Travel Black Book With Tamara Heber-Percy

Where to eat, stay and shop in Rio de Janeiro

Feel the energy of Rio de Janeiro in its people and atmosphere

Who: Briton Tamara Heber-Percy, in her early 40s, co-founder and chief technology officer of the Mr & Mrs Smith collection of boutique hotels. She is married to its co-founder James Lohan, 45. They have two children, Tom, eight, and Alexandra, six.

Favourite destination: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Why: I love the music, colour, energy, attitude and vibrancy of the people and there is always so much to discover. I think the energy of the place is what strikes me the most - you can feel it through the people and the atmosphere in the streets. I lived in Brazil shortly after I left university, so I visited Rio then. I have been there three times.

Favourite hotel

There are so many good hotels, but a favourite is La Suite by Dussol (, set in a quieter area of the city. It has the most incredible views, looking onto Ipanema and Sugarloaf Mountain. The hotel is a transformed private residence, so it feels like a home away from home, with the luxuries of a hotel. If you want to be more central, Fasano Rio ( on Ipanema beach has the most awesome view of the neighbourhood and probably the coolest hotel pool and bar in the world. It is just five minutes from Copacabana beach.

If you are after something a bit quieter, but still in the thick of it, the stylish Santa Teresa Hotel ( fits the bill.

Favourite restaurant

Brazilian restaurant Aprazivel ( in the winding Santa Teresa neighbourhood is a special place for dinner because of its setting amid trees and its magical views of the city's twinkling lights. Ask for a table with a view and order the palm heart dish - you will not regret it.

Must-try foods

Rio is home to some of Brazil's finest churrascarias, traditional barbecue restaurants that offer set menus. Among the most popular in the city is Fogo de Chao ( in Botafogo. Brazil is also home to the acai berry superfood, so make sure you add that to your breakfast (most hotels will have it on the menu). Do not miss Confeitaria Colombo ( in the centre of the city for a perfect Portuguese tart.

Favourite museum

Museu de Arte do Rio ( is wonderful. I love its contemporary architecture, interactive focus and fantastic range of Brazilian art. There is also a small museum of Carnival at the Sambadrome (, Rio's purpose-built parade, showcasing some winning costumes and narrating the history of Carnival.

Experience local culture

What could possibly be more Carioca (the Brazilian word for anything related to Rio de Janeiro) than dancing in - or at least alongside - Carnival? It usually takes place annually in February.

Favourite neighbourhood

Santa Teresa. The cafes and restaurants are great and the vibe is relaxed and artsy. I love the cobbled streets and the views - the neighbourhood extends up a hill which looks out over Rio.

Favourite shopping

For a line-up of brands, both Brazilian and international, from Osklen to Louis Vuitton, head to the main street in Ipanema.

Favourite bookshop

The Livraria da Travessa bookstore ( is filled with Brazilian and international literature and has a huge music department upstairs. Stop for a coffee in the mezzanine cafe.

Best place to watch the sunset

Without a doubt, the poolside, rooftop bar at Fasano Rio - but it is for hotel guests only.

Worthwhile side trips

Buzios - a party town on the coast, with a gorgeous boutique hotel called Insolito ( - is just a three-hour drive away.

This is where Cariocas (the local residents) holiday and it has a distinct Ibiza-party vibe with a Brazilian twist.

Do not leave without...

A photo on the Escadaria Selaron, the staircase designed by Jorge Selaron. It links the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods.

You may have to battle for space in the same way you would to get a shot of Rome's Spanish Steps.

Event to bookmark

Carnival should be on everyone's bucket list. It is the biggest party in the world. Alternatively, time your trip for the food festival Restaurant Week and make the most of the three-course, fixed-price meals that will be on offer at restaurants throughout the city. It is held from Sept 19 to Oct 9 this year.

Ideal length of stay

If you are using Rio as a stopping point on your way to Bahia state up north, three nights would be perfect. If you want to do everything in the city, you will need at least four days. If you are coming for Carnival, arrive a couple of days early to acclimatise and soak up the anticipation and atmosphere - you will need a full seven days.

Recommended reading

Bahia Blues by Yasmina Traboulsi. It is a passionate novel about a community living in Salvador de Bahia, the capital of Bahia and one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas.

Traveller's advice

Withdraw money inside banks, not from the cash machines outside. Beware of credit-card fraud and use cash as much as possible for smaller shops and vendors.

Best souvenir

Bring home some Brazilian coffee - try the speciality beans they serve and sell at the atmospheric Grao Cafe (

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline Where to eat, stay and shop in Rio de Janeiro. Subscribe