With its new lease on life and increased safety, bucolic and bohemian “Santa” provides a wonderful antidote to the Zona Sul beach scene. Taking advantage of the abundance of atmospheric belle epoque villas, a handful of visionary entrepreneurs are going the restoration route and opening up guesthouses that meet the requirements of every pocketbook.
Rio Hostel Santa Teresa (Rua Joaquim Murtinho 361, Santa Teresa, tel. 21/3852-0827, www.riohostel.com, R$35 pp, R$100–120 d) offers tidy, welcoming dorm rooms and minimally decorated double rooms with magnificent views (reserve in advance) for impossibly low prices. The lounge and pool areas are a definite bonus, as is the prime location along the bonde line, which offers access to Santa Teresa’s charms and Lapa’s nocturnal offerings. Very popular with the international backpacking set.
An equally boho vibe is at work at Pousada Casa Aurea (Rua Aurea 8, tel. 21/2242-5830, www.casaaurea.com.br, R$110–140 d), a renovated villa featuring rustic rooms and a leafy garden and patio area with lots of hammocks to swing in.
Meanwhile, to experience life with the locals, a wonderful option is staying as a guest in a private home. Cama e Café (Rua Progresso 67, Santa Teresa, tel. 21/2221-7635, www.camaecafe.com.br) is a B&B network that links travelers and (often very interesting) residents. In Santa Teresa, you can choose from more than 50 offerings based on factors such as cost, comfort, and common interests. Many of the hosts are artists and liberal professionals, with at least a smattering of English and an impressive knowledge of the city. While budget and break-the-bank options exist, the majority of offerings are nicely priced within the R$100–180 range.
Solar de Santa (Ladeira dos Meirelles 32, tel. 21/2221-2117, www.solardesanta.com.br, R$335–490) is a very enticing example of this new trend. Owned by one of the founders of the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil, this sprawling 19th-century villa is ensconced in a tropical garden that feels miles away from urban chaos. Light-flooded rooms are beautifully decorated with works by local artists (many of which can be purchased).
In fact, billing itself as a purveyor of “creative tourism,” the hotel offers guests original services such as custom-designed tours of the city (focusing on fashion, architecture, photography, and gastronomy) and visits to the artists’ studios in Santa Teresa.
More refined, but no less seductive, is Mama Ruisa (Rua Santa Cristina 132, Santa Teresa, tel. 21/2242-1281, www.mamaruisa.com, R$500 d). Originally from Paris, the owner ceaselessly combed antiques stores with the goal of creating an elegant and vaguely retro ambiance for this gleaming mansion’s seven spacious guest rooms, terraces, and salons.
Having succeeded magnificently, he then added beautifully landscaped gardens punctuated by an inviting blue pool. The fabulous city views glimpsed through the trees are the only indication you’re in Rio. Aside from the usual creature comforts, spa services (manicures, pedicures, massages) and chauffeured city tours are available.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition