Friday, 26 November 2010
For this, the final entry of Brazil’s Top 5 Beaches selection, I called on the knowledge and experience of another Brazilian, who, only a few weeks ago, was crunching her feet on the fine sand of Bombinhas, meaning “small bombs or explosions.” As “one of the most beautiful beaches” she visited whilst holidaying in the Santa Catarina state, in the south of Brazil, Bombinhas is only one kilometre long and just under an hour from Florianopolis, so a perfect afternoon stop on the way down to Floripa, as it is known to the locals. Bombinhas’ very fine, white sand is made up of quartz crystals and so makes a crunching noise when you walk on it in. According to the waiter of the restaurant she ate at, this is why the beach is called Bombinhas. “We had a lovely meal in one of the sea food restaurants along the beach, where I had the best caipirinha ever,” she told me. “The calm, clear, turquoise sea is perfect for bathing and Bombinhas is known as the Capital of Eco Diving. We’ll definitely come back to Bombinhas”. It’s next up on my list, too.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Although I’ve picked Lopes Mendes as a top 5 beach – and it merits that position – I’m also using symbolically to represent Ilha Grande as a whole. Ilha Grande (big island) can be reached by ferry from Angra dos Reis, which is about two hours south of Rio, and the entire island is a state park that has been largely preserved – no cars are allowed on it. In fact, our pousada (guest house) arranged for a little boat to pick us up from the main anchor point at Abraão and motor back to the pousada. The most striking thing about Ilha Grande is that it seems to be alive. It covers 193 square kilometres of jungle and beaches, so the rich vegetation, and the things living on and off it, are all around you. Yes, you will get bitten by mosquitoes but it was nowhere near as bad as the travel books suggested. Just cover yourself in deet from head to toe. And on the plus side, you see lots of cute little crabs, like the one in the photo scurrying around the beaches, not to mention hordes of colourful butterflies fluttering around you. But back to Lopes Mendes (top picture). We decided to hike to it from our pousada and the map we had showed a unsmiling, neutral face next to the trail. There were unhappy faces, too, next to other trails, so I took it to mean that it would be pretty straightforward. And it was, to most people, who did the two and a half hour walk in their flip flops. But if it’s been raining (as it had when we were there), it’s better to wear shoes, and definitely take water with you – it’s humid, as my hair during the four-day stay could vouch for. Alternatively, you can get a boat to the beach next to Lopes Mendes (the waves are too big for boats to go directly to Lopes Mendes) and make the short, 10 minute walk to the beach. But once the trek is over, you’re rewarded with one beautiful, long stretch of pure white sand, that backs onto rich, dark vegetation, with mountains in the background. The sea is a light, super-clear blue and the waves are just gigantic. Sadly, when I was there, the sun wasn’t shining, so the photos probably don’t do it justice. Which is why I’ve supplied some other pictures of beaches around Ilha Grande. We borrowed kayaks from the pousada and rowed to a nearby, tiny stretch of beach, which we had to ourselves. In contrast to Lopes Mendes, this part of the sea looked almost like a lake or river – the water was a calm, deeper turquoise-green and it was so warm it felt like a bath. If you do go to Ilha Grande, make sure you go snorkelling around Lagoa Azul in the north of the island. It’s supposed to be absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately the weather got so bad when I was there, that we couldn’t go. I can’t wait to go back.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
If you want to be spoilt for choice, then head to the 65 islands and 200 beaches of Paraty, a colonial town a few hours south of Rio. The beach at the town itself is nothing special, but if you make your way to the port in the old town, you’ll find private boats to take you around the island at your leisure, allowing you to explore a range of beautiful beaches, from tiny, secluded spots to larger stretches with bars and restaurants (only in peak season though). I’m not going to name a beach in Paraty – there are so many and some are so tiny that I’m not sure they even have names. Ask your boatman for advice or pick up a leaflet at the tourist office with a map of the different beaches. Or, whilst you’re sailing, just pick one that takes your fancy – at low season you could well have a beach to yourself. And they’re all gorgeous. Short stretches of white sand are topped and tailed by large rocks that lead into clear waters, perfect for snorkelling. The bigger boats, which ferry groups of people around the islands (you can book into one of these at any tourist office in the town and they're cheaper than hiring a private boat) often anchor at key snorkelling spots and throw bits of bread into the sea to attract fish. There's no need to really do this - the fish are around anyway - but it's guaranteed fish viewing. One of the funniest and certainly most surreal moments was when Marcelo, the guy driving our boat, took to us to one beach and jumped off the boat with us. He led us inland, up and over various rocks and into tight, narrow tunnels before emerging out into a sort of deep, wide hollow with a tiny crack in the ceiling, which allowed a stream of light in. All a bit strange, but kind of cool, too. So, take advice from the locals. He also took us to a lovely restaurant on one of the islands - so small was the island that the restaurant was the only thing on it. I actually went into a bit of detail in a previous post some months ago. Have a read again here. And if you don't like beaches (some people don't...), you can just sail around the islands and dive into the sea to cool off. I loved Paraty and would recommend anyone to stay there for a few days.
In complete contrast to yesterday’s beach choice of Ipanema, Ilha do Campeche (“ilha” means “island”) in Florianopolis in the south of Brazil is a peaceful paradise. Before heading to this beach, the owner of the pousada I was staying in gave me an important piece of advice: go there early. In order to appreciate the beauty of Ilha do Campeche, you need to be there alone, or with as few people as possible. It has a shipwrecked feel to it, with its soft white sand and beautiful turquoise sea fringed by rich vegetation. The beach is protected from any form of development and only 400 visitors are allowed at any one time – but even that many would fill every inch of the sand. Luckily, I was there out of season (peak season is December to February), but I still made sure I got to the quay at Armação around 9am. Fishing boats take you across to the island and the journey takes about 35 minutes. Take lunch with you as, in low season, there are no bars or restaurants. And if you get sea sick - the sea was pretty rough on the way out to the beach - try to ride the journey out as it’s worth it. I felt dreadful, but totally fine once I got off the boat. The sea at the beach is calm and the snorkelling is pretty good if you stick to the rocks. But you’ll spend hours just admiring the scenery.
Monday, 22 November 2010
For all of Brazil’s growing influence on global politics, economics and culture, the country has one underlying, alluring quality: everyone wants to go there. With this mind, I’ve decided to launch the Born in Brazil (BIB) Awards. As well as continuing to focus on wider cultural topics, BIB will acknowledge Brazil’s best beaches, hotels, activities, restaurants, etc so that you can best plan a trip there. Travel tips, including which travel agents to choose and climate information, will also feature. To begin with, the awards will focus on the south of Brazil, from Rio to Florianopolis, where I recently travelled for a month. And what better category to start with than the Top 5 Best Beaches. Each day this week, I will share with you one of my favourite beaches in Brazil. But the idea is that you share too. If you have any beaches to add, please do and don’t forget to include photos. Any tips – on the beaches I will unveil this week or on others you know of – please share. Beach 1: Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro If tranquillity, pristine white sand and crystal clear waters are a pre-requisite to a beach holiday, then don’t go to Ipanema. But of all the beaches I’ve been to – and the above often form part of my beach criteria – this is one of my favourites. It’s possibly the most fun beach I’ve ever visited and a microcosm of life in Rio; Ipanema is not exclusive and belongs to everyone. The beach itself is segmented into “postos” to cater for the different groups of people that visit this stretch between Copacabana and Leblon. I’d recommend postos 8 and 9, loosely reserved for gay men and artists respectively – they are the more chilled out parts of the beach and you don’t get kicked out if you’re not a gay man. I’d also recommend embracing the right beachwear. Brazilian bikinis may seem small, but they’re not that bad. In fact, you’ll be more self-conscious if you wear a standard one – no-one else does. Finally, take nothing with you but a towel and some small change; I had no problems at all while I was there but the beach is crowded and anything valuable is likely to disappear by the time you get back from jumping the huge waves.
Thursday, 11 November 2010
When I asked renowned fashion editor Suzy Menkes if she’d consider holding the International Herald Tribune’s annual luxury conference in Brazil next year, she winked at me and said: “Watch this space”. That was at the IHT’s super-cool party on Tuesday night (guests included Tom Ford and the dress code was “hip, hot or heritage”. Enough said). The following day, at this year’s IHT conference in London focusing on heritage luxury, it was officially announced that next year’s event would indeed be in São Paulo. Fittingly, Wednesday’s conference closed with a session by Carlos Jereissati, the president of Brazilian shopping mall group Iguatemi. For businesses looking to enter or expand in Brazil, Jereissati had some useful points to make, notably that the Brazilian luxury market is set to grow by 35% in the next five years, after growing by 9% over the last year. He also said that Brazil’s heritage is its youth; the Brazilian luxury consumer is younger than the global average. But what interested me the most is that Brazil is the third largest cosmetic market in the world. It made me think about growing up in Brazil and watching my Gran – who used to run a couture business from her house – get regular, at-home manicures and pedicures. She wasn’t the only one. Most people I knew did, or had it done professionally at a beauty salon. They still do. In fact, there seems to be a beauty salon on every street corner in Brazil. One day, out of season, in a sleepy part of Florianopolis, I couldn’t find a restaurant that was open, but found a beauty salon offering an extensive menu of beauty treatments. And it was fully-booked. But tell a Brazilian that in the UK women are quite happy to spend upwards of £40 on a bikini wax and they’ll laugh at you. How long that lasts, I don’t know. Every time the economics experts speak about the size of the Brazilian middle class, the figure seems to get bigger, and so could their appetite for luxury. Because this is the thing: the Brazilian salons I know aren’t luxurious. You’re not paying for scented candles and fancy wallpaper; you’re paying to remove body hair or get your nails painted. The results are truly professional – “oleo secante” means a manicure seems to last for weeks – and the experience is laid-back and fun. Of course there’s a market for premium beauty salons in Brazil – they already exist – but I’d head for a traditional one any day of the week. And maybe that’s a point worth considering. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve attended retail and fashion breakfasts, lunches and talks where the common theme has been individuality and making sure your shops reflect not just the country, but also the local area, that they are located in. As I’ve written before, Brazil has its own way of doing things, and Jereissati echoed that when he explained how he had to convince big luxury fashion brands to open in shopping malls and not on the streets. “Nobody shops in streets in Brazil,” he said. “Louis Vuitton was the first to believe me. You have to realise that countries are different.”
Thursday, 4 November 2010
Favela Chic, the Brazilian bar and restaurant in London’s Shoreditch, has invited me to celebrate its 5th birthday later this month and you could come too. It’s an invite-only event, but if you get your hands on a ticket, then you can enjoy – according to the organisers – “free music, food, drinks and calorosos hugs” (hot hugs). I’m not sure who is providing the latter, and whether they will come from a sexy or sweaty person – or both.
The event will take place on November 24 from 7pm at 91-93 Great Eastern Street. Among the line-up are electro swing band The Correspondents, Toulouse-based quartet Le KKC Orchestra (Favela Chic also has a restaurant in Paris) and DJs Gringo Da Parada, Ross Clarke and Deany Seagulls.
Favela Chic will also be supporting street children charity Action for Brazil’s Children Trust by adding 25 pence to the price of each caipirinha and 50 pence to the feijoada dish on the night – and matching each customer donation – to give to the charity.
If you want to come along, join Favela Chic’s mailing list on http://www.favelachic.com/london/ to be in with a chance of winning two tickets.
Hope to see you there.