Energy of Rio...
Look left, look right, look up, look down. You can even cover eyes, stamp your foot, deny your mother and father, but you have to admit : Rio is an amazing city !! Few of the world’s urban landscapes combine the sheer blue of the sky and sea with the green lushness of nature so sublimely. You get a different perspective at every turn. From the peak of Corcovado or the Vista Chinesa, the view opens out onto the Atlantic, as your eyes linger over the inlets, beaches and islands in Guanabara Bay, the hills covered by the Atlantic Forest, the city’s jarring architecture ; skyscrapers here and shanty towns over there.
Seeing Rio from the outside in is the great attraction of taking the funicular up the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Still on high, it is well worth having a helicopter flight to get the widest possible panorama over this natural wonder, now tamed by man. Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, sandwiched between Ipanema and the hills, is one of the points the flights go from and makes for an unforgettable circuit for lovers of natural beauty. An excellent alternative for the healthy outdoors is the Tijuca Rainforest, 3,300 hectares of unspoilt nature. As well as the abundant fauna and flora you will find trails and waterfalls, lakes and picnic spots, the Açude da Solidão and the Mayrink Chapel.
Continuing on this green tour, the Botanical Gardens, with their collection of centuries-old trees, flowerbeds, hothouses and lakes, make for a magnificent, scientific journey for the senses. For something completely different, go on a journey through time and into the historic centre of the city. Catch an old cable car which passes over the Arcos da Lapa and climbs creaking and groaning to the bucolic hills of the artists’ favourite quarter, Santa Teresa.
Can you feel the energy of this city ? Swallow your fears and adopt a radical stance. Rio is the perfect city for spreading your wings and letting the wind take you. From a ramp at Pedra Bonita, you can launch yourself off under a double hang-glider, thrill at the view and forget about gravity for a few moments until it finally forces you down onto the beach at São Conrado. Happiness knows no price, but it does have an address : 21000-000 Rio de Janeiro.
A long, long time ago...
In Rio de Janeiro every taxi driver is a budding historian, well-versed in matters regarding Dom João VI and the questionable beauty of his wife Dona Carlota Joaquina. If for the Portuguese the then Prince Regent left them at mercy of Napoleon, for cariocas (the name for people from Rio) the sovereign is an icon.
On 7th March, 1808, the Portuguese royal family and respective court weighed anchor at Largo do Paço in Rio de Janeiro, nowadays Praça XV de Novembro (the date the Republic was created in 1889). This historical chapter of the two countries was responsible for the city’s transformation, which was christened São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro by the Portuguese in 1502, although the city (the capital of the time and subject of countless poems) would have to wait until the beginning of the 19th century to see its heyday.
D. João’s passion for Rio was soon evident with creation of the Real Biblioteca (Royal Library), the Botanical Gardens, the São João Theatre and the arrival of the French artistic mission in 1816. Industry was encouraged with the Junta do Comércio, Casa da Moeda and Banco do Brasil. The vestiges of colonialism and the Empire can be still be found in the city centre, starting with the São Bento Monastery (1590), whose Baroque and Rococo elements attract countless tourists. If Avenida Rio Branco has become the business centre of the city, the colonial influences of the surrounding area can still be seen in the architecture of its colourful sobrados (two-storey houses with balcony).
Special mention goes to number 13 on Travessa do Comércio, where Cármen Miranda once lived, and Praça XI, the birthplace of samba. The Paço Imperial boasts a wealth of other stories and the legend that inspired the expression, "Maria vai com as outras”, which is used to describe someone who is easily influenced by others. It seems that because of mental health problems, Queen D. Maria I liked running into the street naked, being immediately surrounded by her handmaidens.
However, there’s always more than one version of the story...discover your own!!
Mine’s the shrimp, stew and chuchu!!
Botecos (taverns) are Rio’s greatest culinary institution, according to Guilherme Studart, author of the Rio Botequim guide. This is where you will find traditional Rio’s cuisine and friendly service, together with cod fishcakes, ridiculously cold beer and caipirinhas for the customers in flip-flops.
For a romantic dinner, where better than Zozô, which boasts one of the most beautiful backdrops in Rio, the Sugar Loaf Mountain. With its mix of old and new, Chef Marcelo Tanus produces signature pieces of international cuisine, which can be washed down with any of 300 different Brazilian wines, all to the sound of bossa nova-style ‘MPB’. With concepts brought from São Paulo, the Astor and Bráz pizzeria have integrated well into the Rio spirit. The former goes for the 1950s bohemian feel, while the Bráz is such an in place, don’t be surprised if you spot a soap opera star.
Evergreen classics include the Gula Gula, with its famous salads and the Nova Capela, which opened in the Lapa district in 1923. Another tradition is street food. From the beach to the centre of town, the little food stalls camelôs sell everything from curd cheese to sushi, not to mention the famous Rio pastries and an endless variety of tropical drinks, often including guaraná and coconut milk.
For a culinary journey back to the 19th century, go to Confeitaria Colombo, where you can sample fubá (cornflour) cake with cheese, among other delicacies in an old-style tea room atmosphere.
Here, there and everywhere...
Despite the beach being a constant temptation, Rio is a cultural magnet with dozens of cultural centres, and in tune with the city’s democratic bent, many are free. Let’s start with the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, where visitors will find scenic arts, fine arts, as well as music.
Located in Gávea, the Instituto Moreira Salles collection contains over 550 thousand images from the 19th century, the majority of which are of Rio de Janeiro.
During a picturesque cable car ride, the Santa Teresa neighbourhood is worth seeing for its large Spanish-style houses, countless art galleries and shops that mix art and design. After passing the Parque das Ruínas viewpoint, you have to visit Chácara do Céu, a house-museum that houses Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya’s private collection : the perfect combination of contemporary art and 17th and 18th-century colonial furniture in lush surroundings. Returning to the centre, keep an eye out for the mega-library of the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura and respective Neo-Manueline architecture.
Near Cinelândia, previously known as Rio’s Broadway, we recommend a visit to the Theatro Municipal, one of the city’s calling cards, whose boards have been trodden by the likes of Fernanda Montenegro, Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas, amongst other stars. To really appreciate this classic theatre, which was restored in 2009, visit the backstage area with a friendly local guide.
Rhythm is samba, marchinha and saracoteio...
In this wonderful city (whose name was immortalised in a song by André Filho in 1935) the rhythm is samba, marchinha and saracoteio. From the sound of the waves to that of the leaves on the trees, from the sway of the hawkers to the foot tapping of the women on Ipanema beach listening to the latest iPod, everything is made of the people’s innate swing and cadence. In terms of music proper, there’s everything from samba to rock, from bossa nova to funk, from marcha to rap, and songwriters sing and play Rio de Janeiro in different times and ways. Travelling further back in time, we find chorinho, which arrived with the Portuguese royal family in the 19th century. Traditionally instrumental and urban, it was a reflection of Rio and its different neighbourhoods.
Adapted text from Up magazine- March edition 2011
Photos: Pedro Kirilos, Alexandre Macieira, Ricardo Zerrenner (Riotur) and PortoBay