by Sofia Soter
Hello, curious and courageous heroines, and welcome to my hometown – Rio de Janeiro, in a little country you might know called Brazil. Join me on a trip through our Zona Sul, the area best known for its sandy beaches, punchy drinks and tourists, that’s also home to some hidden gems fit for powerful cariocas and gringas alike.
We’ll start off far from the shore, in the fresh and green neighborhood of Jardim Botânico, head up to Leblon and Ipanema, watch the sun set on the beach, and finish off with food and drinks in true Brazilian heroine fashion.
Explore Parque Lage
If you’re in the neighborhood, you might be tempted to go straight to the famous (and admittedly beautiful) Botanical Garden, but just a few blocks from it you can find my real favorite – Parque Lage. Intrepid explorers can walk deeper and higher into its green and luscious trails, head into a cave or circle a lake; for the most nature-adverse, I recommend the delicious brunch at the Plage restaurant, set inside an art school housed in a Roman-inspired mansion built in the 1920s (it’s also the perfect place to take a break from work in the afternoon, take my word for it).
walk or bike along Lagoa Rodrigues de Freitas
The large heart-shaped lagoon is surrounded by some of the better-known Zona Sul neighborhoods – Jardim Botânico, Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. A stroll along its waters can take some time (it’s a 7.8km perimeter), but you can also stop at one of the points where they rent pedalinhos – swan-shaped pedal boats you can ride well into the center of the lagoon, making you feel like the long-lost sister of Ariel.
grab a bite at Argumento
You’re likely starved and exhausted after your adventures so far. In Argumento, a quiet wooden bookstore in the heart of Leblon, you’ll find solace. Pick up a couple of books and head to the café in the back, where I recommend you get a table in the balcony and order a crêpe and a refreshing juice or milkshake. Before you go, leave some money behind for a tradition they call the café do próximo, or “next person’s coffee”, which is what it sounds like – by leaving a couple of bucks for it, you’ll be paying for a caffeine-starved stranger’s cup of coffee later on and probably making their day, like a true heroine.
and don’t forget your dessert!
The temptation to order the delicious cakes and cookies at Argumento will be strong, but if you can escape it there are ice creams and chocolates waiting for you on the other side. If you want something smooth and refreshing, take your pick between neighbor ice cream joints Venchi and Momo and their variety of flavors (both occasionally have vegan dark chocolate gelato as well); if your taste is better suited to truffles and candy, head to Envidia, a small café specializing in rich and flavored chocolates and decorated like a storybook’s grandmother’s room. Or, you know, you can just have both.
let’s head to the beach…
It’s touristy and traditional and not my usual scene, but there is something wonderful about watching the sunset from the top of Pedra do Arpoador. Take a stroll by the shore and climb up the rock to join other beach-goers in the peculiar ritual of applauding the sunset – as silly as it sounds, it still feels meaningful and magical as you do it.
dinner and drinks at Palaphita Kitch
We head back to Lagoa for Brazilian drinks and bar food at Palaphita Kitch, where you can sit in dark quiet corners on comfy chairs and sofas, under the starry night sky, and relax with a caipirinha or two in hand and friends by your sides. The setting will make you feel entirely removed from the city, in a private beach-side hut, capping off a day of adventure, even though there are buses and cabs easily accessible nearby for your return home.
Sofia is a writer, editor and translator living in Rio de Janeiro. She blogs in Portuguese at sofiasoter.com, podcasts at cuidadopodcast.tumblr.com, works with Girl Lab and edits an online magazine for teen girls. You can find more of her writing at https://sofiasoter.
Xandra recommends: Learning to Listen: Mindfulness