Those who are lucky enough to have a summer house that they visit every year will know that such places provide a lot of thinking time – endess hours when daydreams can turn into big ideas. When Portuguese engineer Pedro Marques first visited his parents’ newly built summer home in the Barra de São Miguel region of Brazil, his brain began ticking away. Five years later he found himself the founder of one of Brazil’s most luxurious eco hotels, Kenoa – Exclusive Beach Spa & Resort. Up until that first visit to his parents’ summer pied-à-terre, Pedro had never even considered becoming a hotelier, but, then again, some things are just meant to be.
When your office happens to be situated on one of Brazil’s most pristine beaches, it’s hard not to feel at peace with your life. And while Pedro Marques’s average working day these days allows plenty of moments for a stroll in the sand, it’s certainly a far cry from his original metier working as a consultant with global conglomerate Deloitte. At that time, he had already realised that engineering wasn’t his passion and was angling towards a career in marketing. But as he made visit after visit to that sun-kissed summer home in Barra de São Miguel, he began to realise that his talents perhaps lay in a rather unexpected place.
“I noticed that there weren’t many options for luxury accommodation in northeastern Brazil, even though it’s a place where it’s summer all year round,” he recalls. “There are beautiful beaches, very nice people and a wonderful environment here, and so when the idea came to me, I didn’t have to think twice. I don’t really know when I actually started thinking about creating a hotel, but we kind of just started doing it and never looked back.”
Pedro’s philosophy for Kenoa – now a member of the coveted Design Hotels group – was to create a luxury hotel that, at its very essence, had a strong connection with nature and the environment. “We approached everything with the purpose of finding the greenest possible solution without compromising the technology and comfort needed,” he says. “We wanted people to feel at home here, but also feel connected with our passion for the environment.”
The decision to imbue the hotel with an eco-friendly philosophy was a natural one for Pedro. “I think it comes from my childhood. In Europe, the concern for ecology is very well spread and promoted, but here in Brazil it’s not so common. And it’s a shame because they have such wonderful nature to preserve, so it’s almost an obligation for us nowadays to try to do things in an eco-friendly sense. For me, it wasn’t a choice but something that should be done in order to preserve the environment as much
Having been happily beguiled by the people of Barra de São Miguel himself, Pedro was also passionate about providing the opportunity for guests to interact with locals, and to understand the region’s cultural relationship with nature. He is now staying true to that aim by training locals to work at Kenoa, hoping that they will comprise the majority of the hotel’s staff within the near future. The key, he says, is teaching them to feel comfortable working in an environment where guests expect a high level of luxury, and how to create an authentic experience that focuses on the small details that make people happy. “That level of care helps people feel at home. Nowadays people want to experience what it feels like to be part of the culture of a destination. We want people to interact with the really authentic spirit of the people from the region and, at the same time, create opportunities for the locals.”
It’s hard for people to resist the tropical charms of Barra de São Miguel, and its sweeping beaches, perfectly temperate water and endless summer, which explains why Kenoa has quickly become one of Brazil’s most prized luxury jewels. “It’s not only the beaches,” Pedro says proudly. “There’s also beautiful lagoons, rainforest and mangroves nearby. And most of all it’s the people – that’s what makes a destination. Everyone here always has a caring smile on their face and it’s a comfort just being around them.”
With no prior experience whatsoever with hotels, Pedro says he took inspiration from many different sources when dreaming up Kenoa. First he looked to his own experiences as a guest, and all the things he loved about staying in hotels and what could be done better. “I just tried to take all the good things from each place and bring them here and make something beautiful that made sense.”
His main inspiration, however, came from where it all began: his parents’ summer home. Not only did he position the hotel a short distance from his family’s abode, but he also used the same architect and interior designer, in a bid to capture the whimsical feeling he felt whenever he visited the summer house – but with a twist. “My parents’ house has a very modern design with perfect, symmetrical lines, whereas here at Kenoa the brief was to maintain those very modern lines but try to bring in the raw and green materials.
It’s a combination of the modern lines and bringing nature inside. We tried to find natural or reused materials rather than industrial materials.” Each of the 23 villas and suites features variations on that juxtaposition, with naked brick contrasting with polished wood floors, and artefacts from Africa and the Amazon sitting next to contemporary design works. But there’s no mistaking the aesthetic: soothing, calm, and irresistibly relaxing.
Despite being a virgin hotelier when he began, Pedro said he felt no pressure to prove himself. “I think I didn’t realise how popular the hotel was going to be in Brazil, and even abroad, and so I didn’t really have any expectations for it,” he shrugs amiably. “I didn’t think about it – I just did it. But I think the work has spoken for itself and it’s been very nice to be a part of something that is making a difference.”
It’s people who dedicate their lives to making a difference that inspire Pedro in his own life. “I’m inspired by people who think in the future but try to do it in the present,” he says. “I think that’s something all of us should try to do – create better moments in the lives of the people around us.”
Ever since he was a child, Pedro says, he has approached life with the philosophy of living each day as it comes, without worrying too much about the future. And for now he is content to keep crafting the luxury sanctuary that Kenoa has become, while allowing his ideas to come naturally. But rest assured, there are more things in the works that will allow him to manifest his benevolent approach even further. ”Make a difference in the world and make it better,” he offers as his own small piece of wisdom. “Keep it simple, stay humble, and if, at the end of your journey, you can say you did something that made a difference, you will have succeeded.”