21 February 2018

The spectacular view of Christ the Redeemer
Rio on a roll
The World Cup, the Olympics and a booming economy – it’s all kicking off in Brazil and Roderick Gilchrist joins the party
Offers to Rio de Janeiro
Hotels in Rio de Janeiro
idnight in Rio de Janeiro’s hippest samba club, and it’s sultry and sensual - just as you’d expect. All around me young Cariocas (the nickname Indians gave to the white Portuguese settlers) are dancing in ways that would get them arrested in Britain. A spectacular double for a young Bianca Jagger wears a wide smile and little else. Sorry Brucie, this is even racier than Strictly. The swaying drumbeat of Joao Sabia’s band wells up inside Rio Scenarium, once a disused warehouse in Lapa, the bohemian district, and won’t stop until dawn.

I’ve loved Brazilian music ever since I first heard The Girl From Ipanema. It spoke of reckless South American abandon, of a carefree lifestyle dedicated to sun, sand, sea and caipirinhas - the rum and lime cocktail. Samba was born in the favelas, red-brick shanty towns that lie behind Rio’s gleaming white ocean-front hotels. Today, after years of flirting with American pop, Rio’s young have rediscovered samba, so rooted in their own heritage. There is even a band playing when you take the single track train through the rain forest to the top of Corcovado, where the statue of Christ the Redeemer stands, arms outstretched as if in forgiveness of the decadence taking place 2,300ft below.
Luxury with a sea view at the Copacabana Palace Hotel
Join the carnival in Rio
The government has promised £7billion to improve transport, reclaim swampland for the athletes’ village and rid the favelas of armed drugs gangs. Numerous hotels are under construction and US cruise ships will provide 8,000 beds. Brazil, despite still suffering widespread poverty, can apparently afford it. The country is one of the top ten economies in the world. It has discovered massive oil deposits inside territorial waters. President Lula, once a shoeshine boy, boasts that in 30 years Brazil will produce as much oil as Saudi Arabia.

He persuaded the Olympic Committee to give the Games to Latin America for the first time by holding out the heart-stopping vision of volleyball on Copacabana beach, sailing in the shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain and finishing the marathon in Sambadrome, where the carnival dancers parade in their exotic costumes. Brazilian exuberance is undeniable. I found this out when I rode the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf. As I looked at the near vertical ascent my terror of flying reemerged. I told Gabriella, my guide, that I couldn’t make it. ‘You can’t come all the way from England and not see the best view in the world,’ she insisted. ‘I will hold your hand to give you courage.’

And that’s how I arrived at the top of Sugar Loaf - holding the hand of a female stranger half my age. She was right about the view. Far below, beyond Guanabara Bay, lay the sparkling white sands of Copacabana, Ipanema and Botafogo. Behind them, in gleaming curves on the shoreline, I could spot the fabulous hotels and apartment blocks, giving way to favelas, cradled between rainforests, mountains and the ocean.
The swaying beat pours from every bar, a metaphor for the city’s new-found confidence as it prepares for its biggest-ever party. Football’s World Cup comes to Rio in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.
"A carefree lifestyle dedicated to sun, sand, sea and caipirinhas."
I have always dreamed of jogging along Copacabana beach - three miles of caster sugar sand where all races and classes gather. It serves as a singles’ bar for dating, an office for business deals, an endless football field (there are hundreds of goalposts and thousands play barefoot by day and under floodlights at night) and a forum to pick up the latest gossip on politics, fashion and celebrity.

Here, the Cariocas are an exotic mix of Indian, European and African, and the women’s bikinis are no bigger than postage stamps. While running barefoot through the surf on Copacabana, I saw something that would make a great clip on TV’s Animals Do The Funniest Things. A young man had created a goal from a pair of coconuts.
"Torrents of water gush at nine million litres a second. The roar is heard 15 miles away. Clouds of spray rise 100ft. "
Famous Copcabana Beach and Sugerloaf Mountain
'An ocean falling into an abyss' iguassu Falls
The Copacabana Palace
He stood his collie on the goal line. It wore a coat in the black and red colours of his favourite club, Flamengo. He then took penalties. Every time the dog jumped up and saved the ball with its muzzle, crowds of onlookers went mad with joy. It’s no secret that they are football crazy in Rio. My friend Edson took me to the fabled Maracana stadium, where 220,000 once watched Brazil. Down on the pitch, entertaining visitors, a former player wearing Brazil’s canary yellow shirt was juggling the ball off his neck, knee and shoulders, never letting it touch the ground.

It’s only a 20-minute ride from Maracana to the Copacabana Palace hotel. The Copa is the fabled haunt of stars from Hollywood’s golden era, and looks like a wedding cake. Orient Express bought it in the Eighties and poured in millions to make it a byword for style. Princess Diana once commandeered the pool at 2am. Madonna drew a big heart in the visitors’ book. I occupied suite 602, where I was attended by my personal butler, Leonardo. Mick Jagger also occupied suite 602 before the Rolling Stones gave a free show on the beach. The Copa is not only British, but managed in this combustible metropolis by an Englishman, Accrington-born Philip Carruthers.

Next morning, I tumbled out of bed for the flight to Iguassu Falls, which featured in the film The Mission. The falls are said to be ‘an ocean falling into an abyss’. Torrents of water gush at nine million litres a second. The roar is heard 15 miles away. Clouds of spray rise 100ft. Wooden walkways that take you to the edge of more than 250 waterfalls, dropping 269ft in cascading ledges. Later, we rode the rushing rapids in a twin-engine Zodiac, where I screamed with exhilaration like a teenage girl. The falls are set in a national park where jaguars roam, toucans screech and yellow butterflies the size of starlings flutter before you. In the park is another wonderful hotel, Das Cataratas, pinkwashed and colonial-style. I walked creeper-hung trails in the humid rainforest and kayaked wide reaches of the river, where alligators lurk on the banks. My own Indiana Jones moment in a magical location.

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