If you are going to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil and want to stay in a hotel with history and atmosphere, the Pestana Convento do Carmo is the best place in the city. Located in the picturesque Pelourinho district, the hotel is a former Carmelite convent that has been meticulously restored to its former glory. The construction of the convent began in 1586, almost forty years after the Portuguese established the town of Salvador and turned it into the capital of Brazil.
The convent had been in use by Carmelite nuns for almost 400 years and in 2005, the Pestana Hotel Group completed the renovation. It is considered to be the first historic luxury hotel in Brazil.
We stayed at the Pestana Convento do Carmo for three nights in July 2011 and were impressed by the respect for the original building and the way artistic details had been preserved. Because it was a convent, there are several chapels which guests can visit during the day. These chapels and other common rooms have beautiful frescoed ceilings, works of art and tiles from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The hotel has 79 rooms and suites, all of which come with king-sized beds, Egyptian cotton bed and bath linens, wired Internet access, digital safes, flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning and mini-bar. There is free Wi-Fi in the interior courtyard and pool area but not in the rooms. However, since we had a room overlooking the courtyard and pool, we managed to log onto the network by opening our windows.
Our room was spacious and voluminous (because of the high ceilings). In addition to a king-sized bed, there was a comfortable, cozy chaise longue by the window where one could read or fall asleep. We had a lot of storage space for clothes and shoes, as well as a large enough safe to store an iPad and other valuables. The bathroom was also quite large, with a powerful shower (no problem with the water pressure here) and lovely bath amenities. Because of the thick stone walls and the double-glazed windows, our room was very quiet.
The hotel has a splendid restaurant called Conventual (situated under the arched colonnade across the pool). It serves traditional Portuguese cuisine and a good selection of wine from Chile, Argentina, Portugal, France and Italy. We had dinner one night at the restaurant and enjoyed fish and meat dishes accompanied by delicious salads. The desserts were impossible to resist: puddings and cakes that use coconut and tropical fruit. Breakfasts featured delicious breads, pastries, egg dishes, charcuterie, cheese and a salad of fresh fruit that included papaya, mango, passion fruit, watermelon and pineapple (at least in July).
The best place to hang out is by the pool in the inner courtyard. There you can lounge on day beds with or without a canopy, and plunge yourself into the cool waters of the pool on a warm afternoon. Possibly the best feature of this hotel is how quiet it is — like a convent. The minute you step into the hotel from the street, you breathe a sigh of relief as you feel you have entered an oasis of peace and tranquility, away from the bustle and commotion of Salvador.
The service at the hotel is absolutely outstanding. They helped us find an excellent tour guide for the historic monuments of the city (for example, the Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, the most important church in Salvador) and gave us good recommendations on where to have dinner in the old town and by the water. The staff at Pestana Convento do Carmo were always warm and friendly (unlike so-called “design” hotels I’ve stayed in where the staff reserve the warm, friendly service for celebrities and VIPs).
In all, I would definitely come back to the Pestana Convento do Carmo. I consider it one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in, not just for the quality of the lodgings but also for the service.
I love the old historic center of Salvador, which is slowly being renovated. It has more character than the newer districts where most of the other international chain hotels are located.
As for personal safety, the hotel gives excellent advice on where to go and which areas to avoid. Pestana Convento do Carmo is also very secure as they always two or more people at the entrance who provide security and who can always assist guests. They even have two armed municipal policemen guarding the entrance at night.
Room rates for a double vary wildly in price, anywhere between US$280 to $1200 (if you get a suite), depending upon the time of year. Obviously if you go during Carnival season, they charge the highest prices.
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Check out Mapplr’s articles about Brazil.