Among the pages of Jorge Amado’s book
In literary terms Ilhéus, 70km south of Itacaré at the mouth of the Rio Cachoeira, is the best-known town in Brazil, as the setting for Jorge Amado’s most famous novel, Gabriela, Cravo e Canela, and it’s just waiting to be discovered on an MSC South America cruise excursion.
If you haven’t heard of the book before visiting Ilhéus, you soon will; it seems like every other bar, hotel and restaurant is either named after the novel or one of its characters. Traditionally Ilhéus has also been popular for its lively city beaches, though given the options now available to the south and north, these need not detain you long.
When you step ashore from your MSC cruise you can’t miss the city’s landmark: the Catedral de São Sebastião on Praça Don Eduardo. It looks like a Romanesque wedding cake, with a 48m-high dome, but was actually started in 1931 and only dedicated in 1967. It replaced an older chapel deemed too small for the city and demolished.
Dating back to a structure completed in the 1570s, the Igreja Matriz de São Jorge is the oldest church in the city (though most of what you see today is seventeenth century), containing an old and venerated image of Saint George (São Jorge). The sacristy serves as a small Museu de Arte Sacra, with the usual church silverware, various religious sculptures and antique furniture on display.
Housed in an ornate mansion commissioned by Amado’s father in 1926, the Museu Casa de Cultura Jorge Amado was once the home of the city’s most famous son and now contains exhibits on the region’s chocolate industry and Amado himself. Apart from the centre, you’ll find the main concentration of bars in Ilhéus along the fine beach promenade of the Avenida Soares Lopes to the east.