The former capital of Alagoas is 22 km south of Maceió across the impressive brackish lakes that give the state its name, and just behind one of the best resort beaches in the northeast, Praia do Francês. The town is well worth a visit, not only for its delightful crumbling buildings and expansive lake, but because of it has a wonderful, laid-back feel and is unspoilt by tourism. It’s built on a hill, overlooking Lake Manguaba. Boat trips can be organized through tour guides such as Del .
The town is named after Marechal Deodoro da Fonseca, the charismatic general who founded the Brazilian republic after the deposition of Emperor Dom Pedro II. The modest townhouse where he grew up is now the Museo Marechal Deodoro (R Marechal Deodoro, daily 0800-1700, free) . It offers an interesting insight into the simplicity of life in Brazil at the end of the 19th century, even for those in the upper middle classes. Marechal Deodoro’s large family lived in a few simple rooms; it is easy to imagine them dining together by oil lamp around the plain hard-wood table, watched over by the family patriarch. Typical northeastern macramé lace can be bought outside the museum in the adjacent houses.
The town is very pleasant to wander around, which takes all of 20 minutes. The cobbled streets are lined with attractive colonial houses, some of which have been converted into modest restaurants and pousadas. These lead to a series of squares watched over by impressive if decrepit Portuguese churches. Some are almost beyond repair, but the most impressive, the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição built in 1783 has undergone full restoration, returning to its full baroque glory in late 2008. Be sure to have a peek inside. The 17th-century Convento de São Francisco on Praça João XXIII, has another fine baroque church, Santa Maria Magdalena, with a superb wooden altarpiece tha t has been badly damaged by termites. You can climb the church tower for views of the town. Adjoining it is the Museu de Arte Sacra (Mon-Fri, 0900- 1300, US$0.50, guided tours available, payment at your discretion) .
It is easy to visit Marechal on a day trip from Maceió and still have time left over to enjoy the sun and surf on Praia do Francês. It is one of the state’s most beautiful beaches, pounded by glass-green surf at one end, protected by a fringing reef at the other and shaded by towering coconut palms along its entire length. There are plenty of barracas, restaurants and bars selling drinks and seafood.
There are more beaches beyond Francês, including Barra de São Miguel, entirely protected by the reef. It gets crowded at weekends. Several good, cheap barracas serve food and drink and there are some decent places to stay. Carnaval is very lively here....
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