year later - at the urging of friends and restaurant regulars - they opened the pousada. These days, the couple - and their children, 12-year-old Sandrine (Laurent's daughter from a previous marriage), and five-year-old Max, live what many people would consider a dream-come-true receiving guests at the pousada - Paradise Garden in English - each year from mid-June through March. The inn is open in April and May (Ceara's rainy season) by advance reseration only.
While it's on the verge of being discovered - there's talk of a new airfield just 15-minutes from the pousada - Gijoca remains, for the moment, a truly secluded vacation destination. And in this case, secluded translates to a bargain that's hard to beat - $US30 per bungalow per night for two guests - including breakfast!
For more information:
See http://www.pousadajardimdoeden.com.br/, call 877-41-CEARA, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.Text on the website is written in Portuguese, but it's easy to get a translation by logging on to http://babelfish.altavista.com/ and plugging in the pousada's web address.
Copyright Lisa Matte
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