Rio Reveals Her Beauty in the Sunshine

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sun 21 Mar 2010 11:57

Date: 19 March 2010

Position: Rio De Janeiro


There is a tropical flower that closes in the rain to protect its petals. In this state it is dull and uninteresting. But when the sun comes out, it re-blossoms giving a vibrant display of natural beauty and colour. And so with Rio. Rio is not a city that can be appreciated in the rain. Even its residents, the Cariocas, hide their beauty in the rain. Most of them simply stay at home until the sun re-emerges and they venture out once more into the leafy sun-speckled roads leading down to the white beaches and the sparkling Atlantic surf. In the sunshine Rio re-blossoms into a colourful, warm, friendly, vibrant city.



Lagoa da Rio De Janeiro – from the top of Corcovado


Rio was carved out of the tropical jungle and despite all the concrete, tarmac and brick the jungle encroaches back into the city. The magnificent trees found in the thick forests in the hills surrounding Rio also thrive in the pretty city streets and provide a shady canopy in the charming residential areas of Urca, Ipanema and Leblon. Parasitic orchids cling to the trunks whilst monkeys tempted into the city by the easy pickings of food leap from tree to tree. Below, the Cariocas that aren’t enjoying the many magnificent beaches that front Rio wander through the shady streets or enjoy a drink or a meal in one of the many bars and restaurants that spill on to the pavements.


This is the civilised and beautiful Rio, but there is a darker side to the city as well. Surrounding the leafy middle class districts are the favelas, the slums that have grown indiscriminately up the hills around the city. In ramshackle houses built from any material that can be salvaged or stolen, millions live in appalling conditions with little or no sanitation or fresh running water. Controlled by drugs barons, they are lawless, dangerous areas where even the police dare not venture. To say that Rio is a dangerous city where you can’t walk around without being mugged or worse would be completely wrong, but one needs to know which are the safe areas and which are not – and this is where local guidance is invaluable. Enter cousin Vivien and her husband Marcelo who have been our guides, mentors and tireless hosts.


On Friday, Vivien and her daughter Ana took us off for our first sightseeing tour of Rio. First stop, Parque Lage, a magnificent Italian villa built in the middle of the city in the 1920’s in a vast area of landscaped parkland which is a stunning combination of formal Italian gardens and Brazilian forest.  Vivien’s mother is of the Lage family and although the family fortune was confiscated by the government in the Second World War (long story) and Parque Lage has been home to the Visual Arts School for many years, Vivien and Ana still felt a little proprietorial as they showed us round the house and gardens.



Ana & Vivien in the courtyard



The marble-lined concert hall





Parque Lage


Second stop on our cultural tour was also once a private home, built in 1950 by Walter Moreira Salles , banker and diplomat. Artistic philanthropist, he spared no expense in commissioning the finest modern architects and landscape artists of the day in creating what is now a venue for film, visual art and photographic exhibitions. There was an excellent exhibition of Charles Landseer paintings and sketches of Brazil.


Exhausted by our cultural morning we lunched on traditional Brazilian morsels in an excellent bar / restaurant in Leblon. A quick pit-stop back to the boat for a much-needed siesta (culture is SO exhausting for a simple sailor), and then back into town for dinner with Vivien and Marcelo. Although we have stayed with them in the past at their home in the country, we had not been to their apartment in Rio before. It’s right up there with the Moreira Salles house we visited earlier in the day. If it’s not been featured in House & Garden or Architectural Digest, it should have been. And the position is incredible. The entire frontage of the apartment is glass which opens onto one of the prettiest of all the beaches down the entire coast.


I like a good glass of wine but one of the problems with the boat is that the ambient temperature down below tends, at about 35 degrees C, to be a tad above that recommended for wine storage. So most of the wine is cooked by the time we get to drink it.


Marcelo’s cellar, however, is temperature controlled and stuffed with the finest wines. Combined with Vivien’s superb cuisine, it was a great evening.