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.
West of the city lies affluent Barra da Tijuca, which is primed to draw Olympics visitors to its designer stores, chic eateries and clean sands.
Photographs by Lara Ciarabellini
Barra da Tijuca’s name – roughly translated as Sandbank of the Swamp – does not do this neighbourhood justice. Home to soap opera stars, football players and much of the city’s nouveau riche, Barra is a glamorous tropical oasis with one of the highest Human Development Index (HDI) rankings in Brazil. More Miami than Rio, it boasts chic shopping malls, broad boulevards and luxury condos, and has been chosen as the location for many of the Olympic venues.
Located to the west of the city, around an hour’s drive from Copacabana, Barra occupies a spectacular strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and a string of lagoons. It is also home to the vast Marapendi nature reserve, part of which, controversially, has become the Olympic golf course.
Developed around 40 years ago, Barra was based on the designs of French-born Brazilian urban planner Lúcio Costa, who also created the master plan for Brazil’s capital, Brasília. Like that city, Barra is a place for car-lovers with its wide avenues and gigantic shopping centres.
In a particularly telling episode in 2014, US fashion retailer Forever 21 caused a furore when it chose Barra’s luxurious Village Mall for its debut opening in Rio. Hordes of crazed teenagers arrived by bus from all over the city to visit the store, sparking fear and anger among residents who complained the shop had lowered the tone of the area, traditionally a hot spot for luxury brands such as Gucci, Prada and Versace.
Multinationals have chosen to move their headquarters to Barra’s gleaming office towers, attracted by upmarket gated residential complexes with names such as Les Résidences de Monaco, complete with their own gyms, pools, spas and even supermarkets.
Barra is also one of the safest places in Rio and benefits from plentiful public and private security officers. In fact, for better or worse, Barra barely resembles Rio at all. In 1988, residents organised a referendum to vote on whether to separate from Rio and become an independent city. An overwhelming majority of those who went to the polls voted to leave but the result was overruled due to the low turnout.
Where to go
Anywhere in Rio the beach is an obvious destination but in Barra it is unmissable. The neighbourhood boasts the longest and cleanest strip of sand in the city, stretching for more than 10km. A cycle path snakes alongside the sand, passing by a string of open-air beachside kiosks. K08 Kite Surf Club offers more than your average beach snacks, with grilled garlic shrimp and even filet mignon. The main attraction of the place, though, is its school for kite surfing, the sport that has become somewhat of an obsession among barristas, as residents of Barra are known. The school offers 10-session basic courses as well as lessons in stand-up paddle-boarding – another Rio obsession.
When the sun goes down, head to Olegário Maciel Avenue. While much of Barra requires a car, this is a good place to explore bars and restaurants on foot. Try Resenha Bar & Grill for a cold beer and a good pick of typical Brazilian dishes such as a pastel, a deepfried stuffed pastry, or picadinho Brasileiro, a type of beef stew. For a taste of life as a Brazilian hipster, make your way to Void General Store, where achingly cool twentyand thirtysomethings lounge about on sofas on the pavement drinking bottles of craft beer. Inside, the shop-come-bar sells everything from trainers to cigarettes. On the same avenue, Guacamole offers some of the city’s best Tex-Mex in a fantastically colourful and zany setting – a cross between an art gallery and a Mexican theme park. For authentic Middle Eastern food you may enjoy Bar do Elias, set up by a family of Syrian immigrants.
One of the many restaurants in Olégario Maciel Avenue
If you have any energy left, get in a taxi and visit La Isla Beach Club for a pool party with the rich and famous in one of the city’s most spectacular settings. And if you are still at a loss as to what to do while in Barra, there are always the Olympics.