Written and Photographed by Karen Loftus
Brazil has long shown us its sultry side and has always succeeded in wooing savvy and sexy travelers from across the globe. For decades Brazil’s played host to Hollywood, provided a playground for the international jetset and has shown the world just how Carnival is done.
Now Brazil is preparing for its biggest fete ever. The Olympics and the World Cup are inked in print on the globe’s social and sports calendars. It’s yet another reason to visit this seductive South American country. So, what are you waiting for? Game on!
Rio de Janeiro
One can hardly think of Brazil without thinking of Rio. We immediately hear Manilow’s Copa Copacabana or the Girl from Ipanema bouncing between our ears while we conjure up images of a tanned and tone bikini clad crowd, which isn’t far off.
In Rio, it’s all about the beach. Early in the morning and after work you’ll see locals joyfully running and working out on the beach. By day it’s all about the scene and the sun and the itsy bitsy teenie bikinis. If you’ve got body issues, leave them in your baggage, where they belong. No matter what size you are in Brazil, everyone dons a booty baring bikini. Babes, babies, Mommas and grand moms all rock the bottom. You will too. So, get used to it.
Jumpstart your adventures with a quick ride in from the airport. You will weave through Rio’s eclectic neighborhoods before you hit the famous Brazilian coastline. Then settle into The Intercontinental Hotel on the beach in Sao Conrado. It’s a bit out of the thick of it, which is part of its charm.
I hit the strip in front of the hotel and took a run on the breezy beach. After a few burned calories, I was ready for fuel. I hit the Intercon’s Lobby Bar and ordered my first Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink. Similar to the Mojito or Margarita, you can get several flavors of the Caipirinha. I opted for the Ginger then went outside on the deck to watch the local life go by. It was a great intro to Rio, which had me at hello.
The next morning we were off to see Christ the Redeemer. The symbol of Brazil’s independence in 1922 is the iconic image of the city and one of the Seven NEW Wonders of the World. Grab a railway ride up through the forest, where locals sing en route. Once up Corcovado Mountain you get a close up look and the it pic of the trip in front of the100 ft. Cristo Redentor. You’ll also get your bearings and one of the best panoramic views of the city. It’s otherworldly.
Post Cristo, drive up the windy cobblestone streets past the aristocratic and artistic residences in the trendy Santa Tersea neighborhood. Then settle in for an inspired local Brazilian feast with tropical influences at Aprazivel, a family run restaurant favored by Madonna, Giselle and Becks when in town. The hours will slip away as will the day in the tree house-like setting overlooking the city and Guanabara Bay. Enjoy the endless flow of succulent Brazilian wines paired perfectly with the grilled palm hearts, which was dizzyingly delicious, as were the lamb chops and coconut ice cream.
Before heading back to your oasis, stop off at The Selaron Stairway. The Chilean artist Selaron has made Brazil his home for nearly three decades. In 1990 he started work on the world famous Selaron stairway, which includes 215 steps and a colorful array of tiles from all over the world. If you get lucky the mad artist himself will come out and invite you in to his small gallery full of paintings of pregnant women. Arnold, Snoop and even Oprah were there just days before us buying Selaron’s paintings of the favelas.
Another artist worthy of praise is Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda. Celebrate her life at the tiny Carmen Miranda Museum. Then walk around nearby Lapa where Carmen grew up. The funky neighborhood is well-known as the Montmarte of the Tropics. By day hit Cafeteria Colombo, the historic coffeehouse dating back to 1894 or wander around at night when the streets are teeming with nightlife activity. Pop by Rio Scenarium, an antique shop, museum, restaurant and bar with live music.
Back at The Intercon we made it a sophisticated evening at ene, the Intercon’s Spanish restaurant with young twin chefs Sergio & Javier Torres at the helm. The braised lamb with potato terrine and the peeled roasted tenderloin with peach palm oil were exquisite. For late night libations, it’s Lapa or a dip in to the trendy neighborhood of Leblon.
There’s been a lot of controversy concerning Rio’s famous favelas right above the city. Similar to South Africa’s townships, there’s concern as to the potential crime during world class events.
Rio is on the fast track to ensure safety for its visitors. We were given a window in to the favelas and the local life with a tour of St. Marta by two locals. There’s a lot of work that has and continues to be done in St. Marta and all the favelas. Michael Jackson showed his support by shooting his famous video there. They thanked him with a life size statue.
Once back down in town, we dipped in to two of the cities trendiest beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, before grabbing lunch at Parcao, one of Rio’s popular churrascarias or Brazilian BBQ’s. The food is phenomenal, but pace yourself. It’s a carnivore’s dream and the Assado de Tirres is excellent.
For our final sunset we went up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, which takes two stages of cable cars to reach. Once up at what feels like the top of the world, the views are unrivaled. It’s a stunning showcase of all that Rio has to offer, from urban exploring to endless beaches and countless mountains.
Our final feast was at the world famous Copacabana Hotel. The French architect Jose Gire designed the hotel in the similar style of Mediterranean Hotels Negresco in Nice and The Carlton in Cannes. Built in the 20’s, the Copacabana remains as much a symbol of Rio as the Cristo. The likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Nat king Cole, Ray Charles and Marlene Dietrich have all performed there. Their walls are adorned with black and white photos of classic and contemporary artists that have stayed and played in the hotel. You can feel the history in every evocative corner of the hotel.
The banquet rooms alone are works of art as is the Olympic sized pool, while Cipriani is one of the Rio’s most sophisticated restaurants. Bar Da Copa is a more modern move with all of the elegance one would expect at Copa.
For after dinner decadence we had drinks at Philippe Starck’s uber trendy Fosano Hotel. It’s where Madonna and Beyonce rest their celeb heads.
After a final Rio run on the beach we were off to Buzios the next morning. En route we stopped at Oscar Neimayer’s Museum also known as the eye due to its design, which looks like a flying saucer.
Buzios is a well-known beach destination for Brazilians. Brigitte Bardot put Buzios, once a little fishing village, on the global map in the 60’s. Locals are forever grateful to her and have a statue of the French actress along the water to show their appreciation.
The idyllic town is simple yet sophisticated, full of chic boutiques, international restaurants and night markets with local artists and music. Buzios can be seen by boat, where you can pop out periodically to snorkel along the many alcoves and beaches, or by an open air van, which weaves in and out of the many beaches. Brazil’s most affluent and influential all keep homes in the hills of Buzios overlooking the sea. Consider it Rio’s Hamptons.
We checked in to Breezes Buzios, an all-inclusive Resort & Spa about ten minutes outside of the center of town. We were one of the first to stay in one of the twelve well-appointed casitas at the end of the resort. There’s an infinity pool that wraps around the casitas providing each one an easy dip in, below your private deck with the beach but a few feet beyond the pool.
Every day we had spa treatments at Hara Spa, a part of a well-known outpost in Sao Paolo. The reflexology will have you floating on another level as will the massage, which left me dreaming and drooling.
Each day we made our way back in to our pool by late afternoon where we had impromptu champagne pool parties. As day light slipped away and the sun set before us we would bob around in the water with floating bottles and glasses within reach.
It was a tough scene to leave, but cocktails at the bar, Munasan’s Japanese restaurant, Martino’s Italian, and the Market Place restaurant managed to entice us nightly.
My last day’s walk on the beach was a vibrant one with the dramatic, lush green hills in the backdrop. Along the walk I saw nothing but booty baring, Brazilian locals, friends and family savoring the day and enjoying the beautiful Brazilian beach by the hotel.
Once on the plane headed back to the states, thinking wistfully of my adventures in the city and by the sea, the steward asked if I wanted a drink. But of course, I’ll have champagne with a floating glass please, and with a stunning sunset on the side.