'Cidade Maravilhosa' Rio de Janeiro
Michael Pullman travelled to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and shares the highlights.
Five days in Rio sounded like heaven but I did wonder whether there would be enough to do to justify such a long time in one place. I soon found out that the 'Cidade Maravilhosa' offers more than enough attractions to fill a week, without even including time spent relaxing on one of its many fine beaches. Here are a few of the highlights of my visit to Rio:
We travelled by jeep to the bottom of Corcovado Mountain. This is a great way to travel, as you seem to see so much more of the city through the open topped vehicles rather than through one window on one side of a bus, and there is the the added novelty of locals waving and calling at you as you go past. We then took a 20 minute tram ride up Corcovado Mountain, which turned into a bit of a party thanks to the samba band on board, with everyone very much getting into the spirit of things and conga-ing out of the carriage upon arrival.
The view from the top of the 710-metre-high Corcovado Mountain is absolutely breathtaking. Rio de Janeiro offers a stunning vista of ocean, bays, mountains, jungle and beaches in all directions, and must have the most beautiful natural setting of any city. Even the haphazard shapes and colours of the numerous hillside favelas seem attractive from up here.
An excellent place to try a traditional Brazilian lunch is Porcao (big pig), an elegant restaurant which offers superb views over Corcovado Mountain. Here they serve traditional churrascaria, where waiters come around with spits of barbecued beef, pork, lamb and chicken, which they carve directly onto your plate. Each guest is given a card with a green side, which basically means 'please fill my plate with meat', and a red side meaning 'I'm stuffed'. Meat lovers will be in heaven here. We were cannily advised not to fill ourselves up with cold items from the buffet in order to leave plenty of room for the superbly tender meat, which just keeps on coming.
The Maracana Stadium
This enormous circular structure used to hold 200,000 spectators in the days of standing at matches, and now has a capacity of 110,000. Visitors get to see the terraces, the changing rooms, and the pitch, where on the day we visited a veteran in a Brazil top was showing off his skills (and making money) by juggling first a peanut, then a tennis ball, then finally a football. In return I showed him how we do it in England by managing four whole keepie uppies before losing control of the ball and belting it into the distance. Seeing a match here would be fantastic, and the World Cup Final in 2014 could not be held in a better place.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
After lunch in another of Rio's fashionable restaurants, Casa de Feijoada, named after the national dish of beef, beans and pork which arrives in a steaming bowl looking like it is still on fire, we headed to Sugar Loaf Mountain. This involves a short and enjoyable cable car ride, which will be familiar to Bond fans as the scene of a memorable fight between Roger Moore and Jaws in Moonraker. The views from Sugar Loaf are almost as impressive as Corcovado, with the added bonus of being able to see the Christ the Redeemer statue.
On Saturday night we experienced a taste of Rio's nightlife, visiting the superb Rio Scenarium, the best-known bar in the city. The bar is housed in an old colonial building and consists of three floors all full of interesting bric-a-brac. There are three or four live acts (usually Samba) most nights, and a pleasingly even mix of locals and tourists. After a few caiparinhas the dancefloor becomes very busy, with few able to sit down for long once the music starts. Rio Scenarium stays open late and in this strange time-warp it will be 5am before you know it.
The Copacabana Palace
We were lucky enough to be staying in one of the world's most exclusive hotels. The Copacabana Palace is the most striking building on Copacabana Beach, an enormous pure white art deco structure. It was the first building on Copacabana Beach, and was responsible for making the area cool in the 1930s. Plenty of famous people passing through Rio have stayed here. Whilst we were there the Queen of Sweden was staying and on the last night the President of Russia checked in, together with a number of heavily-built Russians with earpieces and bulges in their pockets. The rooms are delightful and the 25-metre outdoor swimming pool is a great place to kill time, but what really makes this a great hotel is the service. Not in the slightest bit stuffy, just highly efficient and friendly, the Copacabana Palace looks after its guests extremely well.
- Tags: Brazil, City Guide, Cox & Kings Staff, Culture & History, Food & Wine, Landscape, Latin America