Casa do Amarelindo is the result of a dream coming true for two French engineers, Didier Ounnas and Gilles Barral who found job opportunities in Brazil. Expatriated and at the end of their contracts, they decided to change their lives and opened a small ‘hôtel de charme’ in the heart of Pelourinho which is the historical district of Salvador. They bought an old colonial house in 2005 and, after an intense two years of renovation, they finally opened the hotel in 2007.
Classified as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1985 and famous for its colorful houses, beautiful baroque churches, museums and typical stone-paved alleys, the streets constantly echo with batucada rhythm or capoeira shows.
Speaking with the Hotel Casa do Amarelindo co-owner, Didier Ounnas we explore the exclusivity and luxury of the hotel as well as taking a unique look into the vibrant and lively city of Salvador on the northeastern coast of Brazil.
What makes Hotel Casa do Amarelindo different from others in Salvador de Bahia and Brazil?
As both of its owners are not originally from the tourism industry, Casa do Amarelindo was designed with a guest´s eye; focusing on the comfort and satisfaction of its guest´s and giving priority to details. Casa do Amarelindo has ten high standard bedrooms, a swimming pool with bay view which is unique in Pelourinho and a gastronomic restaurant with two bars. There are also a number of amenities and services from, a solarium, a fitness center and a business center to two interior tropical patios all situated within a five floor building with an elevator to all floors.
“Each one of the ten bedrooms combines comfort and luxury.” – Didier Ounnas, co-owner of Casa do Amarelindo
The decoration is inspired by the colonial Bahia culture with a touch of the African influence, which is so characteristic of Salvador’s history. Most of the rooms have a breathtaking view of the Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Bay) and in addition, various rooms have a private terrace overlooking either the bay or the city.
Hotel Casa do Amarelindo takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously. How do you make your hotel sustainable?
Hotel Casa do Amarelindo kindly ask its guests to help us conserve the environment by reducing towels having to be unnecessarily washed and by reducing their energy consumption such as, turning off the Air Conditioning when the windows are opened or turning off the lights of the bedroom when going out. In addition, all rooms have double glazing windows that dramatically reduce the need of air conditioning as well as providing reinforced quietness to all our rooms. All our employees are recruited from the neighborhood, giving priority to the people from disadvantaged communities and providing them with training and giving them better job opportunities.
How do you feel luxury accommodation compliments the Salvador de Bahia experience?
At Casa do Amarelindo, everything has been thought out carefully to guarantee the maximum feeling of well-being, far from the cheerful bustle of the streets of Pelourinho which is on the hotel’s doorstep. The rooms are equipped with either a king-size bed or with two big twin beds which can be assembled to one incredible huge bed. High quality bedding, pure cotton sheets and duvet eiderdowns are provided for guests to guarantee sweet dreams and refreshing sleeps. Not even the echo of the Pelourinho feasts that can continue all night long can disturb your sleep thanks to the sound insulation of the doors and windows. All rooms have of course air conditioning and are moreover equipped with a ceiling fan which is also a traditional symbol of the colonial rooms.
What is your stand-out Salvador de Bahia memory?
Going to Carnival is for sure a once in a lifetime experience and it’s unforgettable and completely crazy! Thousands of people flow out into the streets; dancing, singing and creating hours and hours of a euphoric atmosphere. It´s impossible to describe, you have to live it! Pelourinho is lively almost all year, especially during the weekend or for the traditional Tuesday ‘benção’ (blessing) street performance.
What is the one activity or site you would recommend to people staying at your hotel?
Candomblé religion is for sure one of the key elements to understanding the African culture of Bahia. As an introduction, we first usually recommend the Folkloric Ballet ‘Ballé Folclorico’ which is a one hour show from 8PM to 9PM in the Miguel Santana Theater in Pelourinho which is very close to the hotel. This theater is very simple and not expensive, but the performers made up of dancers, singers and musicians are excellent and put on quite the show. In fact, the first part of the show is a good introduction to what a Candomblé ceremony is, with the representation of several ‘Orixás’ (Orishas), each one with their own costumes, colors and distinctive tools. Then several other parts introduce the capoeira, ‘makulelé’ and ‘samba de roda’ dance.
What advice would you give to travelers coming to Salvador de Bahia?
The majority of the Salvador population is of African descent, the reason for nicknaming it ‘the black pearl of Brazil’. This African soul has been preserved and can be found through its culture, food, dances, and an impressively number of spontaneous unbridled and popular parties throughout the year. For this reason the Baianos (Brazilians born in Bahia) say that each day given by God on earth is a party day. So, we would give only one advice to travelers coming to Salvador: be prepared for having fun and enjoying each moment, letting yourself to be guided by the Baianos. Salvador is a city where your senses are constantly aroused: by the sight of churches overloaded with gold, the exotic taste of the drinks and the traditional cuisine. There are the smells spices and herbs, the colors of picturesque Pelourinho district houses, the shouts of the street sellers, and above all the characteristic rhythm of the Bahian music that you can hear everywhere.
What do you see for the future of Hotel Casa do Amarelindo and for tourism in Salvador de Bahia and Brazil in general?
Partly thanks to the World Cup and partly due to a new team in charge of the city governance; Salvador is changing very fast, maybe faster than other parts of Brazil. It’s always growing in value and Salvador has a fantastic, attractive and unique culture. Casa do Amarelindo, by its privileged location, will certainly receive positive benefits of this increase in quality of the entire city. Due to the hotel’s location, it is and will ever be in the middle of the improvements being made in the historical district.
What is your most important task as the owner or representative of Hotel Casa do Amarelindo?
To always keep the same high levels of concern for standards in terms of quality of service, equipment, decoration and maintenance of the hotel and to satisfy the demands of our guests. This is a challenge every day as we work to balance the cooperation between all our team and suppliers. But we also improve this more personal project with changes that our guests may not always notice but that we know is making their experience at Casa do Amarelindo even better.
Please can you share with us a special story about Salvador de Bahia or Hotel Casa do Amarelindo? As previously indicated, we were not at all from the hospitality business when we decided to create Casa do Amarelindo. So we didn´t make any presales or advertising regarding our opening, firstly because we didn´t know when we could open, as there was always some additional detail to improve in the building, and secondly because we didn´t have any contacts or experience. One day we stopped the renovation and just opened the doors, waiting for guests to come in! Happily, it was just before Carnival and many tourists and travel agents were walking through the streets and, curious with this new place, were invited to visit it. Our hotel being significantly different from others in Salvador, many of these visitors decided to stay with us and we won our first guests and best contacts with travel agencies through this way. But the strangest moment for us was when, a few weeks after opening, we started receiving direct bookings from USA. We really wondered how this was possible without any advertising and very little time for mouth-to-mouth recommendations to be that efficient.
“We rushed to ask these guests when they arrived, how they had heard about us and their answer was always: because you have good reviews on TripAdvisor.” – Didier Ounnas, co-owner of Casa do Amarelindo
At that time, we had never heard about TripAdvisor…so we searched the internet, found the website and our hotel that already had very good feedback from our first guests. Very quickly, thanks to a larger and larger number of reviews, we reached the first place in the hotel rankings for Salvador, and we kept this leadership for years. Today we´re in second position, but with a very high number of reviews in comparison to our concurrent, and of course with the sheer volume of reviews you can´t expect to have 100% satisfaction. But with 96% satisfaction, we are still very proud of this achievement and our best reward is really our guest´s satisfaction. It´s very challenging as all new guests now book our hotel and arrive with the highest expectations and sometimes we have to moderate their demands, reminding that even if our goal is excellence, we only have 10 rooms and we don´t pretend to compete with the likes of the Copacabana Palace in Rio!