A Low-Season High Time in Rio de Janeiro

July 29, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Posted in off-season travel, South America | Leave a comment
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The sweeping view over Rio's Botafogo Bay

The sweeping view over Rio's Botafogo Bay


By Jen Karetnick

If you’re still searching for a last-minute getaway this summer, low season in South America, which runs from early June through early September, means bottoming prices in both airfare (check LAN’s sales) and in the cities. But whenever you go, even beyond visiting the famous beaches, Sugarloaf, Santa Teresa, the favela tour, Paquetá Island, and Tejuca Forest, the stuff to do in Rio de Janeiro — one of the best places to experience Brazil in a nutshell — in particular get an “A-plus.” Like what, you wonder? Olha, que coisa mais linda, as the song goes:

Academia da Cachaça (www.AcademiaDaCachaca.com.br) Located in Leblon, right next to Ipanema, the Academia was conceived as a place where 130 years of gastronomy and regional production of Brazil’s quintessential sugarcane-based firewater could be um, “studied.” It’s ideal for the novice to begin lessons with a Caipira Acadêmica (citron, cachaça Seleta and honey) and a plate of small toasts with cheese curd and dried tomato. You even have the option of tasting the 80-plus cachaças on the ever-changing list — pretty much a many-hour endeavor. So while you might go over budget on the drinks, you’ll be under all day. And maybe the next one, too.

Acadêmicos do Salgueiro (www.Salgueiro.com.br) The humongo blowout that is Carnaval takes place in February (in 2010, the 13th through 16th), but participants are practicing up a storm even now, and one of the most important groups is Salgueiro. Brazilians call this a “samba school,” but it’s more like a huge dance hall, where band after band takes the stage and hundreds of revelers shake their bundas. For first-timers, it can be intimidating, so down a few Cabana Cachaça caipirinhas to take the tummy jitters away. Then dance the night (and sleep the following morning) away (see below for a quick taste!).

Restaurante Aprazível (www.Aprazivel.com.br) Santa Teresa is the lovely, cobblestone-paved colonial neighborhood up the hill from the beaches, and complete with veranda and thatched gazebo, Aprazível (“pleasant”) is quite the culinary charm school. Chef-proprietor Ana Castilho relies equally on her grilled fish in orange sauce and coconut rice and the view of Rio below to keep her guests entranced. It’s a bit of a splurge for Brazil (mains start at US$24), but worth it — take your time and enjoy the solitude above the clouds. Aprazível, indeed.

Arpoador (www.Ipanema.com/CityTour/Arpoador.htm) Sure, you’ve been to Key West and toasted the sunset — maybe even spotted that elusive “green flash” — but you’ve still got a thing or two to learn. And that’s what this impressive rock formation, which borders Ipanema Beach and is a favorite nightly — and complimentary — stop, is here to teach ya. If you’re a surfer, you’ll also want to get schooled on these humdingers. Renting a board will cost you a few reais, but as long as you don’t break the board, it shouldn’t break your banco.

Finally, let me leave you with a good beach read, if you can tear yourself away from the “sights”: Those Ipanema and Copacabana sands call for some words of wisdom and Frances de Pontes Peebles’ The Seamstress, which fictionalizes 1930s Brazil, fits the bill. By the time you’ve finished this 646-page account of cangaceiros (outlaws) and politicos, your knowledge of Brazilian history will rival a native’s—and so will your tan.

Bom viagem!

Sneak Post-view: here’s a technical rehearsal for Acadêmicos do Salgueiro’s 2009 performance.

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