Ipanema

Memorable mid winter getaways

It’s wet, windy and dark at four o clock so it must be time to head abroad and bask in some winter sun. KH has the low-down on 10 destinations where sun, sand and sea come as standard

Palm  Springs, America
Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, Palm Springs stands for everything I love: hot weather, fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet.
Located 110 miles east of Los Angeles along Hwy 111, Palm Springs is where the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies headed when they wanted to escape the intensity of Hollywood. However it wasn’t just Dean, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr who flocked to this desert jewel. Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable: name your star and they’ll almost certainly have had an extravagant home here. The question isn’t so much who has stayed and played in Palm Springs, as who hasn’t? The Best of the Best’s ‘Rich And Famous Tour’ shows you the estates of the all of the celebs who helped put Palm Springs on the map.
But the real reason you flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t. But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.

South coast, Barbados
When in Britain the sky is the colour of porridge, the leaves are falling and everyone is succumbing to the  flue, in Barbados it’s hot. Not sweltering sunstroke hot you understand, but blue skies, smattering of clouds, top up the tan hot.
Even better: it doesn’t require a string of vaccinations to get there and everyone speaks English. The majority of Brits make a beeline for Barbados’ fabled west coast which isn’t nicknamed the Platinum coast for nothing: this lap of luxury is where the jet set (think leggy models, real estate gurus, playboys and socialites) hang out.
Yes the west coast is good at showing off, but sometimes less is more right? So if, like me, you can survive a holiday without bumping into Simon Cowell and co, head south where you’ll find pockets of paradise that have not yet been lost. There’s no such thing as a bad beach in Barbados, but Brownes beach, Miami beach and Accra beach – all on the sun kissed south coast – are exceptionally fine spots to toast on a sun lounger and then spend longer in the paint box turquoise water than a dolphin.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio has always been hot (in every sense of the word) but right now the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) is positively sizzling! The world’s best footballers were in Rio last summer for the FIFA 2014 World Cup and they’’ll be followed by the Olympic flame in 2016.
Most visitors touch down and make a beeline for the beach – be it the world famous Copacabana or its more salubrious sibling, Ipanema, both of whom have been celebrated in song and film. Regardless of where you to choose to stretch out your beach towel, expect to see Cariocas (aka residents of Rio) from all walks of life – families, favela kids, football players, pensioners, hawkers peddling sunglasses and sarongs, and socialites in huge sunglasses – coming together to get their groove on.
It would be easy – and perfectly understandable in light of the recent Siberian weather conditions in Blighty – to spend all of your time frying yourself silly on the golden sand. But Rio offers more than just a day on the beach and only a philistine would visit without ticking off the 125ft statue of Christ the Redeemer who stands, arms outstretched, on the summit of Corcovado Mountain – and ascending Sugarloaf Mountain (also referred to as Pao de Acucar).

Sanya, Hainan
A few weeks from now you could a) be counting the shades of gray in a February day or b) lying on the sand in Sanya (there’s more to China than the Temple of Heaven and Terracotta Warriors), working on the tan.
This oasis that sits on the same latitude as Hawaii hasn’t received the recognition it deserves, having only been opened to visitors 20 years ago. As a result, it’s not as fashionable as other Asian beach destinations, but it can only be a matter of time…
Sanya marks the southernmost tip of the island of Hainan, which is roughly the same size as Belgium. Dubbed “the end of the earth” (or the “tail of the dragon” due to its remoteness in relation to Beijing), this tropical city is famous for its beaches and doesn’t disappoint. Dadonghai Bay and Sanya Bay are both fine spots for those who want to fly and flop but, budget permitting, aim to base yourself 15km east at exclusive Yalong Bay. The beach here is the best and, unless you’re mad enough to go over Chinese New Year, it’s virtually empty.

Tel Aviv, Israel
Can’t choose between perfect beaches and bronzed bodies, a buzzy city atmosphere or architectural treasures? Israel’s largest city delivers them all – along with gastronomy, history and culture -  in spades.
Of course Tel Aviv has been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons but don’t be deterred from visiting: travelling to Tel Aviv – whose name means ‘Hill of the Spring’ – no longer constitutes an active threat. Tourists have rarely been targeted and you’ll be warmly greeted by Israelis looking to shed their country’s international reputation.
In fact we defy you to to resist the charms of the friendly – and unfeasibly good looking – locals who will bend over backwards to help you during your sojourn in the White City. Those that I was befriended by couldn’t get over the fact that, back home in Britain, I don’t know my neighbours – absolutely everyone knows everyone in Tel Aviv.
All told if you want to put the pep back in your step, if you want to live life to the full and be bold, bright and fabulous, Tel Aviv delivers.

Riveria, Mexico
If the weather is really getting you down, fret not. Simply pull out your sense of adventure and make for Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. True the journey to get there is something of an odyssey but this is a small price to pay for a perfect mix of winter sun, beautiful beaches,  sea as turquoise as glass, ancient temple ruins, fine food and loud and proud Latin culture – in short everything you could want from a Mexican holiday.
Cancun is the gateway to this pocket of sunny paradise but his resort lined strip only gives you a limited view of what the state of Quintana Roo (pronounced Kin tah nah roh) has to offer. Instead push onto Playa del Carmen which manages to be hip as well as hot. The postcard charmer has decades of experience of welcoming European and Americans sun seekers who flock here to see and be seen on Playa’s Bounty advert beaches. World class snorkelling and diving (the underwater world here is a paradise for snorkellers and divers of every ability) can fill your days or you can just drift off a beachside bed and ogle the mahogany flesh – expect a competitive parade of preening bling – that is always on display before hitting Quinta Avenida which hums with activity at any hour.

Boracay, The Philippines
No visit to the Philippines is complete without spending some time on the island of Boracay whose pristine beaches and balmy waters provide a welcome escape for weary travellers. Yes, grass-roofed, fixed umbrellas are everywhere. And yes, hawkers do patrol the beach looking to sell their crafts. But it’s still possible to secure a stretch of sand for yourself, settle back and enjoy the unhurried pace of life. Some whinge that Boracay has become commercialised – that the island has too many resorts, eateries and bars (there’s even a shopping mall). Yet, while there are signs that the island is going upmarket  (Shangri La hotel has taken up a tenancy), Boracay still lags way behind any of its Thai equivalents, as far as rampant development goes.
At night, the island comes alive. Filipinos certainly know how to party. Head for the landmark beachfront bar of Hey! Jude or Bom Bom Bar – a sizzling hot sundowner spot. Under the setting sun and the blare of pop hits, you can enjoy timeless and unpretentious Filipino fun that modernity can’t surpass.

Cape Town, South Africa
It was back in 1850 that Sir Francis Drake described Cape Town as the “fairest cape in the whole circumference of the earth”. Fast-forward a few hundred years and Drake’s declaration still rings true. After a few grim decades, when the thought of visiting Cape Town and feeling the sun on your face was heavily tempered by the specter of violent crime, the city is once again back on the map, having firmly established itself as a travellers’ haven.
It might be possible to have a bad time in Cape Town, but it’s hard to see how. For in the aptly named ‘Rainbow Nation’, visitors can effectively combine a spectrum of different holidays in just one trip. The tourist target boasts an embarrassment of riches: its got awesome mountains, game reserves galore, cultural rewards in the shape of the city itself, scores of scenic attractions and yes – world class beaches where you can ogle the effortlessly gorgeous, long limbed locals basking in the sunshine. (You won’t see many soaking up the surf as the waters are cold enough to keep even the keenest of swimmers out of the ocean). Other pluses? Prices are reasonable, if not remarkably cheap and there’s no jet lag to contend with.

Dubai, UAE
As recently as two decades ago few Brits had heard of, yet alone been to, Dubai. Now the emirate is a permanent fixture on the winter sun scene thanks to its promise of guaranteed rays, without the need to fly halfway around the globe.
People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish projects, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about  malls and modernity.
However scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside the skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel) and the Emirates Towers sit historical sites such as Bastakia  and the creek – arguably the heart beat of Dubai. Here you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) before sauntering through the bustling souks. Bottom line? There’s awful lot to discover about Dubai beyond what you know from the glossy brochures.

Nha Trang, Vietnam
If you’ve ever wondered what Goa looked like before the hippies or Thailand before the high rise hotels, then Nha Trang could be your last chance to find out. Vietnam’s beach capital may not have previously figured on your mental map, yet when you get there it’s hard to see why not.
Allow me to paint the picture… the sea is the colour of Bombay sapphire, the sky is perpetually blue and the sand is platinum blonde and squeaks when you walk on it. Right now it’s warm rather than scorching, but six hours of sunshine a day is still a distinct improvement on Blighty. To the beach you can add cultural treasures, great surf and dive sites, good retail therapy, lively nightlife, fabulous food and everything from hostels to super swish resorts.
When night falls, seek out The Sailing Club: a friendly bustling establishment on the beach that’s a great spot for a night out. As you stand watching the waves crash onto the shore with a cool beer in hand while a calypso throbs in the background, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

Change of tune: Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro

Rio's Ipanema is already well-known for a song and a beach - so discover its shopping

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Rio's Copacabana Beach at night. Photo: Thinkstock

Beaches. Bossa Nova. Football. Food. Sun. Samba. Rio de Janeiro has long been known for the aforementioned, but thanks to its booming economy, the Cidade Maravilhosa (marvellous city) can add "sensational shopping" to its long list of attractions.

And what do cashed-up, image-conscious Cariocas (Rio residents) want to splash their reais on? Clothes, of course - for as Bruna, a taut, tanned public relations professional, informs me: "Image is everything right now in Rio."

Consequently, stores have sprung up across the samba state, but the best are found in upscale Ipanema.

Immortalised in song, Ipanema is famous for its sugar-sand beach, but good retail therapy is another draw. Carrie Bradshaw and the girls would feel at home here.

You'll find leading luxury brands, including Burberry and Louis Vuitton, along tree-lined streets, such as Rua Garcia D'Ávila. This is the thoroughfare favoured by the cast of Mulheres Ricas (Rich Women), a popular reality TV show revolving around the lives of wealthy Rio women.

Nonetheless, Ipanema isn't all about international designer barns. In recent years, a buzz has been building around home-grown labels, such as Salinas and Alexandre Herchcovitch.

Walking down Rua Visconde de Pirajá, my favourite "Made in Brazil" fashion find is Gilson Martins, full of lust-have handbags adorned with images of Rio's iconic Corcovado mountain. At nearby Luko, I browse through some sexy fashion statements, including slinky halter tops. Leaving with a lighter wallet, but looking infinitely more stylish, I am again distracted by another standout boutique, Forum, showcasing the uber-cool creations of much-touted Brazilian designer Tufi Duek. With a bountiful supply of denim, eveningwear and everything in between, this is the kind of boutique I wished I lived around the corner from.

Local men's boutique Redley catches my eye, selling board shorts and couture beach duds. "The men's fashion market is growing very fast," says the good-looking sales assistant. "Rio guys are much more fashion-conscious now and like to experiment with their look."

Showing off a tan on Ipanema's white sands must be done in style. I'm thinking Rio dental: a bikini with a resemblance to dental floss. Osklen is all about fashionable yet flattering beach styles for men and women in eye-catching colours that are guaranteed to turn a few heads. The Rua Maria Quiteria store is staffed by smiley assistants - though owing to the white beaches and near-perpetual blue skies, Cariocas have a lot to smile about - and chances are you'll bump into them in a bar later that night.

Regardless of whether you shell out for a racy cutout swimsuit or a tropical-coloured bikini, swimwear should be accessorised with a pair of ubiquitous Havaianas. These humble rubber sandals are Brazil's biggest export and come in every colour of the rainbow.

On the jewellery front, H Stern is the big headline grabber, but personally I'm mad about Maria Oiticica, whose products have been made using Amazonian ingredients and, as such, are easy on the environment - if not the purse strings.

For funky home furnishings, InterStudio is where it's at. Here, you can snap up wooden carvings by Pernambuco artisans without worrying how to get them home - everyone knows somebody who has a friend who has a cousin who can help out.

A love for books takes me to Livararia da Travessa. The ground floor is chock full of coffee-table tomes and foreign-language titles, while the second floor houses a selection of CDs and a buzzing cafe. There, try one of the innovative salads and wash it down with Brazil's national cocktail, the Caipirinha - Ipanema is the sort of place where having one too many cocktails is a given.

A few blocks away lies Toca do Vinicius, a small music emporium named after Vinicius de Moraes, the man credited with creating bossa nova music. This is the place to buy quintessential Brazilian souvenirs. The tiny museum upstairs, dedicated to the life and works of the Brazilian music legend, is also worth a visit.

Ipanema has a couple of stellar shopping centres, and unlike in Europe, malls aren't only for red-faced expats and holidaying footballer's wives - they're beloved by locals, too. I visit Forum de Ipanema and Ipanema 2000. They aren't cheap - after all, this is a neighbourhood that loves to revel in the luxurious side of life - but as I was on a trip of a lifetime, I wanted to do things in style.

That said, I did put my bargaining skills to use at the Hippie Fair, where character and local charm are found in place of inflated prices. Held every Sunday on Praca General Osório in Zona Sul, this famous market should satisfy even the most serious shopaholics. I browse though everything from jeans to jewellery to handicrafts before heading to the southeast corner for a salgado (snack).

Ipanema offers more than just a day at the beach. The future of its shopping scene is as bright as the Brazilian sun.

Where to shop

Gilson Martins, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 462 Luko, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 547 Forum, Rua Barão da Torre 422 Redley, Rua Maria Quitéria 99 Osklen, Rua Maria Quitéria 85 Havaianas, Rua Xavier da Silveria 19 H Stern, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 490 Maria Oiticica, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 351 InterStudio, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 605 Livraria da Travessa, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 572 Toca do Vinicius, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 371 Forum de Ipanema, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 351 Ipanema 2000, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 547

Ipanema: top of the shops

Kaye Holland reports on Rio de Janeiro’s burgeoning shopping scene

Beaches. Bossa Nova. Football. Food. Sun. Samba. Rio de Janeiro has long been known for the aforementioned but, thanks to its booming economy, the Cidade Maravilhosa can also add ‘sensational shopping’ to its deep bag of attractions.

And what do cashed up, image conscious Cariocas (Rio residents) want to splash their Reais on? Why clothes, of course, for as Bruna - a taut, tanned PR professional informs me: “Image is everything, right now in Rio.” Consequently, stores have sprung up across the Samba state, but the best are found in upscale Ipanema.

Immortalised in song, Ipanema is famed for its icing sugar sands but good retail therapy is another draw. Make no mistake: Carrie Bradshaw and the girls would feel at home here.

You’ll find leading luxury brands - take a bow Burberry and Louis Vuitton - along tree lined streets, such as Rua Garcia D’Avila. This is the address favoured by the cast of Mulheres Ricas (Rich Women) - a popular reality TV show revolving around the lives of wealthy Rio women.

Nonetheless Ipanema isn’t all about international designer barns. In recent years, a buzz has been building around home grown labels such as Salinas and Alexandre Herchcovitch.

Walking down Rua Visconde de Piraja, my favourite ‘Made in Brazil’ fashion find is Gilson Martins, full of lust-have handbags, adorned with images of Corcovado. At nearby Luko, I browse through some sexy fashion statements – think slinky halter tops. Leaving with a lighter wallet, but looking infinitely more stylish, I am again distracted by another standout boutique, Forum, showcasing the uber-cool creations of much touted Brazilian designer, Tufu Duek. With a bountiful supply of denim, evening wear and everything in between, this is the kind of boutique I wished I lived around the corner from.

IMG_1927

Local men’s boutique Redley catches my eye, selling board shorts and couture beach duds. “The men’s fashion market is growing very fast,” says the good looking sales assistant. “Rio guys are much more fashion-conscious now, and like to experiment with their look.”

Showing off the tan on Ipanema’s white sands must be done in style. I am thinking rio dental (dental floss bikini). Osklen is all about fashionable yet flattering beach styles for men and women in eye catching colours -guaranteeing to turn a few heads. The Rua Maria Quiteria store is staffed by smiley assistants (but then owing to the white beaches and near perpetual blue skies, Cariocas have a lot to smile about) and chances are you’ll bump into them in a bar later that night.

IMG_1841

Regardless of whether you plump for a racy cut-out swimsuit or a tropical coloured bikini, swimwear should be accessorized with the ubiquitous Havaianas. These humble rubber sandals are Brazil’s biggest export, and come in every colour of the rainbow.

On the jewellery front, H Stern is the big headline grabber, but personally I’m mad about Maria Oiticica whose products have been made using Amazonian ingredients and, as such, are easy on the environment - if not the purse strings.

For funky home furnishings, Interstudio is where it’s at. Here we snap up wooden carvings by Pernambucco artisans, without worrying how to get them home (everyone knows somebody who has a friend who has a cousin who can help out).

img_1943

A love for books takes me to Livararia da Travessa. The ground floor is chock full of coffee table tomes and foreign language titles, while the second floor houses a selection of CDs and a buzzing cafe. Tip: try the innovative salads, washed down with Brazil’s national cocktail: the Caipirinha - Ipanema is the sort of place where having one too many cocktail is a given.

IMG_1832

A few blocks away lies Toca do Vinicius, a small music emporium named after Vinicius de Moraes the man credited with creating Bossa nova music. This is the place to buy quintessential Brazilian souvenirs. The tiny museum upstairs, dedicated to the life and works of the Brazilian music legend, is also worth a visit.

Ipanema has a couple of stellar shopping centres and, unlike in Europe, malls aren’t only for red faced expats and holidaying footballer’s wives: they’re beloved by locals too. I visit Forum de Ipanema and Ipanema 2000. Cheap they aren’t - this is a neighbourhood that loves to revel in the luxurious side of life - but as I was on a trip of a lifetime, I wanted to do it in style.

IMG_1830

That said, I did put my bargaining skills to use at the Hippie Fair - where character and local charm, rather than inflated prices are found. Held every Sunday in Praca General Osorio, the Zona Sul’s most famous market should satisfy even the most serious of shopaholics. I browse though everything from jeans to jewellery and handicrafts, before heading to the south east corner for a salgado (snack).

Ipanema offers more than just a day at the beach. Spending just the smallest amount of time strolling around the leafy backstreets will lead quickly to the delights of Ipanema’s elegant boutiques - filled with fab things to see and buy. The future of Ipanema’s shopping scene is as bright as the Brazilian sun.

Blame it on Rio

Rio has always been hot, but it's never been this hot. Kaye Holland has the inside story

Brazilians have longed claimed that “God is Brazilian”  - how else to account for the country’s embarrassment of riches? - and now it seems as tho the rest of the world, has finally woken up to this fact.

When reading recent travel ‘it lists’ and ‘hot spots’,  one country emerges above all others: take a bow Brazil, whose economy has overtaken Britain as the sixth largest in the world, who brought samba music to Stratford during the Olympic closing ceremony and whom starred in a documentary series alongside Michael Palin. All of which has helped Brazil brush off the old jibe that it is a country of the future - and always will be.

Yet if Brazil is hot (in every sense of the word) right now, then Rio gets more sizzling still: Pope Francis has chosen the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) for his first overseas tour this July, while the world’s best footballers will be arriving in Rio in 2014, followed by the Olympic flame in 2016.

Most visitors touch down and make a beeline for the beach - be it the world famous Copacabana or its more salubrious sibling, Ipanema, both of whom have been celebrated in song and film. Regardless of where you to choose to stretch out your beach towel, expect to see Cariocas (aka residents of Rio) from all walks of life - families, favela kids, football players, pensioners, hawkers peddling sunglasses and sarongs, and socialites in huge sunglasses - coming together to get their groove on.

I had anticipated being surrounded on the honey coloured sand by supermodel thin Cariocas and, consequently, had expected to feel somewhat self conscious in my swimsuit. Turns out I needn’t have worried. Sure there is plenty of taut, tanned, toned flesh on display, but I also saw plenty of portly men and women letting it all hang out in the Rio uniform: skimpy swimwear and cut off denim shorts, accessorised with the ubiquitous havaianas. And if you do want to get fit, Rio is arguably the place to do it: virtually every beach is equipped with (free) exercise machines to help you become healthier.

The city’s two best hotels are also found in the beachside districts. Copacabana boasts the neoclassical Copacabana Palace - whose recent £20million refurb has upped the decadence quota. An exercise in measured elegance, it’s almost impossible to exaggerate the glories of this property, with its dazzling white facade. It’s the kind of place where Don Draper would, you’d imagine, head on his holidays. While I was in town, the Palace was hosting the heads of Lord Seb Coe, Steve Redgrave and Jessica Ennis who were in Riofor the Laureaus Awards (the Oscars of the sporting world). Ipanema, meanwhile, is home to the hip, Hotel Fasano. Designed by Philippe Starcke, the Fasano attracts a cool crowd - here’s looking at you Beyonce - who flock here for its sleek rooms, gorgeous rooftop pool and glam bar.

It would be easy - and perfectly understandable in light of the recent Siberian weather conditions in Blighty - to spend all of your time frying yourself silly on the beaches of Rio. But Rio offers more than just a day on the beach and only a philistine would visit without ticking off the 125ft statue of Christ the Redeemer who stands, arms outstretched, on the summit of Corcovado Mountain - and ascending Sugarloaf Mountain (also referred to as Pao de Acucar).

Neither attraction is a bargain but both guarantee jaw dropping views of the Marvellous City. You’ll be able to see the verdant Tijuca National Park, lovely Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, beaches, mountains and upscale neighbourhoods juxtaposed alongside the favelas (slums) - which serves as a reminder that Rio is a city divided by haves and haves not. If you’re curious about what life in a favela - where one in five Cariocas live - is like, you can take a guided tour around a shanty town, such as Rocinha. Personally I thought said tours sounded a tad too much like a human safari for my liking and opted, instead, to get a glimpse into real Rio life by attending a football match between Botafago and Flamengo.

For Brazilians are futebol mad and, even if you’re not crazy about the beautiful game, it’s worth watching a match for the atmosphere alone: passionate singing, samba drums and smoke bombs are all part of the colourful experience. Furthermore, unlike Premiership games back home, match tickets don’t have a perturbing price tag: I paid around £30 to see Botafagotriumph over their local rivals and that included not only the match ticket but return transport to the ground (about an hour’s drive outside of Rio) and a guide.

Other areas to explore include sleepy Santa Teresa - aka Rio’s answer to Paris’ Montmartre. Set on the side of a hill and choc full of unusual shops, buzzing botecos (al fresco bars) and bohemian coffee shops, Santa Teresa is where English criminal, Ronnie Brigs - known for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963 -  once resided.

On the subject of crime, I suspect the question on the minds of most would-be tourists is whether Rio can be considered safe? Sadly the city acquired a shady reputation back in the nineties and noughties, when it was known as ‘the murder capital of the world’. Yet just because it was, doesn’t mean it is.

As Rio gets a revamp, ahead of the two major tournaments its staging, the city is certainly safer than it was before the policy of pacification (whereby police forcibly drive the drug lords out of the favelas) began and personally I encountered no problems on the security front, so pack away your prejudices. I wore my watch in public and carried my camera in my bag - despite what my 2010 Lonely Planet guidebook advised - and was warmly greeted by Cariocas looking to shed their city’s international reputation. That said, it’s still a good idea to exercise caution and common sense, as you would wherever you travel.

Crime aside, language barriers are the other issue facing tourists. English isn’t spoken widely but you’ll find that a few Portuguese words(namely obrigado, meaning thank you) and a big smile will go far.

Nights are about feasting on feijoada (Brazil’s famous black bean and meat stew) washed down with a couple of caipirinhas (the national cocktail of cachaca spirit, lime, sugar and iced), before strutting your stuff to samba in the dance halls of Lapa. Make no mistake: Cariocas know how to party - and not just when Carnaval rolls round.

Despite staying out dancing until dawn, I returned home energised and happy, convinced that there is no more enticing place on the planet than Rio de Janeiro. This is an intoxicating city of sun, samba, football, food, beaches and Bossa Nova, that truly justifies every word of the hype. And with interest (and prices) in Rio only set to rocket following the FIFA 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, this is a great year to visit. Get it while it's hot.