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Five places to visit near Rio de Janeiro

Five places to visit near Rio de Janeiro

At the height of summer, the city’s heat can be suffocating. Retreat into Brazil’s lush rainforests and romantic seaside villages for fresh air, wildlife and a spot of culture

At the height of summer, the city’s heat can be suffocating. Retreat into Brazil’s lush rainforests and romantic seaside villages for fresh air, wildlife and a spot of culture

Georgia Grimond | August/September 2018

PETROPOLIS
1 HOUR 
BY CAR OR COACH

Drive north out of Rio’s suburbs and you will head into the foothills of the Serra dos Órgãos mountains, thick, damp forest where the climate cools and European-style towns provide weekend escapes for well-heeled Cariocas. The Imperial City, as Petropolis is known, was the favoured retreat of Dom Pedro II, Brazil’s last emperor, in the mid-19th century. Today, his salmon-pink-and-white summer palace houses the Museu Imperial, where visitors can see his diamond-encrusted crown and the gold pen that his wife used to sign the end of slavery in 1888. He and his family are entombed at the nearby Catedral de São Pedro de Alcântara.
     A short walk away is the Crystal Palace, a glasshouse built in 1884 as a ballroom for Crown Princess Isabel and now used as a cultural centre. Go on to the Bohemia brewery, where a tour and tastings will teach you about Brazil’s oldest beer brand. Its Oktoberfest is the second biggest in the country, and just one of the many foodie festivals that takes place here throughout the year. If you’re making a weekend of it, stay at the chic (if chintzy) Locanda della Mimosa, which is slightly out of town and surrounded by greenery. Or drive on to Pousada da Alcobaça for a peaceful night’s sleep and the heartiest of Brazilian breakfasts.

2 REGUA
2 HOURS 
BY CAR

Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) is not widely known except among dedicated birders and biology students, but it’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you don’t have a chance to get to Brazil’s Pantanal (wetlands) or the Amazon. The 9,000-hectare reserve is buzzing with wildlife, including 470 species of birds and some of the country’s more enigmatic creatures such as caimans, capybaras and sloths.
    It’s mainly rainforest – with trees like giant broccoli florets – punctuated by peaks with alluring names such as Dedo de Deus (God’s Finger) and the Nariz do Frade (Monk’s Nose). Day visitors can go it alone, choosing between two marked trails. To make the most of it, linger for longer and hire one of the expert guides who will point out rare birds such as the golden-tailed parrotlet, black-cheeked gnateater or spotted bamboowren, as well as monkeys, frogs, dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies, moths, arachnids and orchids.
    REGUA is a not-for-profit conservation, education and community organisation run by a British-Argentine couple, Nicholas and Raquel Locke, and their son. Overnight guests stay in the ten-room Lodge, eating home-grown and home-cooked meals at a communal table. There is a well-stocked library, a swimming pool and viewing platforms from which to watch the wildlife rise and the sun sink with a freshly shaken caipirinha in hand.

3 IBITIPOCA
4 HOURS 
BY CAR

Find a reason to stay at the Reserva do Ibitipoca – it’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. The 18th-century farmhouse is in south-east Minas Gerais, Brazil’s mining country, surrounded by protected areas. The air is so clean that bubble-gum-pink lichen grows on the trees and racing-green forests harbour all kinds of birds and animals.
    Once there, everything is included so take a pony, bike or hike up the mountains, stopping for freshly pressed sugar-cane juice, and plunge into a natural pool before lunching on barbecued steak that will be prepared for you at the top. Huge chainmail statues that once towered over the Playa at Burning Man now live on a plateau above the house. Once back, hit the spa, do some yoga or chat to the tame – and friendly – toucan ahead of a delicious dinner conjured from the garden’s ingredients.
    The Reserva borders Ibitipoca state park, which is open six days a week, with plenty of trails that snake through caves, under gushing waterfalls and up escarpments. Resident wildlife includes puma, maned wolves, monkeys, purple-breasted parrots, swifts and Ibitipoca’s own species of frog. Book into one of the simple pousadas or pitch your tent in the campsite and go out to eat and drink in the local village. Don’t miss the eccentric Bar do Firma, decorated with bottles, dreamcatchers and dusty detritus hanging from the ceiling.

4 BÚZIOS
4 HOURS 
BY CAR OR BUS

In 1964, Brigitte Bardot and her Brazilian squeeze, Bob Zagury, fled Rio and the press to what was then the sleepy fishing village of Búzios. Life there has never been the same. These days, the jet set flood in during high season and at weekends. But don’t be deterred: with 23 beaches scalloped out of the peninsula’s shore, it’s still easy to escape the world.
    Check in to Casas Brancas, a gleaming, white family-house hotel overlooking the fishing boats bobbing woozily in the town’s bay. Then hire an open-topped buggy and, with the wind whipping your hair, find your favourite beach. Geribá is a long lick of sand popular with surfers, families and the younger crowd, who lunch at Fishbone and stay for sundowners. Calm Ferradura is great for water sports like kayaking and banana-boating; to have a shot at seeing a turtle, take your snorkel to Tartaruga bay.
    If eating or snoozing is more your idea of a holiday, book a table – and a sun bed – at Rocka, a restaurant and “beach lounge” built into a grassy knoll above Praia Brava, and while away the day making your way through the menu. By the time you roll back to Búzios, the streets will be beginning to wake up. Splash out in the top-end beachwear shops before feasting on seafood at Bar do Ze.

5 PARATY
4 HOURS 
BY CAR

The UNESCO-listed port town of Paraty, midway between Rio and São Paulo, is a well-preserved example of 18th-century Portuguese architecture. Though it has attracted the attention of many visitors, it’s worth joining the crowd. The historic town – a grid of white, terracotta-tiled buildings with balconies painted in crayon colours – sits right on the water’s edge. At high tide, its cobbled streets flood with seawater.
    Paraty is busy year round, with the Bourbon Jazz Festival luring visitors in May, an international literature festival (FLIP) bringing world-famous authors in July, and the Pinga festival, which celebrates cachaça, Brazil’s firewater, in August. If the monde gets too beau, walk part of the Caminho do Ouro, a 1,200-mile-long road through the rainforest. Laid by slaves, it was used by the Portuguese to haul gold out of the country. Or hire a boat and put-put to one of the islands. Your captain will deposit you at a restaurant for lunch and you can then doze on deck all the way home.
    Evenings are best spent wandering around galleries and cachaça bars before settling in for dinner. To extend the visit, splurge out on a colourful room and effusive service at Casa Turquesa, or nab a room at the more-reasonably priced Pousada do Sandi