• Top six reads to inspire some armchair travel

Beyond the beaches of Rio | Short & City breaks | Travel | Express.co.uk


Rio de Janeiro, overlooked by Christ the Redeemer (Image: GARDEL Bertrand / hemis.fr / GETTY)

THERE’S a joke among Paulistas (locals from São Paulo) that Christ the Redeemer, the emblematic statue that looms over Rio de Janeiro, stands with his arms outstretched waiting to applaud the first person there to do a day’s work.

There might be lots of ribbing and gentle rivalry between Brazil’s two major cities but it’s a piece of banter that speaks volumes about the fabrics of these two polar opposite metropolises despite them being less than an hour apart.

Rio, with its good looks and vivacious soul, may get all the attention but overlook São Paulo at your peril.

In a bid to discover their two very different characters, I embarked on a twin-centre trip combining both.

Related articles

Flights: What should you do if your plane is hijacked?

Holidays: You should ALWAYS pack this in your suitcase

First impressions can be tricky things. Upon first glance, São Paulo isn’t much to look at.

A sprawling urban jungle of highways and high-rises, it’s the country’s financial hub and home to more than 13 million people.

ON And while it may boast little in the way of famous sights or natural beauty – there are no beaches or glittering lagoons like you’ll find in Rio – we all know that beauty is more than skin deep.

So, keen to dig a little deeper, I sought the help of local guide Bruno.

“São Paulo is a richly cultured place that takes many by surprise,” he said, as we strolled through the handsome Centro district, its streets lined with curved buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, one of Brazil’s most influential architects.

Once an area best avoided, gentrification has arrived here in a big way.

New restaurants have sprung up (everything from gourmet hot dogs at Hot Pork to New York-style pastrami and gherkin sandwiches at Z Deli) and nightlife has evolved, too.


São Paulo’s commercial heart, Paulista Avenue (Image: GETTY)

The newly opened Tokyo Centre is the place to go for late-night sake, sushi and karaoke, clearly catering for the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.

If you like your nightcaps with a view, head to new rooftop joint Bar Obelisco.

This achingly trendy spot serves up tasty cocktails as a million city lights twinkle far and wide.

To the west is the arty district of Vila Madalena.

Independent cafes, boutiques and galleries are in abundance here, as is street art of the highest order.

A short stroll down Batman Alley reveals bold and brilliant murals depicting illustrious individuals such as Batman locked in a tight embrace with national footballing legend Pelé.

For the briefest of moments, I almost forget about glamorous Rio.

At around 40 minutes, a flight between the two is barely long enough to sip a G&T.

Related articles

Cruise secrets: Never pack this item or be stopped from boarding

Flights: This is how to get through airport security quickly


Beco do Batman (Batman Alley) in Vila Madalena – Sao Paulo, Brazil (Image: Diego Grandi / Alamy Stock Photo)

Those who choose to fly should bag themselves a window seat on the right-hand side for marvellous views of the Marvellous City as the plane descends into a city formed of a patchwork of world wonders, natural and man-made, from Christ the Redeemer to Sugarloaf Mountain, with bays and peaks all the way to the hazy horizon.

But flying is not the only mode of transport available. What of the wild and wonderful land that separates the two?

Opting instead to cover the 255 miles by road, I journeyed through Rio de Janeiro State along what may well be South America’s most impressive stretch of road.

The BR-101 Highway reveals beaches and islands and jungle laced with walking trails. With so much to see, I took my time and factored in an overnight stay in Paraty.

This laid-back coastal town, oozing with colonial charm and backed by verdant peaks, was originally home to the Guaiana Indians before the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century.

Today, Paraty – the old indigenous name of a local fish – remains fabulously atmospheric, with old churches and crumbling buildings along narrow streets cobbled with stone.

Boat trips and leisurely strolls are the order of the day.

Rio Carnival 2018 in pictures
Tue, February 13, 2018
View the stunning highlights from this years’ Rio Carnival.

Play slideshow

A reveller of the Salgueiro samba school performs during the second night of Rio's Carnival at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro AFP/Getty Images

1 of 33

A reveller of the Salgueiro samba school performs during the second night of Rio’s Carnival at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro

My hotel, the lovely Pousada Porto Imperial, was just around the corner.

Dating back to 1804 when it was a merchant’s warehouse, its 43 rooms are filled with antiques and intriguing old touches while the swimming pool is centred around tropical gardens laced with bromeliads and native orchids.

As dusk descends and lanterns illuminate the old streets, the outdoor tables of the cafes and restaurants are soon busy with people feasting on locally caught octopus and Brazil’s national dish feijoada (pronounced fey-jwah-dah), a hearty stew of pork and black beans.

The next morning, the quiet harbour is filled with boats, each colourfully painted with names such as Bella.

We board one that’s pretty and pink and set sail along the jungle-cloaked coast to a deserted crescent beach, scattered with starfish in the shallows.

Later, we are escorted by a pod of playful dolphins who seem to be enjoying the surroundings just as much as us.

With a heavy heart, we bid a reluctant farewell to Paraty and press on further east towards a city that needs little introduction.

Rio de Janeiro finally materialises some five hours later, the windy coastal roads replaced by congested flyovers that soar, dip and twist around favelas that tumble down the steep hillsides.


Cariocas play football on Ipanema (Image: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

I first fell head over heels with Rio around 15 years ago and even now, countless visits later, it’s still the city that makes my heart sing the loudest.

My preferred base is always the Copacabana Palace.

The grande dame of Rio’s hotels, with its grapefruit-infused marble lobby and sweeping staircase to its 243 rooms (splash out on one with an ocean view), it was designed by French architect Joseph Gire in 1923 and has attracted royalty and A-listers ever since.

But best of all, it’s the perfect base from which to explore everything Rio has to offer.

Quick cab rides take me to the hippy hilltop enclave of Santa Teresa with its cafes and artisan workshops and to the raucous samba bars of Lapa, while the world’s most famous urban beach is literally across the road.

Move over Bondi and step aside Santa Monica because there’s no inner city shoreline that beats Copacabana and neighbouring Ipanema.

I rent a bicycle from the hotel and join the procession of joggers, bikers and skateboarders along the promenade.

The journey isn’t particularly long or arduous but it takes me most of the afternoon on account of my leisurely pace and frequent stops.


Cafes filled with people during FLIP International Literary Event in the Old Town of Paraty, Brazil (Image: DDurrich/Getty Images)

I sit under palm trees and sip fresh water straight from bulbous coconuts, watching sprightly Cariocas (Rio residents) somersault and flip during energetic volleyball matches on the beach.

Some run into the shallows with their surf boards, others perfect their already perfect bodies on the sidewalk climbing frames but most are content sitting on fold-up chairs with a caipirinha in hand and the warm sun on their skin.

Just a normal Thursday afternoon in Rio.

Over my shoulder and just visible in a gap between two apartment buildings is a familiar figure. Perched at the top of Corcovado, a rocky outcrop cloaked in emerald forest, is the main man himself.

Christ the Redeemer, erected in 1922, stands poised to applaud. But looking around me, at all the relaxed bronzed beauties, it’s obvious he’ll have to wait a little longer.

THE KNOWLEDGE Journey Latin America (020 8600 1881/ journeylatin america.co.uk) offers nine nights from £2,727 (two sharing), B&B. The price includes return flights from Heathrow, transfers, accommodation in São Paulo, Paraty and at the Copacabana Palace in Rio. TAP Air Portugal (0345 601 0932/flytap.com) flies to São Paulo and Rio from Heathrow via Lisbon from £601.

Brazil tourism: visitbrasil.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *