A three-stop tour of awe-inspiring art and design in southeast Brazil
Some escapes aren’t just about how you feel or what you do while you’re away – they edify, inspire and paint on your memory unique images to cherish. If you’re a visual person, these are the trips that keep on giving. A trip to Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Bahia was exactly that for Juliet Kinsman via an action-jammed week full of art, architecture and adventure.
Street art, sushi and cement sculptures
Is it possible to get a taste of the contemporary culture of this megalopolis in just 24 hours? By starting our rollercoaster Brazilian ride at designer destination Hotel Unique we certainly got a sense of the capital’s art and soul. Towering above leafy residential Jardins neighbourhood, this dramatic wedge-shaped construction appears more like a radical rendering of a futuristic cruiseliner than a real 95-bedroom building. New York’s architectural critic Paul Goldberger declared Ruy Ohtake’s building one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The architect produced all-white smooth-surfaced bedrooms that have the cosiness of cabins, with portholes to peer out over the upmarket gardens district. It’s from the ruby-hued roof-deck bar, bright-red pool and sceney restaurant that you really can’t help but gawp in awe at the city’s sprawl. With the largest Japanese population outside of Tokyo’s mother country, São Paulo promises first-class sushi and nowhere flaunts this perk better than chic Skye Bar and Restaurant. French chef, Emmanuel Bassoleil, also wowed us with a sophisticated taste of classic Brazilian dishes. Where else can you enjoy moqueca de camarão, chili-infused shrimps in coconut milk, served in a carved-out pumpkin washed down with a wasabi martini? Don’t worry about overindulging – fitness here is fun too thanks to a gym that comes complete with a water slide. A walk away there’s the continent’s most sprawling park, Ibirapuera, which was where we head to the campus of the University of São Paulo for the Museum of Contemporary Art. Founder Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho’s impressive big-name-laced permanent collection makes it worth a look, but we were lucky to catch the tail end of Transarquitetônica. A vast installation by Henrique Oliveira, the giant gnarled-tree-like structure with a warren of tunnels transitioning from breeze-block huts into hand-hammered plywood represented abodes through the ages. An edgy, more intimate space back in Jardins is Galeria Emma Thomas which showcases artists that they’ve helped nurture, we met Lucas Simões just before he took up his position as Uxua’s Artist in Residence in Trancoso. Trained as an architect, his painstakingly crafted paper and cement sculptures exemplify the experimental spirit of the city’s new crop of artists. Flaviana Bernardo, the gallery’s co-owner says QUOTE TO COME.
Oscar Niemeyer, Inhotim and the scent of eucalyptus
The World Cup may have boosted the profile of this inland city but did you know that this industrial hub is extraordinary for its modernist architectural heritage? I sure didn’t. Since Belo Horizonte has been geared at businessmen over boutique travellers to date, it’s less about where to stay as what you could see. Plan a circuit around Pampulha’s man-made lake to admire a clutch of Oscar Niemeyer’s early works. Juscelino Kubitschek, mayor of Belo Horizonte before he was president, commissioned from Brazil’s star architect a casino, dance hall, and yacht club to be built waterside in this garden suburb. In 1942, Cassino was the first example of free-form Modernism in Latin America; in the Fifties it became Museu de Arte Moderna. There’s an air of Le Corbusier in the steel, glass and marble structure built with Mineira materials, and also some of the original timeless furniture. Across the water, Casa do Baile was opened in 1943 as the dance hall for the working folks; around the lagoon is the curved, blue-and-white-tiled Igreja de São Francisco, which at the time was considered outrageous for its iconoclastic design.
Billonaire Bernardo Paz’s generous gift to the public opened in 2006 as Inhotim – and pronounce it correctly ‘in-yo-tcheem’– or locals will look at you blankly. Since this art-in-the-rainforest fantasyland has yet to build a hotel on-site, we headed to this Centro de Arte Contemporânea in Brumadinho only for the day. It’s well worth the hour and a half down the interstate to immerse yourself in what is honestly one of the most special art destinations in the world: 22 galleries set amid 1,000 species of palm. Really you’ll need at least three days to explore its 5,000 acres of biodiverse botanical gardens by golf buggy and to see the paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and installations in every pavilion. Many of the works have been specially commissioned and built in situ. For ‘Beam Drop’, Chris Burden positioned 100 45-metre-high beams in a pit of concrete. Cildo Meireles has recreated her all-red living space and dark annex with a sink and a disconcerting flow of red from the tap here and Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s kaleidoscopic “Viewing Machine” set open air in the forest couldn’t have a more thrill-inducing lookout.
Caipirinhas, capoeira and the Atlantic coastline
The state of Bahia buzzes with creativity. A short drive from Porto Seguro, the relaxed boho-Bahian fishing village of Trancoso boasts Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa. A low-key-luxe enclave, it opens onto the central grassy Quadrado, as though a tiny hamlet in itself accessed by just another brightly painted shack. After two decades as creative director of the fashion brand, Diesel owner Wilbert Das was jaded with the fashion industry not striving to make things intended to last. Uxua – which started as his holiday home – evolved into a project where he was deliberately investing in something meaningful. One by one, humble homes have been remodeled as part of Uxua’s barefoot-chic boutique lodgings; part of the rustic charm is that it feels part of the community, with chattering neighbours and crowing roosters contributing to the authentic atmosphere. Anything but conventional and polished, resort the 11 private one-, two- and three-bedroom casas comprise a sustainable destination beloved by the discerning Brazilian elite as much as Europe and America’s jetset. When I stayed in the Casa do Arvore, Solange Knowle’s had only just honeymooned in a newer room. A favourite suite fit for romance seekers created from recycled wood, my boudoir on stilts was a treehouse fit for sybarites. The inspired interiors and bespoke furnishings that helped Uxua win Best Hotel in the 2014 Smith Hotel Awards have been enhanced by Uxua’s Artist In Casa initiative. With an emphasis on local materials Lucas Simões produced his experimental concrete objets d’art while living and working here. Lamps fashioned from tree branches and upcycled ceramics are the legacy of Italy’s Marcantonio Raimondi Malerba while leather craftsman Mark Inglis used organic plant dyes provided by local Pataxó Indians to make the guestbooks, menus and key rings.
I was a lot less purposeful, and found it tempting to do little more than admire the fragrant exotic blooms hanging over the green-aventurine-quartz-lined pool. I stretched to testing out a fresh coconut or cachaça-rich Caipirinha on a lounger reserved down at Uxua’s beach bar. If you’re smart, you’ll try your hands (and feet) at Capoeira – the hotel finances a local academy for the Bahia-born dance-based martial art. Way to your heart through your stomach? Ask Uxua’s chef if he’ll let you in the kitchen to steal some secrets to his stews such as the rich, fishy house moqueca or manioc-thickened bobó. Lazy or active, the good news is that there’s never really a bad time to visit Bahia in terms of temperature. Carnival may be in February, but there’s an art form most Brazilians have mastered and will help you practice year round – and that’s a passion for enjoying life.
Hotel Unique Avenue Brg. Luís Antônio, Sao Paulo and Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa in Trancoso can be booked through Mr & Mrs Smith (mrandmrssmith.com; 0330 100 3180); In Belo Horizonte, Ouro Minas Palace Hotel is a five-star business hotel on Av. Cristiano Machado (ourominas.com.br) TAP Portugal (flytap.com) flies to Sao Paulo via Lisbon £xx; Journey Latin America creates bespoke itineraries (020 8747 8315; journeylatinamerica.co.uk).
ART ADDRESS BOOK
Museum of Contemporary Art, Rua da Reitoria, São Paulo
(+55 11 3091 3028; mac.usp.br)
Galeria Emma Thomas, R. Estados Unidos, São Paulo (+55 11 3063-2193; emmathomas.com.br)
Museu de Arte Moderna, Belo Horizonte (+55 31 3277-7946; belohorizonte.mg.gov.br)