Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s most stunning cities. With its wonderful beaches, colourful multicultural identity, fascinating history and unrepentant lust for life it never fails to seduce visitors. KT Comer heads out into the Cidade Maravilhosa (the magnificent city) to find out what makes it tick.
Rio is renowned as the playground of South America so what better place to start our trip than at the beach? It’s the focus of the Carioca (the nickname for Rio’s inhabitants) social scene – so much so that it’s a wonder any work gets done in Rio at all!
The beautiful people are out in force among the volleyball players and beach vendors who sell you anything you imagine; KT tries the fresh oysters, a bargain at 25 cents a go. If you really want to fit in here though you’ve got to have a bikini – and not just any kind – the Brazilian variety is the smallest in the world.
For a cheap pick me up, KT heads off to the Sara district, a lively local shopping area downtown. For something more upmarket, it’s off to Blueman Swimwear shop which specialises in those must-have itsy bitsies. There are plenty of hotels lining the beach. The oldest, Copacabana, dates back to the 1920s but the newer concrete blocks are beginning to improve their interiors and KT nips inside one for a quick snoop around.
Dazzled by all those bronzed bodies, KT heads downtown for a look at the architectural styles that represent the city’s vibrant past. In among the drab slabs of modernity she finds the flamboyant Portuguese Library with its high gothic style and Café Columbo, a cake-lover’s heaven and an art nouveau, belle époque gem.
Rio’s predominance is based on the colonial exploitation of gold mines and its gem trade – Brazil produces 80 per cent of the world’s coloured precious stones. KT gets up close to some fabulous contemporary designs at the jewellery shop H. Stern whose pieces fuse beauty with functionality. For more of an insight into Brazil’s burgeoning design talents KT stops off at Contemporaneo where she falls in love with design pieces that cost a fraction of what they would in Paris and the Babilonia Feira Hype market which supports up-and-coming designers whose ranges include recycled glass ornaments and furniture made from plastic bottles.
All this creativity isn’t just the preserve of artists as KT discovers when she takes a well-deserved rest at the Rio Scenarium Bar. She’s amazed by its eccentric extravagance; it’s just like walking into the props room of a multi-era film.
Another must-do for KT’s Rio reconnaissance is the cable car trip up the 4,600 feet of Sugar Loaf Mountain. The view is more proof of the city’s stunning location but also reminds us that the city isn’t all about glitz and glamour. KT spies the rash of favelas surrounding the city and sets off to discover how the city is coping with its dispossessed millions in the new century.
Here she meets Christiano de Silva, one of a string of new self-taught artists trying to break into the mainstream, who shows her his studio and a selection of his colourful, vivid designs. He sells his work at the weekend markets across the town so KT makes her way to one of these, the Ipanema hippy market that plugs arts and crafts from across Brazil and stumbles across an impromptu performance of capioera, a Brazilian martial art-cum-dance.
You can’t truly experience a city without tasting some of its native food. Always adventurous, KT seeks out a national delicacy, a black bean stew with pork off-cuts, at the Casa de Feijouda. Originally slave food, it has become a Brazilian favourite although KT’s not so sure she’ll be trying it again! Full (although not necessarily satisfied!), KT trips up a unique tile staircase, carefully designed and tended by local artist Selabon, on her way to the Academia de Cachacon. This houses a museum dedicated to another Brazilian passion – cachaca. This spirit, made from sugarcane, is known as firewater and KT soon finds out why in a tasting session!
To round off her tour KT has saved the most iconic – and many would say still the best feature of Rio – till last, the 125 foot tall Christ the Redeemer statue that looms over the city from the Hunchback mountain. With this final stunning sight, KT signs off, taking her bulging suitcases with her.
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