2016 Summer Olympics: Where to Stay, Eat, and Party in Rio
The wait is over and the time has come for the first-ever Summer Olympics Games to be held in South America and the hosting city couldn’t be a better one: Rio de Janeiro (or just Rio, for us Brazilians).
And, yes, we all know the bad news about pollution, crime, corruption, Zika and all of the other potential problems, but let’s set this aside and focus on the biggest sporting event in the world, the athletes and thousands of tourists who will come to Rio.
Being a lifelong globetrotter has given me the chance to confirm up close that there’s no other place in the world like Rio. I don’t know if it’s the sunlight, the smell of the ocean, the sounds of the city, it’s breathtaking landscape or the warm hospitality of the Cariocas (as the native inhabitants of Rio are called) but the truth is that your heart starts to beat in a different rhythm after a few hours in town.
I go to Rio whenever possible—about 15 times a year—and I just can’t get enough of it. To be there on the weekends and switch from the business dress code of São Paulo into the “Rio uniform”—flip flops, swim trunks, a t-shirt and sunglasses—is priceless.
For those who are going to Rio for the Olympics here are some of my personal favorites in “Cidade Maravilhosa.” (And I will skip the obvious spots such as Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, Arpoador, because I assume those are on your bucket list already.)
Where to Stay:
Rio’s legendary Copacabana Palace Hotel, overlooking Copacabana Beach. (Courtesy Copacabana Palace Hotel)
No serious traveller can go to Rio without staying at least once at The Copacabana Palace (or simply ”Copa” for the regulars). This iconic grand dame hotel has been one of South America’s five-star hotels (the best in my opinion) since 1923, hosting royals and celebrities for generations. Go for the penthouses on the 6th floor in the main building, all with unobstructed jaw-dropping views of Copacabana Beach, a 24-hour dedicated butler and private access to the Black Pool, a secluded area on the 6th floor.
Where to Eat:
One of the things I used to complain about Rio was the lack of a good Japanese/Asian fusion restaurant. That was until MEE, located inside The Copacabana Palace was opened. This Michelin-starred pan-Asian restaurant features celebrity chef Ken Hom’s delicious creations served in a exquisitely decorated lounge right next to Copa’s iconic swimming pool. It will work wonders in all your senses.
The Carioca branch of São Paulo’s Fasano Family Italian hotspot (named after Rogerio Fasano’s nickname ‘Gero’) is the closest you can get to see how Rio’s elite function when they are out and about. Excellent service with great food in a beautiful, clean and elegant setting along one of Ipanema’s coolest streets.
Aprazível means “pleasant” or “enjoyable” in Portuguese and that’s the kind of food and ambiance you’re going to find at this hideout located at Santa Teresa hills with scenic views of Rio. Don’t expect to find high-end cuisine or many locals, but I can guarantee you will find a great showcase of Brazil’s culinary and drinks (Caipirinha, anyone?!).
I’m a huge fan of Mr. Chow (the restaurant and Michael Chow himself) so I have to admit that I have this tendency of turning up my nose—just a little bit—every time I go to Mr. Lam (a former Mr. Chow chef who was brought to Rio by the former Brazilian Tycoon Eike Batista), but I only need a bite of chicken satay to get me all excited again. Eike’s fortune is long gone—he was the 7th richest person in the worldon the Forbes Billionaires List in 2012, but the Chinese joint remained—with all its opulent decor reminiscent of his golden days. If you’re a Mr. Chow fan, fear nothing and go for the gold in this beautiful three-story building overlooking Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. And save some space for the Peking Duck.
Another Paulista (from São Paulo) invasion that has worked pretty well in Rio. This upscale meat outpost—famous for its Figueira Rubaiyat Restaurant and it’s gigantic more-than-a-century-old Fig Tree (one of São Paulo’s biggest tourist attractions)—landed at Rio’s Jockey Club offering the best beef cuts with a matching view of the racetrack of Gavea’s Jockey Club and the surrounding mountains from the lagoon.
Have you ever felt what it’s like inside a time travel machine? Going to Confeitaria Colombo will give you a hint of what it might feel like. The lavish late 19th century confeitaria (pastry shop) is a historical landmark and patrimony of the city and the Country. And please forget about your gluten-free, low-carb diet—just indulge yourself with delicacies like the Pastel de Nata (custard tart).
“Location, location, location” takes on a whole new meaning when you leave the elevator at the top floor of the Fasano Hotel and after just a couple of steps and a little head tilt to the right your eyesight is filled with one of the most mesmerizing views your retina will ever register. There you are speechless looking at one of the world’s most beautiful views and recognizable postcards of Rio: the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon with the Two Brothers Hill (Morro Dois Irmãos) as the backdrop. Grab a seat and ask for a Caipirinha de Limão if this is your first time in Brazil or for a jar of Clericot. Whatever you ask in the food department (try the mini-burguer) will be great, you’re in Fasano territory after all. If you pass by the bar help yourself with a bag of Biscoito Globo a must have at Rio’s beaches. Its free for the rooftop guests. People call it Fasano Rooftop, I call it heaven. The pool access is exclusive for guests, but during the Olympics the Hotel is taking reservations for non-guests after 8:00pm thru firstname.lastname@example.org . Please write in advance.
The transition from the upscale restaurants above to what comes next is the epitome of what Rio and Brazil, in general, is all about. You can go from a super luxury place to a down-to-earth shack with the same flare and flamboyant spirit. There are few things compared to the following rituals when you’re in Rio:
Go to the beach in Leblon—the best spot is at Posto 12 (a posto is the lifeguard tower). After the beach, walk your way through the beautiful streets of Leblon—beach attire with flip flops, please!—towards the corner of Rua Aristides Espínola and Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva until you get to BB Lanches. This tiny juice and food spot that is always crowded (often past 2:30AM during the high season) serving the best juice you’ve ever had in your life with some of the most delicious sandwiches and Brazilian specialties such as Pastel de Camarão com Catupiry (a shrimp filled with a Brazilian-style cream cheese pastry) that is to die for. No credit/debit cards—so bring cash!
The always busy Braseiro da Gavea at Baixo Gavea (BG)
Similar to BB Lanches, but for those who want more than a snack or juice. Braseiro is one of Rio’s institutions located at one of the city’s bohemian epicenters; Baixo Gavea or simply BG for the locals. The no-thrills restaurant ($65 will serve two, maybe three people) is always packed (get ready for some long lines) and known for its superb sirloin steak served with broccoli rice, Portuguese-style potato chips, and farofa. And for serious meat lovers, ask for the sausages by the piece (linguiça calabresa). Chopp (the Brazilia-style draft beer) is the go-to drink at BG. (True confession: I have stopped eating four-legged animals for about 8 months now and I really miss this steak. So much so that I’m here to receive any compliments and/or complaints about BG by email.)
Similar to the above (after the beach + late night, come as you are Carioca hangouts) but for those looking for drinks and see and being seen. This is one of the biggest staples of one of Rio’s most famous institutions. No much explanation needed here: ask for a Chopp, an empadinha, and a bolinho de aipim com camarão e catupiry.(Can you repeat that? If so, congratulations, you are officially a native Portuguese speaker.)
Where to Party:
Think Italy meets UK—but with Rio charm. This is where all the celebrities who are in Rio will all end up at some point in the wee hours, just like in one night after ‘Rock in Rio’ concert (where I’ve found myself hanging with Sam Smith and Rihanna). Located inside the Fasano Hotel, this cozy and elegant spot in Ipanema is where you go to find a beautiful crowd, great ambiance, great music and service—and a hefty bill.
Going to Rio and not experiencing Samba it would be a shame. Let’s avoid this shameful situation by making sure you will visit one of the city samba institutions in the bohemian Lapa neighborhood: Rio Scenarium. See locals and tourists flock to the dance floor to dance to live bands playing the best of Brazil’s most popular rhythm: Samba.
I could go on and on (and on) about this wonderful city, but I will let you experience it a little bit by yourself. Have fun, be safe, enjoy and fall in love with Rio!