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
At 2.30pm we met in front of the Odeon theatre in the Centro to do a Rio Walks tour, a three hour walking tour that brought us around the centre, the exciting Lapa neighbourhood and the Grand Bazaar. One of the stops, and the stop I was most excited about, was Confeitaria Colombo.
Confeitaria Colombo is a stunning part of the heritage of the city of Rio. When it opened in 1894 two locals created this beautiful shop and café full of glamour and wealth usually only seen in Paris or London. The walls are lined with giant Belgian mirrors, Italian marble and rosewood furniture cover the large floor which itself is covered in beautiful blue yellow and brown tiles and a gorgeous multi-coloured glass skylight brings light in from above. The café has seen royalty, heads of state. The Queen of England has even been here and enjoyed a cup of tea which she subsequently gave her seal of approval to.
But forget the tea, I want a hot chocolate. The front of the café has a whole range of miniature desserts, probably 30 different types, everything from éclairs, fruit tarts but also may Brazilian and Portuguese classics. We order a few and wait impatiently.
After 10 minutes or so the staff, all dressed very elegantly in black and white, bring me a whole pot of hot chocolate and a beautiful white, gold and green porcelain cup and saucer. The hot chocolate was nice, really nice. It reminded me of hot chocoaltes in Paris actually, nice and chocolately but light enough that one could have many of these and everyday of the week. Because it came in a little pot I managed to get three little cups out of it.
Verdict: If you are in Rio, whatever you do, plan to have a drink at Confeitaria Colombo. The décor is stunning and unique, the desserts are to die for and the hot chocolate is excactly as it should be. Confeitaria Colombo, Rua Goncalves Dias, 21, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil www.confeteriacolombo.com.br
I stayed at two hotels while I was in Rio and tried both of their hot chocolates at breakfast as an excuse to tell you all about them. I would recommend them both. The first few nights I was at Casa Mosquito right between Ipanema and Copacabana. The Casa is up on the hill with stunning views across the area.
The founders, Benjamin and Louis, while traveling in the south of France fell in love with a statue of a mosquito which subsequently inspired the name of the hotel. They opened the hotel only a year or so ago and already it has rave reviews.
Inside everything is light and airy. The décor is clean and sophisticated but full of interesting details. The statue of the famous Mosquito welcomes guests as they walk up several flights of stairs to get to reception. As you sit down to do the paper work you are presented with a beautiful glass of passion fruit juice. Welcome to Brazil.
I loved everything about this hotel, the service is incredible, the rooms stunning, the views fantastic and breakfast delicious. The only thing that wasn’t perfect about my stay was the hot chocolate! Rio seemed to be all about extremes when it came to hot chocolate. I had some of the best and some of the worst hot chocolates I have had in a while on this same trip. Maybe it was just a bad day or something went wrong, which of course is very possible. But no matter, one doesn’t stay here for the hot chocolate, especially when you are walking distance away from two of the most famous beaches in the world.
Verdict: Everything it claims to be. I hope I will have the opportunity to stay again. Casa Mosquito . http://www.casamosquito.com
Hot Chocolate update from the owners! “Next time you come to visit us, you have to try our Submarino – steamed milk with a delicious piece of AMMA chocolate in four kinds of percentage of cocoa: 50%, 60%, 75% and 85%.”
At night, rua Paschoal Carloso Magno in Santa Teresa, Rio, comes alive. The street is lined with bars and restaurants serving Bohemia beer and local dishes. There are a handful of small stores featuring local artists and handicrafts which all get a steady stream of locals and tourists alike. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, the place is packed and for just reason. Santa Teresa is the most charming and colourful neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. Perched a top of a hill near the centro overlooking the rest of the city, the area is famous for its winding narrow streets, colourful graffiti and arts community .
Right in the middle of it all is Cafecito, a gorgeous café/bar/restaurant perched on top of the hill overlooking the street. This morning when it opened at 10am it was quite a bit calmer than it had been 12 hours before when we were here for drinks, but no less fascinating. From the street you walk up a flight of stairs covered in colourful tiles. Here you have entered a whole new world. The craziness of the street is below you, and from here you see people and traffic going by and the multi-coloured old houses of Santa Teresa. The café is all outdoors with many unique wooden tables, chairs and benches. The wall is covered in green plants, large brass plates and other art work. There is a sofa chair in one corner that was completely covered in pictures and then plastic to protect it. A series of colourful umbrellas hang over the main bar area and a beautiful large tree grows straight through the bar and provides shade and protection for the whole place. A door leads into the next building which has been transformed into a beautiful store full of wooden furniture, art work, local wine and multi-coloured clothes.
A small black and white dog walks up from the street and squeezes into a small space between the first floor and a stair case that leads to another terrace higher up for a little nap. My hot chocolate is delivered in a little white cup with a tiny square of rich chocolate brownie on the side (so good). I loved this hot chocolate. It was rich with a hint of hazelnut and cinnamon. I could easily drink one of these everyday, what a shame I can’t.
Verdict: Cafecito is one of my favourite places in the world. It has made it into my top list for not just the hot chocolate but the general feel of the place. I could live here. So sad I don’t live in Rio, as if I did this would be where you would find me, always. Oh and the toasted sandwiches are also some of the best I have ever had.Cafecito, Rua Paschoal Carloso Magno, 121, Santa Teresa www.cafecito.com.br