Jardin Botanico in Rio is beautiful. Even if you are not a garden type of person this one is quite stunning. Founded in 1808 the 140 hectare park lies in what is colloquially known as “the arm pit of Christ”, in the neighbourhood directly underneath the right arm of the Christ Redeemer statute. It contains 6,000 different species of plants and trees including 900 varieties of palm trees alone. It was designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1992.
Right outside the front doors of the garden across from a little pond full of turtles sunning themselves on planks of wood, is La Bicyclette café. Walking into this little café is like stepping into Paris. It was such a strange feeling; I was confused when the waiters started speaking to us in Portuguese. Inside there are light brown wooden beams in the ceiling, wooden chairs and tables, white walls, industrial looking silver lighting and a beautiful glass display case showing off their impressive range of French breads. Outside the front door is a bicycle. Apparently, whenever possible, they deliver their bread by bicycle. How fantastic. La Bicyclette is a favourite with locals because of their excellent bread and incredible pain au chocolate (if I had known this when we were there I would have tried both).
We grab a seat at a large communal table with views from one side of the tip of the botanical garden and the other of the Christ Redeemer statue (at least the armpit). We are here for lunch which we decide will be a limeade and a quiche, both very good. I then get a hot chocolate. This is a French café and the French make one of if not the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted so if this is French inspired things are probably looking good. The menu says organic cocoa so I go ahead and order one of those.
I’m so sorry to say I didn’t finish it. I had two sips and had to put it aside. It was made with hot water and powder but there wasn’t nearly enough powder in it so it just tasted like hot water with a hint of chocolate in it. I generally don’t like hot chocolate in water but I try to stay open minded about it. My guess is that this one just didn’t have enough organic cocao in it. Such a shame.
Verdict: A great stop if visiting the Botanical Gardens. Please try the bread and pain au chocolate and let me know what you think since I didn’t have the chance to. The quiche was incredible as it seems is everything else that they do…except, malheuresement, the hot chocolate. La Bicyclette, r. Pacheco leao 320, jardim botanico, Rio de Janeiro http://www.labicyclette.com.br/
We visited Confetaria Colombo Café Centro during our first days in Rio, and had the pleasure to visit Confeitaria Colombo’s Copacabana café on the last day of our trip, just before going to the airport. This one is tucked inside the Fort of Copacabana that separates Copacabana beach from Ipanema beach and from where you have a stunning view of all of Copacabana and the open water. To get into the fort you need to pay a few dollars but it is worth it, not just because it is a lovely and interesting walk, but because this café is within the property of the fort itself.
The décor in this café is much simplier and elegant than the original, but what this one has that the others doesn’t is Copacabana beach. We are directed to a small desk outside the front door to put our names on a waiting list for the tables outside. There are only two names before us and a good 30 plus tables so we wait. It only takes 5 minutes before we are directed to our table right along the fort walls overlooking the beach, the mountains, sugarloaf and the bay.
We order two hot chocolates and get sucked in by the beautiful little desserts again. Here they are a little different than in the other location. We settle on a Portuguese custard tart and a chocolate fudge sweet, both deadly and delicious.
I had a lot of really good hot chocolates in Rio with fantastic views but I think this was the tastiest of them all. This one didn’t come in a pot so I just had my one cup (again in a beautiful green, gold and white porcelain cup). It was beautiful and chocolately, not too sweet, more bitter and dark. What a way to end our trip to Rio.
Verdict: I said in an early blog that if in Rio you have to visit Confeitaria Colombo Centro. Well, you have to visit this one too. Bring your sunglasses and wait for a table on the terrace with the views. Confeitaria Colombo Café do Forte, Praca Cel Eugenio Franco, Copacabana, Brazil www.confeitariacolombo.com
Overlooking the lovely and quiet Urca neighbourhood are two very large hills that rise straight up from the water’s edge around Rio. The peaks have been given the name of SugarLoaf mountain because they resemble the piles of sugar that were transported on ships in the 16th century. Today SugarLoaf is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
At 4pm, just in time for sunset, we caught the clear glass cable car up to the first hill and then again up to the second, a 1400m route. The original cable car was build in 1912 but still seems to be working well, luckily, because you wouldn’t want something to happen while you were up there!
If you time it right, the views from the top of the sunset over Rio are remarkable. You can see the whole city from the opposite angle that you can see it from the Christ Redeemer Statue, the Centro on your right and Copacabana on your left. If you walk around the back side of the mountain there is a little forest with paved trails that you can go exploring. This area is also home to quite a few little furry animals that look like a cross between a squirrel and a monkey but with very long tails.
After admiring the view we went back down to the middle layer and found a nice quiet bench to watch the sunset from. At this level there are a few cafes and stores to buy a drink, perfect while watching the colours of the sky change from blue to yellow, then pink and purple. We grab a beer from the bar and a hot chocolate from a place called Rei do Mate which I’ve seen all around town. The hot chocolate was just ok. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. I drank half of it and then switched to stealing sips of Rich’s beer.
Verdict: Sugarloaf mountain is a must. If when you are up there you are craving a hot chocolate this one isn’t bad, but if it is sunset I might recommend a local Bohemia beer instead.
I spent a bit of time searching online for hot chocolates in Rio before I set foot there. In many of my searches and conversations with locals, Kopenhagen came up. Kopenhagen is a chain or chocolate chops across Brazil (in 60 different cities in fact). They have been around for 80 years and even though their name isn’t very Brazilian (at all), the chocolates are.
We found one of their stores near Ipanema beach and went in for a hot chocolate. There was no sign really explaining what options they had so I said in my best Portuguese “un chocolate quente”. The woman looked at me, nodded and proceeded to push a bunch of buttons and move around a bunch of pots on a coffee machine behind the counter. She took a bit of liquid chocolate from a clear glass container and put it in a cup. My eyes started to wonder along the display case filled with chocolates of every kind and colour. This was going to be good.
We sat down on one of the two tables in the store. The hot chocolate was presented beautifully in a little white cup with a pastry stick dipped in rich milk chocolate on the side. It also comes with a little shot of sparkling water.
I take my first sip. You other hot chocolate lovers will understand me when I say my heart sank. I hate that feeling when you are expecting something really good and then try it and it’s really not that great at all. The chocolate was watery and didn’t taste like much.
As I tried to hide my disappointment and understand what happened I heard a woman go up to the cash and ask for a hot chocolate. The woman then proceeded to tell her that they had three different kinds of hot chocolate. Three? I was only presented with one? So I am guessing that those other two are exceptional and me, the poor tourist got the watery one? Who knows but still today locals keep telling me that Kopenhagen has the best hot chocolate in town.
Verdict: Next time I’m back in Rio I will try this again and do my research or bring a local with me so that I get the good hot chocolate and not the watered down version that I was presented. So sad. But those pastry sticks were incredible. I could eat a whole box. www.kopenhagen.com.br
When we woke up today and looked out the window the weather was perfect. Clear, blue skies and the winds the night before had pushed a lot of the haze of the city away. So we jumped out of bed, had breakfast and made our way to visit the famous Christ Redeemer statue.
The taxi brought us down rather than up, down to the start of the Trem do Corcovado or train of Corcovado, a little red train that brings visitors up the hill through Rio’s lush urban Tijuca forest (the largest urban forest in the world) all the way to the top. This railway is worth the trip itself. It is Brazil’s first electrified railway, inaugurated in 1884 and is older than the Christ monument itself. It is this train system that carried all the pieces of the statue up the hill for the four years it took to erect it. We got the first train going up at 8.30 which meant that we were able to enjoy the statue without the crowds that surely accumulate at the top as the day goes on.
The 130 foot tall statue at the top is stunning. It was actually elected as one of the new 7 wonders of the world a few years back. A guide told us that the statue is covered with thousands of little white mosaics cut by little old ladies across the country. Apparently the woman wrote their name on the back of the different pieces although you can’t see that because they have all been glued in place.
I can’t describe the views, no one can, you have to go see for yourself. It is quite incredible and also helps one to understand how Rio and its neighbourhoods are set out. After spending quite a bit of time near the statue admiring the view, we noticed that there was a coffee shop with tables and chairs where we could continue to admire the view, perhaps with a hot chocolate.
I was expecting nothing from this hot chocolate, as it had everything going against it – busy Tourist spot, top of a mountain, but I was wrong. It was expensive but worth it. The chocolate was simple and tasty. Chocolately but still quite light and easy to drink. Best of all it came in a little white porcelain pot so there was enough for almost 3 cups of hot chocolate!
On our way down the hill a group of musicians playing Samba came to play for us in the train. I don’t even remember what I paid for all of this but it wasn’t much at all, plus it doesn’t matter. I’d do it again.
Verdict: A good hot chocolate, an incredible view, a stunning train ride through the forest and beautiful weather, what are you waiting for. Corcovado www.corcovado.com/br
We first saw the Cultural Centre in the historic pedestrian centre of Paraty our first night in town. Right next to it is a music school that had a group of adults singing which caught our attention and then we noticed the colourful pictures inside. Unfortunately they were just about to close so we went back the day after.
Brazil is a fascinating and stunning country in every sense. The food, the music, the culture, its people are all really interesting and I couldn’t get enough of it all. I wanted to learn more about the history of the region and in particular of its indigenous people. I was promised that this was what the cultural centre was all about so we planned to spend a good chunk of time here.
The front doors of the centre look onto a series of giant pictures of indigenous people from the area but unfortunately there’s no real information about who they are and how they live. Inside is a room with a range of art work and hand made goods but again no notes on what they are or why they are important. At the back there is a courtyard lined with colourful paintings which we assume are made by locals but again there’s no information. Disappointed with the lack of information but wanting to stick around and take all the paintings and art work in, we sat ourselves down in the café situated right in the middle of the centre, in a quiet and dark corner.
We are alone here. The young woman at the counter is reading a book and seems happy to have two people to serve. I get the impression we are the first today. Hot Chocolate of course. It was raining all day today, really raining, so between this dark and quiet café, the colourful paintings right outside and the rain pattering on the roof it was all quite romantic. I enjoyed my hot chocolate. I wouldn’t say it was anything fantastic, but it warmed me up and after another walk through the displays we were on our way.
Verdict: The cultural centre is free to enter and takes only a few minutes to walk through. Extend that with a drink at the café and then walk through the store that sells products made by locals and indigenous communities around the town. Casa da Cultura, Paraty
It takes about 5 hours by bus to get to Paraty from Rio but believe me, it is worth it. Paraty is stunning. It’s port is full of colourful boats eager to take tourists out to visit the bay. It is surrounded by lush rainforests and jam packed with historic houses. It isn’t just a tourist heaven, this is a place that people live and work and this gives it an extra special feel.
It is mid week and low season so the streets tonight were not very busy at all. We had a list of several recommended restaurants, as it seems Paraty is full of good places to eat. We walk past Caminho do Ouro and take a liking to it, so we step in. Caminho do Ouro is named after the Gold trail that, after the discovery of the world’s richest gold mines in 1696 in the mountains of Minas Gerais, brought the gold down to the port of Paraty for boats to Rio and then on to Portugal.
The restaurant almost has the feel of an art gallery. The walls are covered with a very eclectic range of paintings (many of which we recognize as being local painters from our previous walk through town). We sit down and order a Carpirina, of course. While listening to the noise of the waiter shaking our drink in the background we look through the menu. Fish stew for two it is and…oh wait…a hot chocolate with rum for dessert.
This was my first boozy hot chocolate. I have never thought of having hot chocolate for dessert (because I like dessert) but we thought, why not. After our delicious and highly recommended fish stew for two we were presented with a large green coloured glass filled to the brim with hot chocolate. Looks like hot chocolate…smells like hot chocolate. Hmm tastes like rum and a lot of it. In fact this hot chocolate was a glass of rum masquerading as a hot chocolate. There was a hint of chocolately taste but really it was a big glass of rum.
I have no complaints really, one can’t complain with boozy hot chocolates, I got what I asked for, but I had to sip it very very slowly. The waiter noticed this and came by and in Portuguese said with a big smile on his face, “ strong?”. We smile back and 2 minutes later he has come back with a little jug filled with just simple hot chocolate. Relieved we dilute our rum mixture bit by bit until it is more drinkable.
Verdict: A good first experience with alcohol in hot chocolate. This was a great night and not just after all that rum. The fish stew was incredible and I would go back to have another hot chocolate with rum (diluted with more hot chocolate) any day. Caminho do Ouro, R. Dr. Samuel Costa 236, Paraty, Brazil
The cobblestone streets in the historic center of Paraty are slippery. You really need to pay attention where you walk but still I can’t help getting distracted by the white buildings with their colourful doors and windows. Downtown Paraty is a traffic free zone . The city has been able to maintain most of its historic buildings and much of the architecture of the city has not changed for over 250 years. It got its name from the Guaianas people who used to live here and means “river of fish”.
A horse drawn carriage passes by carrying a Brazilian family, probably visiting for the weekend from Sao Paolo. The young man driving the carriage gives a half hearted tour as his thin brown horse tries to manoeuvre the uneven cobblestones with this heavy load. Across the street a small store selling paintings and various items made out of straw has a steady stream of tourists going in and out. Another horse comes by carrying supplies for a restaurant nearby.
We spot Café Pingado as we walk along, and take the tall table near the window and watch the world of Paraty go by. Everyone knows each other by name and locals say hello to most of the people they pass. The sky is grey and the clouds low. It isn’t raining yet but it feels like it already has been. Between the bad weather and the low season for tourists the streets are pretty quiet.
I had the choice of several hot chocolates here at Café Pingado. For that reason, and for its open and warm décor, I instantly took a liking to this place and we came back several times during our 3 day stay in Paraty. I settled on the Submarino. I have good memories of drinking submarinos across Argentina but this one I enjoyed more. I was presented with a small cup filled with hot frothy milk. Inside was a still intact bar of Hershey chocolate. I tasted it before it melted and it wasn’t sweet as you would imagine but more bitter and dark. It melted quickly into my cinnamon flavoured milk.
Verdict: A must when visiting Paraty (which is also a must if visiting Brazil). Sitting here enjoying my hot chocolate and watching life on the cobblestone streets of Paraty is something I won’t soon forget. Café Pingado, Rua Dr. Samuel Costa 11, Paraty