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PHOTO: The Sheraton da Bahia. (Photo by David Cogswell)
The Sheraton da Bahia is a perfect headquarters for Americans visiting Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. It is a beautiful property outfitted with everything you could need in a hotel, with a staff that is trained to serve Americans and most of whom speak English (not always a given in Brazil), but most of all, it has a superb location.
The hotel is located on the corner of Avenue Sete de Setembro and Largo do Campo Grande, the street that runs by Campo Grande, a public square and park right across the street from the Sheraton.
The hotel, the pool deck and the restaurant deck all look out onto the park. You can go out and have breakfast on the deck and, without even leaving the hotel, you are right in the middle of the activity in Salvador.
The park is nearly always bustling with active Brazilians, walking, jogging, exercising on equipment, playing football, children on slides and jungle gyms, people relaxing on benches. There are many activities that take place and markets that are set up temporarily in the park. You are at the center of the action without leaving your hotel balcony, or the restaurant or pool, where you may wish to have a drink or a sandwich at the pool bar.
Avenue Sete de Setembro, named for Brazil's independence day, is a major thoroughfare with a constant stream of traffic, including many buses that stop right across the street. If you wish to travel by bus, you have a major transportation locus right across the street. If you happen to be 65 or over, the buses are free even if you are a foreigner.
There are also always taxis at the hotel entrance. Taxis are inexpensive. The exchange rate in Brazil at this time is highly favorable to Americans (about three Brazilian reals to $1).
The hotel is at the center of Salvadorian life in the sense that you have the feeling of being right in it without leaving the hotel. If you wish to retreat into your room and have silence, that is easily accomplished by closing the window or the sliding glass door onto the balcony, if your room is one with a balcony.
But the Sheraton da Bahia is also central in a strictly geographic sense for easy access to much of what is available to tourists in Salvador. Two miles north on that street takes you to Pelourinho, the historic district and probably the number one attraction for visitors to Salvador. Ancient cobblestone streets built up and down its steep hills, preserved colonial architecture, hundreds of charming shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes and plenty of colorful street life make it a perfect place to go to enjoy Salvador.
The walk takes half an hour to 45 minutes and is a good trip to take in the daytime. At night it is better to take a taxi because the commercial strip along part of Avenue Sete de Setembro between Pelourinho closes up at night and becomes more or less deserted. A taxi costs 20 real, or about $7.
Near the historical center, actually a little closer to the hotel, is the Elevator Lacerda, which takes you down to the lower level of the city, built along the waterfront on reclaimed land. The area is full of fun things to see and do.
Heading south on Avenue Sete de Setembro takes you to Barra, the famous beach area of Salvador. At the far southwest corner of the peninsula of Salvador is Farol da Barra, an ancient lighthouse. The area around the lighthouse is blocked to auto traffic and is a haven for walkers, runners, cyclers and of course beachgoers.
Barra is also about two miles from the Sheraton.
Another way that the Sheraton da Bahia puts you into the heart of Salvador is that the hotel itself is a piece of history. So when you are in the hotel, you are not taken out of the midst of Salvador, you are immersed in its history and culture.
Before being part of the Sheraton chain the hotel was called Hotel da Bahia. Its opening in 1952 was a major news event in the city. It was seen as a spectacular architectural achievement, but was also the city's only luxury hotel at the time.
It was known as a major exhibitor of fine art throughout its history and was a point of pride for the city, but in 2010, the Hotel da Bahia went out of business and the building was put up for auction. Fearing that the hotel's historic architectural heritage was in jeopardy, the then-vice president of the Brazilian Institute of Architects of Bahia requested that the hotel be listed as a cultural heritage site so it would be protected.
The hotel was purchased by GJP Hotels & Resorts and given a thorough renovation and refurbishment, but all within the strict requirements of preserving its historical features.
Today it still maintains its status as an exhibitor of fine art. But even more importantly for the visitor, it is a perfect locus for exploring the great city of Salvador.
David Cogswell is executive editor covering tours and packages, Africa and the Middle East.
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