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Brazil - but not your five star beach hotel  

Sandra Lawrence describes a budget holiday scheme in a little-known area of Rio de Janeiro where you can find your perfect accommodation match and a lot more besides… 

Rio de Janeiro has long held a reputation for catering purely for the luxury end of the holiday market – five star beach-side hotels and swanky duplexes, destinations traditionally the same three attractions – the beach, Sugar Loaf Mountain , and the Christ statue. But for those who wish to explore a more alternative side of this most fascinating city, there is a new alternative.


Santa Teresa, way up in the hills beyond Downtown, is Rio ’s secret kingdom. Ancient streetcars clatter their way though the steep cobbled slopes of this bohemian district, leafy and mysterious. The houses, part of the government’s extensive renovation programme, are nevertheless still tatty enough to be charming with their curlicues and elaborate turrets peeping shyly from high walls and secret gardens. For years it was a backwater – the few tourists who came at all took pictures then left; bringing no wealth to the area. These days, however, it is losing its “pretty but dangerous” image and is well on its way to gentrification. An artist community has moved in and there are open days where people can poke around inside their stunning dolls’ houses clinging to the rock and covered with creeper.  

The Artists Open Days are all part of a brand new initiative started by three dynamic young Cariocas, Leonardo Rancel, João Vergara and Roberta Allencastro. Calling themselves Cama e Café, they have combined the old concept of B&Bs with 21st Century technology to bring the very first Bed and Breakfast accommodation to Brazil .  

Here’s how it works:  

·         You, the traveller, in, as they say, the comfort of your own home, fill in a form, listing personal interests, budget, preferences (a bit like a dating agency, except that you’re seeking your perfect holiday accommodation match).   

·         Then you get onto the website or telephone (see below) to find your match.   

·         Over fifty local people belong to the internet-based project, and they match tourists with the sort of accommodation to which they can relate.  

·         You’ll get prices ranging from $20 - $70, and can stay in places ranging from simple homes to luxury villas stuffed with contemporary art – one with Phillipe Starck furniture. Take a room or an apartment, according to need.    

·         The B&B concept will tailor-make your holiday, offer advice and help with sightseeing or leave you to discover alone.   

·         Other initiatives slated for the near future include a small centre where visitors can meet, swap information and send emails.

The three organiser/artists are constantly looking for ways to improve the service. “We realised, for example,” notes Roberta, “that many taxi drivers Downtown didn’t like the steep streets, so we have negotiated with a local firm who don’t mind the cobbles.”  

I stayed at probably the most unusual venue – with the sisters of The Religiosas da Assunção convent, right at the very top of a precipitous private road.

Basic, to say the least, and really designed for pilgrims rather than tourists, the view more than compensates - the only thing higher than the convent seems to be the Christ statue itself.

I was expected to follow convent rules – managing to miss the 10.00pm curfew altogether on more than one occasion. (It would best suit people keen to explore Rio by daylight!) Although most of the B&Bs have good English speakers, I ended up talking to the nuns in French – which they teach in the favella (slum) downhill. Theirs is a mighty calling – whilst Santa Teresa itself is relatively safe (it is wise to be on one’s guard everywhere in Rio ) the favellas are not to be entered lightly. At night the only things that interrupts the distant carnival drum practice below is the occasional gunshot. Luckily those nuns, most of them over seventy, are fearless.  

There is much to be enjoyed in Santa Teresa itself - a wander round the streets reveals little boutiques, trendy bars and a superb fish restaurant, Sobrenatural. And if you are up for it, there’s Rio ’s hip-est new nightspot - The Rua do Lavradio. What, during the day, is a quiet road full of antique shops becomes an enormous swinging party at night – especially Fridays. In a couple of instances the antiques shops themselves turn into bars – the guests lounge around on gilded chaise-longues listening to DJs though glass cabinets, surrounded by objets d’art. Well worth booking with that cab firm in advance…


General Rio information, Rio Tur (+55) (21) 2217 7698

Brazil Tourist Office ( London ) 020 7629 6909  

With permission by Sandra Lawrence.  A version of this article first appeared in the Sunday Telegraph 



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