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Beach-blanketed Bahia is the stuff tropical Brazilian dreams are made of, and Ilhéus, located 211 kilometers (131 miles) south of the Bahian capital of Salvador, sits in one of the northeastern state's most dramatic settings, flanking a palm-swept bay edged by picturesque urban sands. Once a thriving cocoa port, Ilhéus was founded in 1534 and is most famous for its immortalization by Brazil's most legendary storyteller, Jorge Amado, who summoned his adopted hometown as the evocative setting for one of his best reads, Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon).
The tale of Ilhéus is a narrative of greed and power struggles, luxury and wealth, love and love lost which literally comes straight out of the pages of an Amado masterwork. The city's cinematic old streets, flush with quaint colonial buildings and atmospheric, oddly angled thoroughfares anchored by the emblematic São Sebastião cathedral (gorgeously illuminated at night), aren't as prosperous now as they were during the white-gold-rush days of cocoa dominance, but they remain especially easy on the camera's eye. Today, Ilhéus attracts Amado enthusiasts to his former home and museum and otherwise thrives as a jumping-off point for the surrounding beaches, cocoa plantations and protected Atlantic rain forest.