South of Maceio: Praia do Frances
In the 1980s, Praia do Francês was a major attraction on the coast of Alagoas. Despite its name (which simply pays homage to the French pirates who traded in these parts in the 16th century), the destination was particularly frequented by Portuguese and Italian tourists, as well as vacationers from inside Brazil. It consists of a single beach, divided into two parts. One part has calm waters and an energetic beach scene; the other part has strong waves and nothing major happening on the beach. A village area that starts at the beach and continues inland for a few blocks, has numerous pousadas, shops and restaurants.
Praia do Francês originated like many beach villages in Brazil. First, surfers and hippies discover the little fishing village and start coming to commune and practice their sport. Soon, small shops and food kiosks sprout up along the small streets of the village to cater to the many surfers visiting the place. Arts & crafts vendors hang out among the crowd to sell their wares. Some of the old, local establishments go in for a renovation and suddenly there are some interesting restaurants and permanent beach bars in town. At this point it becomes an interesting destination for professionals from the nearby urban areas to spend their weekends and vacations. Everybody with property in the main village turns his home into a pousada or boutique shop and international investors start buying up lots to build larger hotels. That was Praia do Francês in the 80s.
Then and Now
Today, Praia do Frances suffers from its former popularity. Hoards of youth from the surrounding area flock to the beach on weekends to see whose car has the loudest music system. Unfortunately, they do not make the place very attractive to visitors during this time. It’s best to visit Frances on a weekday, when things are quiet and peaceful. On weekends, the area fills with noise, trash, and urine. Hotels and restaurants have started going up for sale as a result. This is Praia do Francês today.
If you happen to be in town during the week in the off season, then you may wonder what happened to the place. It has a strange emptiness to it. Most everything is open and operating, but there is a notable lack of customers. Maybe you’ll like it better this way.
Until the powers that be decide to take better care of the place, Praia do Francês is probably only interesting for a half-day visit — during the week. The village shops are worth a look and prices here tend to be better than in the beaches farther south. If you don’t like the idea of staying in the big city of Maceió, then you could consider making Praia do Francês your home base for visiting the southern coast. You’ll find lots of economic hotels here and during the week, the place is calm and uneventful. Driving south from here is a breeze.
If you come to town on a sunny weekend or during the summer season, you’re bound to find the place bustling with action. Surfers ride waves on the south side of the beach, where there are no bars on the beach and no reefs in the ocean to calm the waves. The north side is packed with folks sitting at the many large beach bars that overlook the ocean. The surf on this side is calm and the water is warm and great for swimming. A belt of reefs blocks the incoming tide on this part of the beach. The beach bars are stacked one after the next for about a quarter mile.
You can walk along the beach and see them all from below. You’ll want to arrive early to get a seat at your favorite establishment because the crowd descends on the beach with a fury. You’ll find water sports available in this area, including windsurfing and kit surfing. Buggies park on the beachfront path for anyone interested in a joy ride. If you walk north past the bars for about another three kilometers, you’ll reach the mouth of the Manguaba River, where there are some simple restaurants that serve lobster, crab, and shrimp (all from local waters).
Cristal Mar (82/9908-9446) offers boat excursions out past the reefs to an area that is great for snorkeling, with clear water and natural pools.
During busy season, the village is active day and night. There are restaurants of all types and price points, hotels, and bars. Boutique shops, predominantly near the beach, sell colorful swimwear, crafts, and other souvenirs. If you stroll up Rua Carapeba (where Bruce’s Burguer is located), you’ll find a couple of art galleries mixed in with the hotels. Pay a visit to the very friendly Rosa Maria at the Mulher Endar café, pousada and art studio. Her café opens at around 2p.m. and is a charming place to have coffee, especially in the evening. Her art studio is open all day and features sculpture from a local master of wood carving (Mestre Deodato). Her pousada is listed below under Accommodations. You can also drop in on Marisa at the Bêmeos Mosaico studio (Rua Carapeba 133), where she and her husband make great art from small pieces of tile. Their work can be seen all over town. They also have a rustic, dial-up Internet connection, but it’s the only game in town.
Rosa Maria has four rooms for rent in the back of her café/gallery, called Mulher Endar (Rua Carapeba 27, 82/260-1795) rooms include breakfast at the café for R$80 double. One of the coziest places in town is the Pousada Graciosa (Rua Carvalo Marinho 21, one of the side streets crossing Rua Carapeba). The all-brick structure has about a dozen rooms situated around a courtyard garden, adding a sense of privacy. The rooms are simple but clean and comfortable, just like the rest of the place. They can arrange boat and buggy excursions. R$70 double, R$140 peak season. The Pousada Le Soleil (Rua Carapeba 11, 82/260-1240, www.pousadalesoleil.kit.net) is perhaps the cleanest and most modern in town. Their rooms are simple, but the facilities and service are trustworthy. R$45 single and R$50 double. R$90 and R$100 during peak season.
Food and Entertainment
There are economic places to eat all along the main street coming into town, called Av. Caravalas. You’ll find pizza, burgers, and a Brazilian barbecue. You’ll also find a bakery and deli where you can buy makings for sandwiches. Farther up the same road is Taipas, with Comida Mineira. The two most popular restaurants in town for a sit-down meal are Chez Patrick (Rua Maresia), which serves French cuisine in a cozy ambience and Padrino (Rua dos Corais, across from Pousada Le Soleil), which serves Italian food. The latter is a good place for late-night drinks, as is Bruce’s Burguer (Rua dos Corais). Nothing happens on the beach at night, as the city government removed the lights that once lit up the beach. Nobody seems to know exactly why.
Another great endowment from the local government is that there are no banks in Praia do Francês and almost nobody takes credit cards. Apparently, the whole phone system required to support the credit card system is in process, and that’s what everybody tells you when you ask if they take credit cards (está no processo). Unfortunately, the nearest bank with international ATMs is in Maceió. For information on excursions and car rentals, check with Ricardo at Cancun-Tur (82/9307-6657, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Getting There and Around
Busses leave from the Maceió bus station going south down the coast. Look for busses marked ‘Marechal’ and ‘B. São Miguel.’ They cost about R$3 each and leave about every 20 minutes. Be sure to ask for the Praia do Francês exit. There are private vans and cars that will take you to Maceió for about R$3. Just wait at a bus stop on Av. Caravalas and one will drive by. Note that the vans can get pretty crowded, as the drivers like to cram as many passengers in as possible. A taxi between Maceió and Praia do Francês will cost from R$15-25 depending on your destination in Maceió.