Visiting new and foreign lands is one of my favourite ways to spend my life and in admitting my ignorance in knowing little to almost nothing of Brazil before landing there, I can't quite begin to describe just how fabulous our trip there was last year.
There to attend one of my Love's best friend's wedding just north of Rio in Buzios, we decided to take a little longer in travelling to the other side of the world and added time on either end of the special occasion in order to explore this country so rich in culture, art and an altogether otherworldly authentic way of living that neither of us had ever quite experienced despite both of our insane weakness for travel.
First stop though was Rio. Gosh where to begin in attempting to narrate this somewhat cryptic city that even after spending a long weekend in we left with an overall sense of mystery that unless living as a local one might never quite gain a complete understanding of. Beyond beautiful in it's insanely unrefined yet splendid rawness, it's a definite mix of all sorts of contrasts and differences; darkness and light, poverty and wealth, beach-living and dangerous alleyways. With no doubt an endless array of things to do, people to meet and experiences that will live with you for life, it's full of wonders to explore and experience.
Today I'm thrilled to share with you all that we lived and loved and can most definitely say what brought to life this city as our home if even for use those three short days..
I love a good boutique hotel. Like Love with a capital L. And Mama Ruisa, our little sanctuary for those three precious nights, sure lived up to all my expectations as one of Rio's most stylish and personal stays. Set in a gated space in one of Rio's trendiest neighbourhoods, Santa Theresa, is the old and stately mansion that once played home to a wealthy Brazilian family and now to guests who wish to find themselves lost in a chic yet very authentic Brazilian experience. From it's stunning decor that brings a touch of French to a strong Brazilian foundation and vastly expansive rooms that make you feel like staying forever to waking each morning to a most magical view of the city from atop Santa Theresa as you have your breakfast on a private balcony and the utmost attentive staff who are there to help you with anything to do with your being in Rio, I cannot recommend this heavenly paradise more.
Somewhere else to consider staying and one our next trip will definitely consist of a night or forever at is Hotel Saint Teresa. We spent two days chilling here, having lunch and generally just loving every moment in the chic surroundings of this precious place. Rustic yet perfectly polished it's so fabulous on every level and the kind of place that if you never left you'd live in heaven forever!
Unbeknownst to us, and frankly quite the shock, weather wasn't to be on our side during the trip - three days of sunshine out of 16. However, blessed with insane heat and clear blue skies one of the days, one of our favourite parts of Rio was definitely getting to see the city's gorgeous landscape from atop Sugarloaf Mountain. Leaving from Prais Vermelha, a cable car takes you on the first leg of the journey stopping at Urca Mountain (220 meters above sea level). Here you can't help but bow to the breathtaking, 360degree views of the city. Keep going though because even these are nothing to the those that meet you when you reach Sugarloaf Mountain itself, after taking another cable car to the sister mountain sitting right beside it. Towering at 396 meters over sea level you can really see the city in all it's glory, a perfect view of all that rests below including Copacabana Beach, The Christ, Guanabara Bay and the picturesque blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Allotting an entire morning or afternoon, or day even if you have it to sit and read and take photos, is essential to this activity and something that are we to ever return to Rio we shall most definitely be doing again. Next time at sunset which is supposedly so so magical.
To feel at home in a city hanging out in a beautiful park is a must for me to know I've truly spent enough time to feel and truly observe the essence of native life. Our Sunday afternoon spent at Parque Lage was that and so much more. Also known as the Taj Mahal of Rio, Parque Lage is like a postcard you step into and never want to leave and one that despite the likes of Snoop, Pharrell and the Black Eyed Peas having shot some of their biggest music videos there, seems to be overshadowed in travel guides by it's nearby sister park, the Botonical Gardens. The mansion that resides at Parque Lage used to be a private home and is now an art school where exhibitions of all kinds are held.
As people watching is one of our guilty pleasures in life and after a cocktail in the mansions cafe, my Love and I blissed out and spent an entire afternoon hanging out here soaking up the most exquisite scenes that are bound to set your heart alight. The gardens are simply divine, not to mention the amazing sounds of the birds and monkeys that all call it home. Funnily enough too, it was all after a (rather disappointingly clouded) journey up to the see Christ the Redeemer who it turns out overlooks the beautiful scene of Parque Lage below.. although on this cloudy day we still couldn't see him from here either.
Before we left on our travels, I was honestly a little naive to the dangerous side of Rio. I lived in South Africa for a year when I was just 18 and even then I was a little unaware of being an outsider in such foreign lands. As part of my traveller self though I like that, to go somewhere with an open mind and not let a preconceived judgement determine my experience. I mean I knew on a subconscious level that it's not exactly Disneyland but quite frankly, despite the beauty, I was to learn of just how dangerous a city it is. Paul wouldn't let me watch 'City of God' - the infamous movie about Rio's most notorious favela - before leaving (not to mention us embarking on a walking tour of one of the other favelas during our stay) and thank goodness he was so wise. It's INSANE. I like to pride myself on being a slight badass when it comes to facing real-life situations in the face and in my naivety, off we went with two of our divine friends who were in the city and spent an afternoon on a walking tour of one of the city's largest shanty towns.
Our tour guide was incredible and if you are to one day experience Rio in it's rawest form, there's nobody like him to show you around. He brought us through what is something only your wildest imagination could conjure up. Unlike the townships of Cape Town and the one I worked in in Plettenberg Bay during my time in South Africa, the buildings are of concrete structure and are stronger than most in standing up to the harsh weathers that tear other shanty towns apart around the world. Built on top of each other with literally just enough space to walk between each building, the favela sprawls over miles of acres and is home to some several million people who work here, rear their families and build their daily lives. Our tour guide informed us of how built up it has become and in the past 10 years how much safer it's streets have become in a transformation that has seen drug wars lessened, police enforcement implemented, and the quality of life risen beyond measure for those who call it home. They now even have satellite TV and WiFi - within reason. To us though, it was insane - a world that seems so far from our norm and yet one that once inside you're captivated by it's intensity and almost movie like reality. We learned of how just 10 years ago there is no way even the police would enter, not to mention a white foreigner. Kids running around with machine guns and drug lords killing the next target on their never-ending list of customers in need of their next fix. Life had absolutely no meaning it would seem and those who entered did so at the risk of loosing their life.
It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I loved it. However I'm not going to lie, we most definitely had a feeling that we were encroaching upon territory that was not ours and although some of the locals see it that we bringing awareness to the situation and also a certain amount of business, it still felt somewhat wrong to be there as a tourist. The scariest part, and the moment in which I realise was most real having since seen "City of God" was when two boys, no more than 12 years old, passed us with guns in their hands. Casually speaking, I got lost in the moment thinking perhaps it was just part of a movie. But sadly no, crime and mortality is still very much part of reality in the favelas in Rio.
Eat & Drink
As we were only there for a short time, restaurants and cocktails weren't our main priority - we just wanted to experience as much as possible. Although having said that, we gave it our best shot. Again, as major sushi lovers we had a divine fix of our favoured cuisine at Yumê which is so much fun. With an aquarium floor upon which you sit to enjoy your evening it's such a beautiful spot for couples. And for a drink before or after, Sobe, located right next door is so cool. The cocktail list is extensive and super tempting, especially as you sit outside under the nights stars.
As I already mentioned, drinks and a late lunch at Parque Lage are the ultimate way to spend any liquid-y lunch and dining at the stunning Térèze at Hotel Saint Teresa is sheer luxury of the chicest kind. Not to mention somewhere to chill by the pool with a cocktail or coffee after.
Somewhere to delve into the true Brazilian foodie experience is Porcāo Rios, the city's infamous all-you-can-eat meat restaurant. Whether you do the buffet style serving and control your own portions or go all out with the table service - the waiters continue to bring food after food to the table until you flip the coloured pig on the tablet to red, you're sure to get a real Brazilian dinner affair.
Another place we adored - in all that sparkles on one of the most beautiful date nights ever, was Aprazível. Here you will fall head-over-heels in love with Rio by night. The views of the city are breathtaking and take you away from the world. Dinner here is a treat and something to cherish for a night of celebrations. Make sure that when reserving you ask for a table outside wth the view the restaurant is famous for.
All in all our first time in Rio was beyond amazing. Weather might not have shown up but despite that, to experience people, places and things so new to us was enthralling far beyond anything a day laying on Copacabana Beach would've allowed. Although visiting it is a must if you've come this far, no matter the weather..
Shop Your Rio Style
Love R x