South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
Away from Rio’s hustle, Georgia Grimond visits a more tranquil district, and finds its upmarket edge.
Photographs by Lara Ciarabellini
Every year at carnival time (around February) a street party known as Suvaco do Cristo, or the Armpit of Christ, parades through the neighbourhood of Jardim Botânico. The party warrants its (rather uninviting) name because it takes place in the pocket of Rio that nestles beneath the right side of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Below an outstretched arm, the tendrils of Rio’s lush and humid Tijuca forest crawl down Corcovado mountain into Jardim Botânico.
The sought-after neighbourhood is inland, just the other side of the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon from the sea, and only a short distance from the swirling sidewalks of Ipanema and Copacabana. Yet Jardim Botânico is far enough away to embody an altogether different feeling. It is bordered at its south-west end by the city’s impressive botanical gardens and at the east by Parque Lage, a mansion that is now an art school set in a small park.
The botanical gardens opened in 1808. Covering about 140 hectares, including an orchid and a cactus garden, and a grand avenue of palms, it boasts more than 6,500 species of plants, plus monkeys and flocks of noisy parakeets. Other birds and animals live there, sometimes absconding along nearby power lines and overhanging branches.
Visitors enjoying the gardens
The quiet cobbled streets beside the gardens are edged by ancient shady trees and falling vines. Architecturally adventurous houses poke up behind high walls, while former workers’ houses comprise a smaller area known as Horto. Brazil’s monolithic media network, Globo, has a large part of its operations nearby and Rio’s wonderfully informal Jockey Club is on the other side of Rua Jardim Botânico.
Bankers, television stars and models are all making homes in the neighbourhood. Brazilian artists, such as Beatriz Milhazes and Adriana Varejão, who set up ateliers in Horto when it was far less salubrious, are being joined by collectors too.
With the new residents have come a flurry of businesses. Rua Lopes Quintas, the main thoroughfare, has small design shops, cafés, a deli and a designer boutique. It also leads to some of the area’s best restaurants, brunch spots and most characterful bars.
Locals playing cards in Horto
Where to go
Jardim Botânico is known for a cluster of fancy restaurants on and around Rua Maria Angelica. Olympe,Eleven and Mr Lam are all top-notch. For a more low-key dinner, you should wander west. Just a short walk away is Lorenzo, a classic French-Italian bistro. Jojö, whose outside-only tables wrap around the side of a small house, specialises in black rice and octopus, with oysters and sparkling wine on Thursday nights. Nearby Borogodó serves fresh seafood and grilled meat from tables with views on to the botanical gardens. Cocktails and contemporary Brazilian fare are on offer at Puro, and the newest arrival on the block is Rio’s first raw food restaurant, Ró, opened by the former head of Sony Music Brazil.
For a decent breakfast – somewhat elusive away from Rio’s extravagant hotel buffets – Empório Jardim bakeryhas earned a reputation as one of the city’s best. La Bicyclette, with branches by both entrances to the botanical gardens, provides French coffee, fresh croissants and sandwiches to weekend crowds. Bastarda, a hip cycle café, has coffee made in various ways, including by AeroPress.
Casa Carandaí, an upmarket deli, puts on a good buffet brunch at weekends but the real reason to visit is the tempting assortment of imported (and, therefore, expensive) cheeses and wines, as well as freshly made pasta. Chic women pour into Dona Coisa next door, a department-store style boutique bursting with Brazilian designers, statement jewellery and fun accessories. Upstairs, it has recently opened a café that sells irresistible cake, Phebo bath products and stationery by Nina Writes. Next door, up-and-coming brands exhibit at Casa Soma, including Os/On, which championscarioca (local to Rio) youth labels.
At night, the sound of sweet music and chatter can be heard. The brightly decorated Bar do Horto, which spills out from an old town house, often has a man with his guitar crooning Brazilian classics. At Sobe, a bar that is open to the sky, cocktails are drunk to the soundtrack of live jazz. The view of Christ among the stars is interrupted only by the fronds of a rustling palm tree