28 December 2015
Armed with a Caipirinha and a sense of adventure, Tatyana Leonov enjoys Rio’s pre-Olympic energy – Copacabana Beach is just the beginning.
STAY: Belmond Copacabana Palace Built in the early 1920s by eminent hotelier Octávio Guinle, the grand Belmond Copacabana Palace is a playground of the rich and famous, with previous guests including Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Madonna, to name a few. Acquired in the early 1990s by Orient-Express Hotels, now Belmond, it has undergone several waves of refurbishment, the most recent doubling the size of the lavish lobby and transforming first- and second-floor rooms. Even if you’re not a guest, reserve a table at its poolside Pérgula Restaurant and watch the city’s beautiful creatures at play. Avenida Atlântica 1702, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. belmond.com
DO: To best absorb the grit and glamour of Rio, embark on a day of exploration with Urban Adventures, a division of Intrepid Travel. Start by winding along cobblestone streets in the bohemian district of Santa Teresa, past artists’ studios, hole-in-the-wall bars and eclectic shops. See artist Getúlio Damado’s covetable bric-a-brac made from recycled materials, in his tram workshop (Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 1086). A quarter of Rio’s population lives in favelas, and Urban Adventures works with tour leaders who live in the slums to offer realistic insights for travellers, while also contributing funds to these communities. A visit to the landmark Christ the Redeemer statue is an awe-inspiring way to end the day. urbanadventures.com
SHOP: Enter the relative calm of the chic Village Mall in suburban Barra da Tijuca (shoppingvillagemall.com. br), the first spot in Rio to stock a range of international brands. For local talent in the mall, hunt down the laidback streetwear at Osklen (osklen.com); the riotously colourful clothing and home décor at Farm (farmrio.com.br); and the stylish menswear of Reserva (usereserva.com). For a breather, climb to the big roof terrace for snacks or a meal with views over Lagoon Tijuca.
DRINK: Order a Caipirinha, Brazil’s cocktail of choice, at Bar do Mineiro in Santa Teresa (bardomineiro.net); they use top-grade cachaça – the drink’s sugarcane liquor base – muddled with the obligatory coarse sugar and crushed lime. Team it with a gutsy serving of feijoada, the traditional pork and bean stew. Brazilians also love their draught beer and chopp devotees flock to Jobi (Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva, 1166, Loja B, Leblon), open since 1956. Arrive early to find a seat or join the jovial crowd spilling out onto the street.
DON’T MISS: People-watching on Copacabana Beach is a pastime in itself. Enjoy the circus without being jostled in the crowd on a stand-up paddleboard. Rio’s latest fitness trend is especially popular at the south-west end of the beach, where typically calm reef breaks offer ideal boarding conditions.
DAYTRIPPING: The idyllic car-free island of Ilha Grande is a two-hour drive, then a quick ferry retreat from the frenzy of Rio. A biodiversity hotspot, this largely undeveloped island has pristine rainforest, tropical beaches and 150 kilometres of hiking trails connecting coastal villages and hamlets.
RESTAURANTS: Zuka – Its modern Brazilian menu runs from ceviche with tiny Brazilian peppers and palm heart with shiitake mushrooms and tomatoes to seared tuna and flank steak grilled over charcoal. Reserve a table close to the open kitchen to watch the action. Rua Dias Ferreira, 233B, Leblon, Rio de Janeiro, zuka.com.br. Oro – Chef Felipe Bronze presents dégustation menus full of theatrical novelty, and they taste good, too. A napkin transforms into a warm towel with the addition of hot water; black bean stew comes with kale bubbles; a savoury banana, foie gras and açai dish is transformed with liquid nitrogen. Expect the unexpected. Rua Frei Leandro, 20, Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro. Olympe – Originally from France, executive chef Claude Troisgros has developed his Brazilian-influenced French cooking and a loyal fan base in the past decade. Açai-crusted lamb tenderloin, lobster flan, and shrimp risotto topped by mushroom foam are highlights. Rua Custódio Serrão, 62, Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro, olympe.com.br.
GETTING THERE: LAN flies one-stop from Sydney to Rio, via Santiago, Chile. lan.com