Have a healthy start to the day with these breakfast waffles inspired by Brazilian cheese puffs!
If you’re planning to visit Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, you may also want to head out of the City for a few days. That’s just what we did this summer (albeit their winter) with two very different attractions: Paraty, a 4 hour drive in lush scenery known as the Green Coast (Costa Verde) south of Rio; and Buzios, a beach and nightlife Brazilian favourite, about 2 hours drive north if the roads are clear.
Paraty is a beautifully preserved Portuguese Colonial town dating from 1667 which served as a thriving port to export gold, coffee and sugarcane in the form of the local spirit, Cachaça. As the railway was built in the 19th century for cheaper transport to Rio and the gold ran out, the town was almost abandoned, hence such a wonderful conservation of the old town for about 250 years. Since the 1970s the fishing town of Paraty has been rediscovered as a thriving tourist destination.
Paraty is also known for its uneven cobblestone-paved streets in the historical pedestrian centre.It hadn’t rained when we arrived: instead the water collecting in the stones was a sign of the tide gradually pouring in to this part of town as full moon approached. By the time we had left, these streets would have been flooded – something the locals are used to each month but it’s nothing much and doesn’t last long.
One of the first things that struck us were the number of brigadeiro stalls, where the locals were enjoying their sweet fix at teatime – and in the mornings and evenings too!
It’s the first time I’ve seen poinsettias growing as bushes. Somehow my miserable poinsettias that I try to look after at Christmas time look miserable in comparison!
Palm Hearts to Cheese Waffles
We had some fun on Facebook, guessing what was this side dish below. They’re palm hearts, something that we often serve in French salads but they’re conserved in tins, long and thin. These enormous disks were fresh from the top heart of the palm tree, baked in the oven and served with a dribbling of olive oil. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants to choose from – mainly serving excellent fish.
Our favourites were Banana da Terra and that of the Pousada Literaria where we were staying. Perhaps the most wonderful of breakfast specials was their cheese waffles with honey and rosemary. I managed to develop a recipe for you back home with the ingredients we find in Europe (it ended up being gluten free) – here it is! I do hope you try this cheese waffle recipe.
Discovering the Islands Around Paraty
To appreciate the inviting islands dotted all around Paraty, you must take a boat ride. We were in the expert hands of Davi Trinidade, our Captain for the day with his speedboat Palombeta. I had previously booked our 5-hour day trip online on his site, which is very clear and efficient – and was so impressed that we booked a second day with him!
It was wonderful to see Paraty from a different angle…
And discover paradisiac strips of beach with either smooth sand or finely crushed shell, go swimming and snorkelling. Don’t ask me why, but I still can’t get that mask on my face – so my excuse was to take the photos!
The highlight for the girls was watching the turtles then feeding the monkeys on Monkey Island. These cuties would gently hold your finger as they politely took some banana. Well raised little monkeys indeed! Their miniature faces were captivating.
Davi’s English was perfect and took his time with us ensuring we enjoyed every moment, including a stop off for lunch.
A typical dish served here is a traditional prawn or fish stew, Moqueca, served in a hot clay pot. I tasted a few to try and each one was quite liquid. It’s served with a typical side dish of Farofa – a combination of manioc flour with some sort of fat or oil to give it a sandy texture – gravy from the stew and chilli oil to taste. This vanilla ice cream dessert looks like it’s served with cherries, right? Instead it was candied bananas, absolutely delicious.
The Twilight House
Davi anchored in front of this thatched roof villa with its private beach. Antoine and I were totally out the cut but the girls were enthralled to hear that this was the famous house filmed in Twilight. The island of Esme, where the couple honeymoon in the saga Breaking Dawn, doesn’t exist. It’s here in Casa em Paraty, which can be rented – perfect for vampire honeymoons, I hear.
Back on Paraty land, another popular form of transport is by horse-drawn carriage.
No visit to Paraty is complete without a taste of the local speciality made famous here since the 19th century. Cachaça is a sugarcane-based spirit which is the main ingredient for the Brazilian cocktail, Caipirinha. The classic cocktail was with plenty of limes but we also adored the fresh passion fruit version too at apéritif time – a great excuse to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, which we just about totally missed if we hadn’t seen a message from Mum and Dad!
A century ago, Cachaça was called Parati, hence such a famous location for the best in Brazil. After a tasting, my best Cachaça friend was definitely Gabriela, discovered at the main store in Rua do Comercio. She’s a spicy number with cinnamon and cloves. Add this to a Caipirinha and the evening is sure to start off the festivities!
One of my personal highlights in Paraty was a visit to the natural food store, Via Natural on Rua da Floresta. André was so enthusiastic about his products and I left just as excited as he was with my selection of cloves (cravo), cinnamon, dried guava and pineapple, brazil nuts, and – wait for it – pure roasted cocoa beans rolled in demerara sugar! I wish I could make everyone taste one who joins me on my chocolate tours in Paris! For that I’d need a regular supply, André …
André couldn’t let us leave without trying Açai (ah-sah-ee). This super-healthy but bitter berry is found around the Amazon river basin and is hugely popular in Brazil. As a drink, it’s sweetened normally with banana but André had a wonderfully vibrant Açai powder which I look forward to using – particularly as it’s list of health benefits is well worth the try. I’ll experiment with it for some pastries at teatime but in the meantime, I’ve already made a Brazilian version of breakfast granola using the above ingredients. Fabulous!
I’ll finally leave you with a sunset from Brigitte Bardot’s beach in Buzios, the “Saint Tropez of Brazil”. Cheers to you, readers!
Now I’m finally back in Paris, you may have noticed I’ve been travelling again since Brazil. Next stop on le blog? The Loire Valley.
(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, 2016)
It’s just how I imagined it. Rio’s Copacabana Beach showed off this scene on our first night, directly in front of the hotel with the blue moon looking on. Although it’s winter, the weather is perfect at this time of year, with temperatures hovering around 25°C. As one new Brazilian friend teased, “Winter in Rio was last Wednesday”.
Although we weren’t there at the time of the famous Carnival, we quickly realised how much more there is to Rio than Copacabana. For a start, there’s also Ipanema Beach.
Arriving off our night flight and feeling a bit new in this exciting City we were thankful to have booked an ideal 2-hour “Welcome to Rio” walk with Context Travel. Our lovely and lively guide, Amber, came to meet us and was itching to explain Rio’s different neighbourhoods and help us prepare our visit. Knowing we also love good food, she pointed us around the corner from the Copacabana Palace to show us some typical snacks. It didn’t take us long to taste our way around the bacon popcorn and carts of freshly baked brigadeiros, sweet chocolate fudge truffles made with condensed milk.
Pao de Queijo – warmed cheese bread balls, were my favourite and became rather addictive during our trip. They’re not unlike Gougères – French style cheese puffs typical of Burgundy, made with choux pastry – but the Brazilian version is more dense and heavier in weight. This is because instead of making them using normal all-purpose flour (as in Gougères), these cheese balls use cassava flour or tapioca flour. We also tried cheese waffles, based on these Pao de Queijo.
Surprisingly, we saw Pao de Queijo on each hotels’ breakfast buffets during the trip along with the most succulent local mango, guava and papaya served with lime wedges. Limes are more popular than lemons and so a must try is the national Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha at one of the many kiosks along the beach (more on that in the next post) or by the pool as a special treat at the famous Copacabana Palace, which opened its Art Deco doors in 1923.
Another Context Tour really helped us get an idea of the City Centre (Centro), Founding Rio, the Marvellous City. Beth walked us through Rio’s fascinating history, starting with the Portuguese sailing into Guanabara Bay in January 1502. Thinking it was a mouth of a river, they called it Rio de Janeiro, or January River.
By 1822 Emperor Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence with Portugal and the evidence of old Colonial with new is evident throughout the City, who’s ports served as the Capital for the gold, coffee and diamond trade. It wasn’t until 1960 that the Capital was moved to Brasilia, a more central location. The tour ended here at the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. Finished in 1979, it looks rather like a Mayan pyramid amongst the mix of Colonial and more modern structures.
A note on security: it wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. Like any big city, you do need to be streetwise: don’t wear a watch or jewellery or walk around with cameras on show, and stay clear of any dodgy areas at night (or darkly lit areas). Take cabs at night! In preparation for the 2016 Olympics, the police have tightened security and gone through a major project to pacify the favelas (shanty towns) and with police presence around the city, we felt safe. Just be practical and in areas in the North East, know where you’re going otherwise take a taxi.
Antoine had to talk sweetly to get me up Sugar Loaf Mountain. With vertigo, you can imagine why I’d be scared just looking at this picture. I still can’t believe I did it! There are two cable cars. The first takes you to the flatter, Urca Mountain, and from there you are whisked up by second cable car (some mountaineers decided to brave it up the only other way) up 400m. My secret was to stay in the middle and not look out of the window. There is a lot more room up there than you think to walk around, believe me!
Don’t forget your kids’ IDs in order to qualify for price concessions. We didn’t cart around our passports (naturally in a big city!) and found ourselves paying full over-21 adult prices for our 12 and 15 year olds. Lucie turned 13 a couple of days later; I know she’s tall but 21? Really.
The promised sweet talk started with one of the best ice creams in Rio at Felice in Ipanema. I opted for the passion fruit and chilli dark chocolate. The pistachio was also delicious – and just the right colour (you know how fussy I am about pistachio colour!).
However, for the best Teatime in Rio head to the famous institution reminiscent of the Belle Epoque, the Confeitaria Colombo in the heart of the City.
It was busy. Apologies for the terrible shot above here but I get excited in places like this, surrounded by Art Nouveau decor and wondering who exactly walked these floors since 1894. Queen Elizabeth II did, apparently.
Needless to say, my choice was for the Pastels de Nata. I even had a savoury one, with cod fish followed by a most exquisite Pastel de Caipirinha (could you guess?). They also had French-inspired éclairs, Napoleon millefeuilles, lemon meringue tarts and chocolate tartlets (recipes in Teatime in Paris!).
Talking of food, we tried out a number of places for dinner in our 5 days in Rio but here are our best restaurants for a 3 day stay:
- Ten Kai Japanese restaurant in Ipanema;
- Zaza Bistro in Ipanema (we ate upstairs, where you take off your shoes and eat at low tables);
- Aprazivel, Santa Teresa. Some people told us to avoid this at night. For lunch you have spectacular views from the top but at night it’s just as good. (Just ensure that you take a taxi directly there and not walk the hill as you pass a favela). Order the palm hearts for starter. One between 2 is enough but it’s served cooked from the palm tree. Absolutely delicious!
- From Aprizivel we went on to Rio Scenarium in Lapa, a live music club on 4 floors. Take ID with you for the entrance (also a small fee). We were unlucky since we booked in advance but there were no tables left and the 2 bands out of 4 stopped playing after 10 minutes for a break – so it was just recorded music. Hopefully you’ll be more lucky since it’s a must-do here for some Samba dancing!
Another essential must-see in Rio is up the Corcovado (Portuguese for “hunchback”) mountain to see the monument of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Rendentor). The most popular transport to get there is by train. Normally we would have done it early in the morning to avoid the crowds but since this was Winter and the sun was shining with a great view potential, we took a taxi up to Paineiras Road then bought our tickets for the park vans to take us to the top.
Again, like Sugar Loaf Mountain, there is a lot more room at the top than you think for the weaker amongst us. And the view of Rio de Janeiro is incredible – don’t forget a jacket or cardigan, as it is a bit cooler up there. If it’s misty, however, don’t even bother going. The whole point is for the view and to see the statue perched on this granite rock of 710m. On a misty day you won’t see either of them. We also saw some monkeys on the way down in the Tijuca Forest, which just made Lucie’s 13th birthday!
On our last day we enjoyed our final walking tour with Amber from Context: Bohemian Rio, Santa Teresa and Lapa. Even although we had already seen a bit of Santa Teresa, we would never have seen all the secret parts of it without a guide.
Amber showed us the original trolley car, famous in Santa Teresa but which was stopped in 2012 for security reasons following an accident. The area is full of renovation work in anticipation of the Olympics next year but it looks like the trolley will be back in action again soon.
We loved visiting this traditional bookstore with a difference, where this passionate writer keeps the tradition alive of writing booklets on academic subjects – some of which were in English. There are many flamboyant artists in the area too, finding ingenious ways to recycle abandoned objects, including a Beetle car shell!
As we walked on the typical mosaic tiled pavements in Rio – originally brought from Portugal and replaced by gold on the way back – our tour with Amber finished with a hidden viewpoint in the heart of the city to watch the most magnificent sunset.
Stay tuned for the next post where we stop off at two destinations north and south of Rio, Buzios and Paraty, for a taste of the lazy beach life and islands plus the local Cachaça.
(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, August 2016)