A small town neighbouring Recife overlooking the ocean, founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Olinda radiates colonial beauty and charm. Having thought to be named by people exclaiming “Oh… Linda!”, Linda meaning beautiful in Portuguese. Surrounded and filled with a mass of greenery, Olinda is bathed in a tropical light high up on a hill with a sandy shore and ocean below. Filled with baroque churches and chapels, small markets, historical landmarks and rows and rows of vibrantly coloured houses, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Olinda’s charm.
Being notoriously safe for tourists and well maintained as a historical nucleus of Pernambuco, you can stroll along the cobbled roads and streets, passing small food and gift markets and buildings, children playing outside, nuns strolling to church and locals bumbling around getting home from work. If you’re lucky you can have Repentistas sing to you; literally “Repeaters”, men bearing guitars stroll along the streets singing and playing Repente – a kind of improvised sung poetry found in the Northeast of Brazil.
Colourful yet simple tiered historic Dutch and Portuguese houses on an informal web of cobbled roads bear vivid patterned ceramic tiles and occasionally painted patterns. These roads are a famous location for the annual Carnival celebrations, big carnival shows parading up and down commonly with gigantic handcrafted marionette puppets. These can also be discovered at an old ceramic factory in the centre of the town which also houses many beautiful gifts and crafts.
Olinda is dominated by the Catedral Alto da Sé – the second richest church in Brazil, the interior decor being composed of over 2000kg of gold. With exquisite sculpture and fine art embellished on the walls and ceilings it’s not hard to see why it is so renown. I even got to meet a monk in the monastery next door.
Having walked downward the town we hurried back to the top to catch the sunset, walking up a long steep road called a Ladeira; it’s believed when you compromise with God, so if you ask for something, in return you must do some sort of sacrifice. Around Olinda it’s thus common to go up the Ladeira, usually on your knees, as a form of penitence. Well this time round we just walked up the road, admiring the tall palms billowing in the ocean breeze above us bearing golden coconuts (apparently more nutritional potent than standard coconuts) and even met a cat with a stunning pair of eyes.
For only a few reais you can make it to the top of a tall car park on the top of the large hill where Olinda is situated and watch the sun set over Recife, the golden orange rays slowly melting behind the uniformly rectangular skyscrapers composing the skyline.