We’ve been fortunate to do a fair amount of traveling over the years and have been to some incredibly beautiful and beguiling places. There have been cities, towns, and villages; mountains, beaches, forests and deserts. It’s not easy to pick favourites – they are all remarkable in their own way. There are a few places, however, that have won our hearts over the years. They are the places with heart.
Many of these special places have a town square or piazza at their centre — a place where the locals congregate to converse, to play, to shop, to eat, to love, to laugh, or just to hang around. There is a tangible sense of community in these places and it always draws us in. We do our best to participate but mostly we enjoy observing the people and their interactions. Sometimes we look on with envy, wishing we could speak the language and genuinely join in.
Trancoso is one of these places and at the heart of this wonderfully tranquil and welcoming town is the ‘Quadrado’ — the square of Trancoso. A rectangular patch of grass, it is lined on its long sides by huge Monkeypod trees and colourful adobe houses, and punctuated at its far end by the all-white São João Batista church. It is the meeting place for everyone in town: young, old, rich, poor, singles, families, locals and tourists alike. People gather here to sit, to play, to chat, to eat, to shop or to stroll around the sandy path edging the grass. The Quadrado is remarkably quiet during the day with shutters closed, picnic tables empty, and its football (soccer) pitch vacant. It comes to life every evening as the hot sun dips in the equatorial sky and the locals appear for a game of football while the sun-seekers return from the golden sand beaches at the base of the cliff behind the church.
This has been our hangout for the past few weeks. In the mornings we amble lazily through the Quadrado on our way to the beach, passing familiar faces along the way — Kiko, the man with the voice so deep it scares the kids, the funny guy on his bicycle who always calls to Marlow, the man selling grass hats, the woman with the colourful bird mobiles and the guy with the dream catchers. Many of them are local artisans with their wares attractively splayed out in the shade of the biggest trees. They greet us with a warm ‘bom dia’ and smile as we pass. In the afternoons we make our way back from the beach and find the Quadrado teeming with life: the football is in full swing, the capoeira is being practiced, the shop keepers have opened their shutters and the restaurant owners are setting their rustic wooden tables with vases of tropical flowers. Some days we stop for a sweet tapioca crepe at the edge of the Quadrado before walking home, bellies full of Nutella and hearts happy.
On other days we skip the beach and extend our schooling with an art lesson in the Quadrado. We find an abandoned picnic table in the shade, get out our paint brushes and try to capture the colorful houses and banana trees. If we stay long enough we’ll watch as the sky darkens and the Quadrado awakens. The sounds of conversation and laughter fill the air. Live music seeps out from one of the cafes and the pretty lanterns hanging from the big trees start to glow, making the whole place sparkle with light. It’s probably time to get the kids home for dinner, but we linger longer. There’s nowhere else we’d rather be.
In Trancoso we have found somewhere slower. Its Quadrado is one of the most special places we’ve ever been. It is simple, rustic and unassuming, and yet it there is something indescribably magical about it. You are reminded here that life does not need much to be completely fulfilling.
We wish we could stay longer in Trancoso. But, just like our first visit to Positano (one of our other favourite places), we know we will come back again and again.