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Soigneur Travel: Rio de Janeiro

Erika Sallum Tekst Erika Sallum Gepubliceerd 06 January 2022

Rio is a superlative city. Marvellous, chaotic, stunning, dangerous, impressive, and bizarre can all be used to describe it, but Brazil’s most famous destination is also a hidden gem that has yet to be discovered by foreign cyclists. Not so long ago, its mountains and coast had been explored by just a handful of adventurous local riders, even though the city had seen a golden age for cycling during the 50s and 60s. 

The 2016 Summer Olympics brought some international attention to what is surely one of the world’s most astonishing cycling paradises (oh, more adjectives…). That was not enough to make the riding in Rio as famous as it deserves to be though. So, if you are still in doubt about whether you want to bring your bike to Rio, keep in mind that it will provide you with one of your most amazing cycling experiences.

Rio’s real cycling jewels are its mountains, narrow and steep roads that see virtually no cars.

Part of the city’s magic is to be found along the coast, where you can ride through renowned neighbourhoods such as Ipanema and Copacabana and pass other more isolated beaches where tropical jungle almost touches the sea. But Rio’s real cycling jewels are its mountains, which are located in the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, one of the planet’s largest protected forest areas within an urban settlement. Narrow and steep roads that see virtually no cars can take you, for instance, to Christ the Redeemer’s foot—by bike. From the tops of the hills, you can see the whole city in all of its splendour, as you rest after challenging climbs such as the Vista Chinesa and Estrada das Canoas e Paineiras (which were both part of the Olympic road-race circuit). 

Local cyclists are very proud of their city and will be very glad to show you around. Ask them to take you to less visited roads, especially Sumaré, a 12-km ride surrounded by dense forest and great views, or to Mirante Dona Marta’s helipad, where you can see Sugarloaf mountain and the ocean. Afterwards, you can all ride to centro (downtown) to visit iconic buildings such as the Municipal Theatre and the more recent Museum of Tomorrow. 

Not many cyclists from abroad have put Rio on their list of places to ride. That’s a shame. You should do so as soon as possible. 

Photo: Rafael Cantanhede

Sleep | Mama Shelter boutique hotel

Partly located on the slopes of the local mountains, Santa Teresa is certainly one of Rio’s most interesting neighbourhoods. Old houses, streetcars, and narrow alleyways give an exotic and relaxing charm to the hilltop area, which has seen the arrival of good restaurants and great places to stay in recent years. One example is Mama Shelter, a boutique hotel that has both a hostel vibe and a sophisticated touch, with 55 nicely decorated rooms. Its bar and restaurant are well worth visiting.

Dance | DOMply parties

French DJ Craig Ouar moved to Rio just a few years ago but has greatly contributed to the local party scene. Every month, he organises an edition of his DOMply project  which brings together the coolest young partiers and DJs in town. The parties usually happen in an old house in Santa Teresa. They are wonderful for meeting sun-kissed locals, even if that means starting your ride a little later the following day.

Eat | Comuna

Comuna is a burger place, but also the address for underground parties, art exhibitions, and other cultural happenings which have helped to turn Botafogo into one of Rio’s nicest areas. Do not expect fancy people eating gourmet burgers; the idea here is to have a beer (or caipirinha) on the street surrounded by young people and artists. But if you are hungry Comuna will not disappoint you with its delicious sandwiches. They also serve good coffee, pastries, and have a lunch menu that changes every week.

Ride | APCC areas

In 2013, local triathlete Pedro Nikolay was cycling along the Ipanema coast when a bus hit him. His death provoked protests that led to the creation of APCCs, areas where cyclists can train without cars during specific days. There are three APCCs in the city, including Aterro do Flamengo, a 7-km flat lap which is open from 4 a.m. to 5.30 a.m. from Tuesday to Thursday. The Reserva da Barra da Tijuca and Recreio were created afterwards and are more difficult to reach if you are not staying in the region of Barra. Fast local pelotons enjoy the three areas. The sight of the sun rising and illuminating the riders and ocean is unique.

Culture | Real Gabinete Português de Leitura

The most spectacular Brazilian library is only open on weekdays, so try to be in town with time to visit this wonderful building, which was built in the 1880s by the local Portuguese community. Even if you do not speak the language, the sight of high walls covered by old books organised on wooden shelves is precious. Surprisingly, it is not a well known attraction, which makes Gabinete Português even more magical.

Park | Parque Laje

On hot summer days, this beautiful park is a good place to avoid the heat. It lies at the foot of Corcovado, just one kilometre from the more famous Botanical Garden. A piece of the city’s historical and cultural heritage, Parque Laje used to be a sugar mill centuries ago. In the 1800s, it was completely remodelled to house a rich family. Besides huge gardens, the place has a European-style main building with a restaurant and the School of Visual Arts, which hosts free art exhibitions and performances. It is a romantic place to have a coffee or a picnic in the afternoon.

Ride | Prainha 

Prainha, or ‘little beach’ in Portuguese, is a surfing paradise on the very western part of Rio and also the finish of a traditional long ride by the ocean. If you start the journey in Leblon, it is an epic 90-km effort along what is surely one of the world’s most beautiful urban coasts. The small beach offers such scenic views that it is impossible not to stop to take a few photos. Before heading back to ‘zona sul’ (the southern part of Rio, where most tourists stay), try the natural passion-fruit-and-mango juice from one of the several beach kiosks and enjoy the amazing landscape. 

Photo: Rafael Cantanhede

Architecture |  Largo do Boticário

Not many tourists visit this little square lined with amazing neocolonial houses, but Largo do Boticário (Apothecary Plaza; Beco do Boticário, 26, Cosme Velho) is a marvellous example of Rio’s old architecture and vibrant urban life. The picturesque houses date from the early 19th century and have seen better days. Rainforest covers their semi-destroyed facades, which only adds to their charm.

Architecture and Culture | Downtown Rio

There is no better way to visit ‘centro’ (downtown) than by bike. Try the local bike-sharing system, Itaú, which has many docks throughout the city. Rio’s oldest area is full of attractions and is much less touristy than beach spots such as Ipanema or Copacabana. Visit the National Museum of Fine Arts, the 120-year-old Colombo Pastry Shop, the Museum of Tomorrow, and the Port Zone, which was fully renovated for the 2016 Olympics.

Photo: Ondrej Bocek

Culture | Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS)

Rio’s most interesting cultural centre, IMS was opened in the house where banker Walther Moreira Salles and his wealthy family used to live in the Gavea neighbourhood. The building is an attraction in itself, with gardens designed by the renowned Roberto Burle Marx. But this jewel of Brazilian modernist architecture also offers great exhibitions, film screenings, concerts, and other cultural events. Save an afternoon to enjoy the place, which also has a good restaurant.

Eat | The Slow Bakery

The coolest bakery in town has a great atmosphere for you to enjoy a cafezinho (black coffee) and sourdough bread. The super friendly staff also love cycling and are very glad to give tips for local rides (or even take you with them!). The Slow Bakery has another advantage: it is located in Botafogo, an old neighbourhood away from the coast that is becoming one of Rio’s most effervescent areas. It also has a smaller store in Ipanema.

Photo: Rafael Cantanhede

Erika Sallum’s favourite rides

Erika Sallum loves Rio de Janeiro more than any other city. Here are a few of her favourite rides.

Easy | Vista Chinesa, Mesa do Imperador, Bombeiro

From Vista Chinesa, you can reach Mesa do Imperador, where you can take a picture on the famous stone table where Brazil’s emperor used to sit.

Medium | Joá, Paineiras, Cristo, Sumaré

This hilly ride takes you past many of Rio’s most renowned attractions, including Christ the Redeemer.

Hard | 2016 Olympics parcours

Raced on a tough 256-km route, with 5,184 metres of elevation, the 2016 Olympic road race passed all of the city’s famous beaches, including Ipanema and Copacabana.