SUMMER IN RIO. As the world converges on Brazil’s capital for the Summer Olympics, come and explore the magnificent designs and polished tastes of Rio de Janeiro
With the 2016 Summer Olympics starting in Rio de Janeiro this August, the festive city is getting even more attention than ever. While one of the charms of Rio has always been in its endearingly rowdy qualities, there is more to Rio than jolly carnivals and exotic favelas. Instead, try the more tranquil path of classic luxury and modern leisure along these captivating spots.
1/A WALK IN THE PARK
Established in 1808 by the order of John VI, the Prince Regent of Portugal, Jardim Botanico is a 137-hectare botanical garden boasting more than 8,000 plant species. A serene getaway from Rio’s hustle and bustle, this park invites visitor to take a walk along the iconic rows of towering palm trees—some of which have been planted from the day the park first opened. Here, you can bask in the beautiful view of the lake filled with Victoria Regis water lilies, or perhaps the Amazon section where they conserve exotic plants from the famed rainforest, the Japanese garden and, of course, the orquidário which is home to 600 orchid species. Not only is Jardim Botanico home to a bounty of flora, but there is also an abundance of indigenous fauna. You can spend all day trying to spot all of the 140 species of birds within the park, like the channel-billed toucan. That’s not even counting other animals like capuchin monkeys and tufted-eared marmosets.
If you don’t have that much time to roam, however, you can specifically go to the Parque Enrique Lage, a public park that’s the pride of Rio, located within the same neighborhood as the Jardim Botanico. The highlight of Parque Lage is the picture-perfect mansion previously owned by Brazilian shipping magnate Enrique Lage and his wife, opera singer Gabriella Besanzoni, and designed by Mario Vodrel in 1920. Ensconced by the foot of Corcovado Mountain, this is definitely a sight you shouldn’t miss. And if you feel like you’ve seen it before, you might actually have: It’s featured in Snoop Dogg’s 2003 music video “Beautiful.” These days the mansion houses the Escola de Artes Visuais (School of Visual Arts, eavparquelage.rj.gov.br) which hosts art exhibitions, performances and workshops. Of course, you can simply enjoy the Eden-like surroundings while taking a sip of java at the colonial-styled cafe.
2/MUSINGS AT THE MUSEUM
From the classics, we’re moving on to more modern structures.
Now, while these venues are officially registered as “museums,” they are, in fact, state-of-the-art architectural wonders. First on the list is the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói (Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, macniteroi.com.br) where Nicolas Ghesquière of Louis Vuitton just recently showcased the 2017 Cruise collection. The instantly-recognizable saucer-shaped establishment was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and completed in 1996. Popularly known as the MAC, the museum is perched on a cliff side above Guanabara Bay in the municipality of Niterói. While it’s often linked to UFOs due to its shape, the idea that swirled in Niemeyer’s brain is much more poetic than that. The late architect actually described the three-story building (which is 50 meters across, set on a cylinder with a diameter of 2.7 meters and surrounded by an 817-square-meter pool) as a flower-like creation: Something that’s rooted in the ground but continuously grows and spreads. The MAC showcases a large number of Joäo Sattamini’s collections from many coveted artists. Even if you’re not an art enthusiast, the MAC Niterói is still an out-of-this-world spot where you can soak in Rio’s landscape, especially the famed Sugarloaf Mountain visible from the museum’s viewing gallery.
The next stop is the aptly named Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow, museudoamanha.org.br), recently unveiled last December as part of the city’s port area renewal for the 2016 Summer Olympics. As the name suggests, this is a marvel of a futuristic design, comprising ultramodern geometries of entwined lines and shapes creating the impression of a spaceship from the distant future. That being said, sci-fi fans might not want to get their hopes up about seeing robots or other technological dreams. Unlike most of its counterparts whose displays center around artwork and ancient artifacts, the Museu do Amanhã is all about sustainability. This is, basically, an informative destination that aims to make you think. While heavy thoughts might be the last thing on your mind during a leisurely escapade, it’ll still be worth your while to see this quirky building and its aesthetical wonders.
3/LAZE IN LUXURY
It’s as if Rio is never short of aesthetically jaw-dropping attractions to show off, including in its selection of luxury accommodations. On the old-world front, we have the Belmond Copacabana Palace (belmond.com) at the world-renowned Copacabana Beach. The grandiose art deco structure has been around since 1923 and has stood as a silent witness to the ups and downs of Rio for almost a century. In the mid ’80s, the hotel was bought by Orient-Express Hotels group (now Belmond Hotels), and the rest is history. Designed by French architect Joseph Gire, the overall look of the hotel is reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Era—with accommodation fit for the stars, naturally. Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Princess Diana and Madonna are just some of the big names that have stayed at the historic hotel. Definitely not a newcomer in the world of hospitality, Belmond Copacabana Palace offers the best five-star facilities you can imagine. Take, for instance, the hotel’s three-story spa, which boasts five individual treatments rooms, two dual treatment suites, a fitness room, a hair salon (that spans two floors), a sauna, steam baths and a relaxation area. The penthouse suites, meanwhile, offer premium facilities like a private VIP pool and dedicated butler service.
Not far from Copacabana, on the lively street of Avenida Vieira Souto stands the Hotel Fasano (fasano.com.br). The brainchild of legendary designer Philippe Starck, the Fasano pays homage to the glorious bossa nova era in Ipanema. Very fitting, considering the location. Though the inspiration behind the hotel takes you back to the ’60s, you can actually feel the contemporary touch in, say, the sleek lines of its infinity pool. And just like that, Starck managed to create the perfect concoction of retro and modern. By the way, the aforementioned pool on the rooftop offers unobstructed views of Arpoador Beach, the affluent Ipanema and Leblon neighborhoods, the Dois Irmãos, and Corcovado Mountain.
Finally, the hotel’s own watering holes—the Fasano al Mare restaurant and the Baretto-Londra bar—are definite favorites among connoisseurs with refined palates.
4/FESTIVAL OF FEASTS
When exploring the gastronomic scene of Rio, always start big. Like, for instance, this Michelin-starred dining place at the Copacabana Palace. One of the first restaurants in South America to be awarded a Michelin star, MEE (kenhom.com) brings pan-Asian cuisine to a whole new level, thanks to the guidance of renowned celebrity chef Ken Hom and executive chef Kazuo Harada. Here, appetites will be tantalized by dainty delicacies like fresh oysters with quail egg yolk and sea urchin served with ponzu sauce, or quail egg sushi with truffles. On top of all that, MEE’s sake sommelier will gladly guide you through 25 imported spirits to further enhance your dining experience.
Of course, no refined culinary journey would be complete without a touch of French cooking, and that’s where L’Etoile (letoilerio.com.br) comes in. Located at the 26th floor of Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort, this eatery offers an elevated look of Leblon. L’Etoile is helmed by respected French chef Jean Paul Bondoux, who hails from Burgundy but has called South America his home for more than 30 years, having also established two La Bourgogne restaurants in Uruguay and Argentina along with NoSo at W Hotel in Chile. At L’Etoile you can taste the finesse of traditional French cookery using locally-sourced produce and a dash of Brazilian influence.
All that being said, don’t forget to take some time off your five-star accommodations to try the genuine essence of Rio’s culinary scene: The churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse)! While almost every churrascaria are really good, let us make it simpler for you and suggest Porcão (porcao.com.br), a long-time favorite among locals and visitors alike. Porcão has a number of outlets all over Rio (some are currently under renovation), but the most recommended venue would be Porcão River’s at Infante Dom Henrique Avenue, Aterro do Flamengo. Here you can indulge in a carnivorous feast while enjoying the breathtaking view of the city and its natural surroundings. Like any churrascaria worth its salt, Porcão serves a smorgasbord of meat cuts prepared à la Brazilian barbeque along with a variety of fine wines and an eclectic buffet.
Yet another haven of local tastes in Copacabana worth stopping by is Marius Degustare (marius.com.br), a joint that combines Brazilian cooking and Mediterranean cuisine in a quirky venue with cheeky décor. The interior design sees a plethora of nautical memorabilia and antique knickknacks. Put simply, Marius Degustare is more than just a restaurant; it is an installation in and on itself. Unsurprisingly for a venue of this caliber, reservations are highly recommended.
5/SHOP TILL YOU DROP
We’ve walked and gawked, wined and dined; so, a bit of shopping wouldn’t feel amiss, right? Well, in this case, Rio certainly doesn’t disappoint. Known as Rio’s take on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, Rua Garcia D’Ávila is the proud home of sophisticated designer furniture, fashion brands and jewelers, plenty of which bear familiar names like Louis Vuitton, Cartier and MontBlanc. A short distance away and just before Anibal de Mendonca Street you can find Rio’s very own Diamond Row, home to the Amsterdam Sauer Museum of Gems (amsterdamsauer.com.br) and jeweler H. Stern (hsterninrio.com), among others.
If you prefer to bring home something authentically Brazilian, then head on over to Pé de Boi (pedeboi.com.br) and take your pick from artisan handicrafts on display. There are high-quality woodwork and ceramic items, as well as Brazilian sculptures, tapestries and weavings. An art gallery where everything is for sale, Pé de Boi hopes to keep local artists stay true to their roots and traditions while bringing their creations to the attention of the world.
1/Tipping is neither mandatory nor expected. If you do want to leave a tip, just round up your bill. Taxi drivers also do not expect tips.
2/While the city’s security has been beefed up, Rio has plenty of pickpockets. Try not to carry too much cash with you unless necessary.
3/For the same reason, keep your passport, jewelry, etc. in your hotel’s safe. This is a place to buy gold and diamonds, not to flaunt them.
4/Many cariocas (Rio natives) don’t speak English, so it pays to learn some basic words and phrases in Brazilian Portuguese before heading over.
5/Putting the tips of your thumb and index fingers together is commonly meant to sign okay. In Brazil, it’s an obscene gesture, so mind your hands.
Images Marius Degustare; Hotel Fasano; Belmond Copacabana Palace