Ipanema Calling

No one does beach, cocktails and great bodies like the Cariocas do. Join the gatinhos in Rio this summer for some sun, shopping and a caipirinha or two.

The amazing Ipanema

When I am in town, I tend to head for Ipanema sitting between Copacabana (or more correctly Arpoador) and Leblon. Everything you need from a trip to Rio can be found here. For those who have yet to visit, Ipanema sits between the amazing beach and Lagoa. A grid like system makes it a compact and easy to navigate slice of the city.

Ipanema almost seamlessly rolls into Leblon (it’s the river that separates the two) and although the areas differ a little, unless you are buying an apartment or need a school, the differences will have little impact on any holiday.

A series of military dictators and poor planning decisions mean that little of the city’s beautiful Portuguese architecture survives. The super elegant Copacabana Palace still stands but mostly the city is a jumble of uninspiring 60s and 70s architecture. The beach though, is an altogether different proposition and Rio life really revolves around it.



So much is written about Rio beach style, I’ve spent over three months there and here is my lowdown.

First, only tourists use towels,  everyone else uses cangas – these are  extremely useful large pieces of fabric that fold really small into your bag. If you have the technique, you can also use it as a beach wrap dress. This is a bit too ‘Generation Game’ for me and I have never managed it – looking more like Julius Caesar than Giselle. You can buy them on the beach for about R$25. My tip – wash them separately when you get home as the colours run.

No topless sunbathing – absolutely not done. Even if you are Italian and like to whip them out at every available opportunity. Keep ‘em covered.

Swimming costumes versus bikinis – I’ve seen it written that you will look ridiculous in a swimming costume. This is not true and some chicks look sensational in their Zimmermans (see Net-a-Porter.com and matchesfashion.com). If you want to wear a costume – go ahead and wear one. The Cariocas really like to fit in with each other – which is why all the men are in sungas and all the women are in bikinis regardless of whether it is the best idea for their shape and let me tell you, very often it isn’t. I’ve seen more and more costumes coming into the boutiques in recent years – the boutique Garota de Ipanema has some wonderful ones (R. Vinícius de Moraes, 53).

Tourist Mistakes

1.Wearing thong back bikinis – it’s always foreigners who do this. Normally Argentinians, but a few Europeans get this wrong too. Brazilians don’t wear them.

2.Walking on the boardwalk in a thong and only a tee shirt. This looks hideous, not to mention alarming. As you can’t see the top of the knickers – such as they are – all people can see are two foreign, doughy cheeks which makes it look like you are naked on your bottom half. This is very disconcerting, to say the least, to people sipping on their agua de coco and you won’t see Cariocas doing this.

3. Feeling obliged to show buttocks to the world when the world really is not ready for them.

Who was the girl from Ipanema?


In 1962, a young 17 year old girl would walk down what is now rua Vinícius de Moraes towards the beach. On the way she would pass the café-bar Botequim Veloso on the corner where a group of young musicians experimented with a new sound – the bossa nova. That school girl was Helô Pinheiro. The now famous song was originally released in Portuguese, but during a stint in New York the musicians decided to record an English version. This was performed by Astrud Gilberto (João Gilberto’s wife) who was the only one who could speak any English, but whose singing voice proved to be perfect for the song. It became an international hit and is the second most recorded song of all time, after The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’.

Now the café bar has been renamed Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema) and serves an excellent mixed grill at your table. Pair that with a fresh salad (rather than the rice and chips) and a sugar free caipirinha to stay both low carb and looking as good as Helô! Her boutique selling lovely swimwear and beach accessories is next door and well worth a visit.

Caipirinha Brazil’s National Cocktail


Made from cachaça, sugar and lime, it’s unlikely your visit won’t involve one. Although officially you can only call drinks made with lime by the name caipirinha, you will find them containing various fruits. Caipivodka is the same drink with Smirnoff substituted for cachaça and is fanastic with fresh maracujá (passion fruit).

Where to go for yours?

The bar on 17th floor of Hotel Praia de Ipanema. With Ipanema stretched out gloriously ahead of you and a cold caipi in hand – you know you’ve arrived in town.

Any of the kiosks on the boardwalk. They may seem a bit low brow, but they make an ideal beachside hangout for tourists and locals alike. I like to watch the tightrope walking at Posto 10.

Palaphita Kitch – there are two to consider – one by Lagoa (aim to be there just before sunset for a great vibe and view) and one at the horse race track at Gavea. They have the most amazing selection of Amazonian and native Brazilian fruits to mix with their caipirinhas and caipivodkas. My personal favourite is a jabuticaba caipirinha at Gavea with the racing in the background.


Beach gear is obvious, but here are some tips to get the vibe exactly right.


1. Rayban Aviators The number one look for Rio divas.

2. Wedges Everyone loves a strappy sandal but I know the pavements – you will thank me for this shoe tip. Cassie White Wedge, Dune London, £70

3. Nail Lacquer What else is there for your toes? Has to be OPI’s ‘The Thrill of Brazil’ £12.50, harveynichols.com

4. Clutch Take your maxi effortlessly to cocktails by adding a clutch. This one is a classic investment and goes with everything. White Leather Clutch DVF, £220, farfetch.com

5. Madderson Maxi If there is one thing that looks the part in Rio, it’s a Madderson maxi. Cariocas don’t just do maxis with flats of a day – não senhora – the lunch time/shopping maxi with a heel is everywhere. You need stylish dresses which travel well and these fit the bill perfectly. Worn day or evening mine drew lots of lovely compliments – always a welcome thing in life. Serena Maxi, £78, maddersonlondon.com

6. Panama Hat Always crisp and chic. Can be bought locally or try brora.com

7. Osklen Beach Bag The signature bag in Ipanema.

8. In Brazil by Fran Bryson is a 300-page love letter to this extraordinary nation. It is both an off-the-beaten-track guide to Brazil and a meditation on what compels us to travel.

9. João Gilberto It has to be Bossa Nova and João Gilberto is perfection, capturing the vibe wonderfully. Essential Rio listening.

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