Three and a half hours south of Rio is the historical gem of Paraty, an ideal respite from the craziness of Rio!

The coastal drive is long and winding, but it’s well worth the journey as the town enjoys a great spot with steep jungle-covered mountains at its back and island studded bays in front. There’s no beach at Paraty itself, so you have to walk or take a bus to the best beaches nearby, but the colonial centre is a real treat – free of motorised vehicles, it’s a very atmospheric place to stroll around by day or night, just watch out for the gigantic and uneven cobblestones (on the Discover Travel patented ‘death by cobblestones factor’ this town is an 11/10!) especially if you are hiring a bike!

Shopping for arts and crafts is particularly good here, albeit not for bargain hunters – this is a tourist town of course – and there are many stylish high-end restaurants. Prices certainly increase as soon as you set foot on those cobblestones in the centre, but it’s worth it as you do feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and there’s a fantastic gelato shop on one of the street corners, yum!

We stayed in a lovely and very quiet pousada just a short walk down the canal that forms the eastern boundary of the old centre, but there are a number of beautifully appointed pousadas inside the old centre furnished with superb colonial era pieces.

The absolute ‘must do’ though is the five hour schooner tour of the Bay of Paraty aboard the Neptune II, which visits a number of idyllic beaches. The water is warm and clear, so ideal for swimming, and it is spectacular value for money at just R$60 ($30) including lunch. Our late afternoon caipirinha we enjoyed during the cruise back to the wharf was the best in my three weeks in Brazil!