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Finding the Keys
Michael Carroll examines the literary history and enduring allure of Key West.
The Brazilian beach town of Paraty, about a four-hour drive from either Rio or São Paulo, saw its first boom in the 18th century, when it got rich exporting gold brought down from the high mountains and tropical forests that rise sharply behind its blinding white façades. In 2009 Paraty is having a second moment, attracting a knowing set of vacation-home owners who see in its cobbled streets, island-studded views, and colonial architecture a gently stylish retreat.
These new arrivals aren’t all Brazilian. Emigrés from New York, Martinique, and England alike are buying up—and plushing up—the homes here, with the town’s rising international profile clearly linked to the Paraty International Literature Festival, held every summer.
It’s been a quiet revolution. From the outside even the renovated properties are underwhelming, with their high stucco walls in peeling shades of white. Inside, however, lie immaculate gardens filled with low-slung waxy palm fronds and orchids quivering with hummingbirds.
Of the new houses to rent, a favorite has to be Casa Paraty, a three-minute walk from the simple stalls and inexpensive local art boutiques at the harbor. For an extra daily cost of $650, guests can pick up Casa Paraty’s captained private schooner and explore the Bay of Ilha Grande, visiting its isles and restaurants, like Ilha do Catimbau, on the island of the same name.
The house’s original bones (arched doors, beams, polished wood floors) have been retained. And to this, sleek modern bathrooms have been added, as well as WiFi, plasma TVs, and air-conditioning. Although relatively small, with just a master suite, two doubles, and an attic with three single beds, the interiors don’t feel cramped. (The outdoor pool is a strong selling point.) Yaya cooks local fish dishes and oversees the staff; she doesn’t speak English, but the house’s Paraty-based British rental agent, Steven Chew, acts as a fluent concierge, coordinating requests. Fringing the costlier Angra dos Reis, Paraty offers excellent value: This house rents from $7,150 a week and can accommodate up to eight. 55-11/3085-7000; brazilianbeachhouse.com