Location: Trancoso, Brazil
In one line, what makes you a PUREist?
My overall philosophy is something of the reverse of globalism, but instead a celebration of all things native and authentic – an ideal I refer to as localism.
Tell us your story – how did you get where you are today?
For years I worked as a designer and creative director in partnership with some of Italy’s largest fashion, furniture, lighting and textile companies. As the scale of my design work got more international, I felt pulled to counter-balance things by seeking personal projects that were purely local and artisanal.
I visited Bahia for the first time in 2004 on the recommendation of a dear friend who had visited Trancoso and said it felt like home. I was immediately struck by the beauty of this quiet fisherman’s village, the totally non-industrial approach to building, and the organic view locals had of beauty. After 10 days I left with the typical Brazilian saudade – a word meaning nostalgic longing for a place – and could not wait to come back.
Over the next several holidays I continued to return to Bahia and Trancoso and began looking for a place to build a home for myself. After a year of searching I came upon an old house facing the town’s Quadrado, a historic square overlooking the sea. Soon the idea took hold of restoring other homes around the garden to create a small community of houses with the services of a hotel – really for me, the ideal way to stay on holiday.
It was exciting to put together a team of local craftsmen, using traditional building techniques and recycled materials. We worked continuously for two years in the most satisfying way I have ever experienced. Some of our decorative elements were made by Pataxó Indians, who live on a reservation just up the coast from Trancoso. One of these Indians loved the old trees and variety of plants in the garden of the property and described the place to me with the Pataxó word for wonderful, which was UXUA – I borrowed that to give the hotel its name.
Most recently we’re giving more work to locals and trying to support this micro-economy of traditional, artisanal labour by launching UXUA Casa: a collection of décor, lighting and accessories, all created in Trancoso (some of it even within our hotel, where we’ve set up antique looms for weaving bags, pillows, and blankets).
In fact, the August cover of the US Architectural Digest features Casa Anderson, a part of the UXUA Alma collection of private casas. We designed this property and it’s filled with the new UXUA Casa collection. The article says a lot about Trancoso and how we’re working.
Can you share with us your single most life-enriching experience?
In 2011, I was named festeiro of the Trancoso’s annual Festa São Brás. This is the highest honour bestowed by the town elders and I was one of the first people to receive such a privilege who was not a Trancoso native. This symbol of pure acceptance reminds me of the responsibility I have to preserve this special place. To capture the pageantry and antique traditions of Festa São Brás, we invited noted Brazilian filmmaker Cisma to document the event with the help of some of the oldest and most respected members of Trancoso’s native community.
What does the term ‘experiential travel’ mean to you?
Authenticity through immersion. To really experience a destination, you must become part of it. You must ‘live’ there, if only for a short time, with its people, culture and traditions. There can be nothing standing in the way of this. At UXUA, no barriers (or even signage) exists between the hotel and the Trancoso community around it. Authenticity is the greatest luxury a visit to Brazil’s Bahia state can offer, and living among native families in the heart of old Trancoso as a guest of UXUA delivers the experience naturally, in style and comfort, and with an ethos of sustainability.
Describe your ideal client: how do they approach travel?
Our ideal client is looking for the unexpected. While they require a five-star hotel experience, they don’t want everything to look and feel the same as they already know or can have elsewhere. They’re looking for a unique, global experience that enriches their life.
What made you decide to join PURE Life Experiences and how has doing so benefitted your business?
“An emerging movement of mavericks” is the kind of organisation we like to align ourselves with. We were drawn to PURE because we share similar ideals. Being part of PURE has allowed us to expand our business with others who are working towards the same common goal of positively impacting lives through tourism – both of the travellers and of the local hosts.
What role do you think PURE has to play in the high-end experiential travel industry?
In hospitality, words like “high-end”, “sustainable” and “experiential” have become overused and meaningless catchphrases. Everyone tries to adapt these trend-words to suit their business so that they can capitalise on the demand, and then the marketplace becomes oversaturated. PURE helps define and draw out in a meaningful way the tourism outfits that are truly innovative and preservation-minded.
What other brands and companies in high-end experiential travel do you admire the most?
One of the biggest privileges of my life is that I get to travel so much and experience so many great properties. For me a sense of place is fundamental, and hotels immersed in historic settings I tend to love a lot. But also sometimes a new project thrills me, like the Post Ranch Inn in California, where you get the sense you are in a setting there in Big Sur with that stunning architecture; it’s a totally distinct atmosphere and that’s what I seek when I travel.
If there were one thing you could change about the travel industry, what would it be?
Globalisation is having a negative impact on hotels. It’s becoming such that you can no longer tell one hotel from the other or even the destination to which it belongs. Design, music, staff uniforms, menus, art – all of these elements are falling victim to this. When everything becomes common and expected, there is no discovery left to be had from travel.
Finally, who is your experiential hero?
I’d say it wouldn’t be one individual, but instead all the owners of small, single hotels and restaurants in the world who achieve success but resist expansion in order to dedicate themselves to one ‘dream project’. Having a no-growth approach is one of the most difficult things in the world, but I’ve encountered some of the most amazing projects created by visionaries who kept their focus tight.
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