In the same way that a parent cannot choose favorites among their children, I love all of our Insider Trips. However, sometimes you can be bowled over by one child, and I have to say that our latest trip to Brazil was a knock-out adventure. Brazil has been on the verge of greatness (“the country of tomorrow”) for decades, and I wouldn’t argue that just because it is hosting the World Cup this summer and then the Olympics that it will get its act together, but there is an exciting mix of energy, sophistication and grit percolating now. Our trip had a focus on modern art but we explored the cities and the culture and met local people who helped us understand Brazil’s complexity and magic. On our first day, when I asked our driver about the weather in São Paulo this time of year. He said, “It can be four seasons in a day—like everything else in this crazy country, it’s complicated.” Or wonderful, depending on your perspective.
Thanks to a long overnight flight and only one-hour time difference, we arrived in Sao Paulo rested and ready to explore. We spent our first two days in Sao Paulo, based at the Fasano, visiting galleries, where we met with artists and curators. At SpArte, the top art show in South America and the biggest art fair in the Americas after Art Basel Miami, we browsed more than 120 galleries from around the world in Oscar Niemeyer’s iconic Biennale building. When we toured, Batman’s Alley, the famous street art gallery, we got to see artists and models at work and met with the famous graffiti artist, Mundano, who spoke about his community project, Pimp my Carroca. Among the highlights of our dining in Sao Paulo were memorable meals at Figueria, under the famous 100-year-old fig tree; a raw fish feast at Kinoshita and eating in the garden at Mani, only a week after chef Helena Rizzo was named the best female chef in the world. (Read more on Mundano in Local Legend Brazil: Mundano)
To reach the open-air museum/tropical garden of Inhotim, we flew up to Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Geiras and drove two hours, but the trek was worth it. The magical art space must be seen to be believed as neither words nor images do justice to its scale and drama. Its founder Bernardo Paz sat with us at lunch and explained his vision. “The first billion dollars I spent was easy,” he said, “but for the second I will need sponsors and tourists.” (Read more in Local Legend Brazil: Bernardo Paz.) Artists like Anish Kapoor, Janet Cardiff, Doug Aitkens and Matthew Barney have been given permanent pavilions to house some of their most ambitious works, which are scattered around 3,000 acres of tropical gardens. Highlighting the beauty of the art is astounding natural beauty (more than 1,500 species of palms as well as orchids and birds and enormous blue butterflies). It is a fantasyland of epic proportions, and while Paz has plans to expand it, we all felt blessed to visit now when it still remains somewhat of a precious secret.
Landing at the domestic airport in Rio means that you can ride your bike to your hotel instead of taking a taxi. Some of us chose this option, and others rode with the luggage, but it is a perfect way to enter the playground that is Rio. We passed a sea of skate boarders and surfers and sunbathers as we rode toward the Sugar Loaf at sunset. Drinks on the roof at the Fasano was a nightly ritual and during the days we visited classic sites like Christ the Redeemer and the Santa Teresa neighborhood as well as the new MAR (Museo de Arte de Rio) and the Salerno stairs. The founder of the Project Morrinho led us through his favela, where we passed drug dealers and gang members, to see his art/community project. We checked out the shops in Ipanema and Leblon and dined our last night at Claude Troisgros’ extraordinary Olympe (now closed), where he created a tasting menu that kept us from samba. (My only regret of the trip, but an excuse to come back.) On our final free day, some in the group traveled to Roberto Burle Marx’s home and gardens, another climbed the Sugar Loaf, another went to lunch at the country club with friends and some of us went back to the favelas to give reading glasses as part of The Reading Glass project. It was a perfect finale to our trip because it symbolized the diversity of the country’s offerings. I cannot wait to go back.
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