World Cup year is upon us and the eyes of the globe – well, the football obsessed ones, so at least six billion of them – will be fixed on host nation Brazil.
The final is to be held in the iconic Estádio de Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, a city that tends to hog the Latin American spotlight. But in our humble opinion, its rival São Paulo is also a belter.
The conservatively estimated 11.3 million paulistanos would certainly agree that their city, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, is infinitely superior and merely suffering from a PR problem. Its nickname “Terra da Garoa” (Land of Drizzle) doesn’t help, and while São Paulo has none of Rio’s fabulous physical attributes, boy, do this lot know how to blow the doors off a big night out.
Tom Barber is a founding editor of award-winning travel company originaltravel.co.uk
Fasano São Paulo is a supremely stylish boutique hotel opened in 2003 by a Milanese immigrant family who ran restaurants in the city for nearly a century. Its unmistakably Thirties aesthetic is thanks to designers Isay Weinfeld and Marcio Kogan’s elegant hardwood floors, period lighting and leather armchairs. There are 64 immaculate bedrooms, a restaurant that might just be the best Italian in Latin America, and Baretto, a bar where Bebel Gilberto et al have played. A hotel to die for, basically, in the heart of the Jardins district, the most civilised part of town full of shops, restaurants and bars. Tick. fasano.com.br
Figueira Rubaiyat on the less than glamorous sounding Rua Haddock Lobo is very near the Fasano and perfect for lunch on a terrace built around a vast fig tree. There’s a huge wine list and excellent cuts of steak (ask for the picanha, or top rump) from Brazil and Argentina, plus superb grilled fish. rubaiyat.com.br
The Liberdade district has the biggest Japanese community outside Japan and with 4,600 miles of coastline to fish, this is the place to gorge on sushi. Go to Kinoshita, order the nine-course Kappo degustation menu and a round of the house martinis made with sake, vodka, blackberry and cranberry. restaurantekinoshita.com.br
The view of the Blade Runner-style cityscape from the quirky Hotel Unique’s Skye Bar is a must-see. But for the real boteco (local street bar) experience, head to the trendy Vila Madalena district and in particular Filial. They do a mean red berry caipirinha but this is a draft beer (chopp) place, namely Brahma served ice cold and refilled without you needing to ask. They’re open until the last customer rolls out, so refuel on the delicious rice dumplings. barfilial.com.br
The late-night haunt of choice is Casa 92 in Pinheiros, a converted house with a distinctly kitsch vibe, from the big, red, retro fridge in the kitchen to the antlers over the fireplace in the dining room/dancefloor. Wander through the maze of rooms to the fairy light and Chinese lantern-lit rear courtyards (smoking allowed) where there are two more dance floors mainly for house and disco. casa92.com.br
In the home of Havaianas, head to its new flagship store, complete with mock street-market stand with flip-flops in whicker baskets, and spin-off products from towels to beach bags. Alternatively, Osklen is a burgeoning Brazilian brand of sophisticated, sporty menswear with its HQ outlet on Rua Oscar Freire. br.havaianas.com; osklen.com
Catch a match between any of the Sampa football teams, or if timings don’t work, visit the Football Museum at the wonderful art deco Estádio do Pacaembu. This barely-disguised shrine to Pelé shows how close to religion football comes in Brazil. On Thursday or Saturday mornings, you can eat at the street market next door. museudofutebol.org.br
The superb, ever-changing street art by the Brazilian Banksys that covers every inch of Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley) in Vila Madalena. So seriously is the art form taken that São Paulo now hosts the International Graffiti Fine Art Biennial.
Spending any more time than is absolutely necessary at the international airport. It’s a beast and a contender for one of the world’s least accommodating major airports. Also, avoid trying to get anywhere on Friday evening when paulistanos head for the coast and the city is gridlocked.
The São Paulo Carnival may not be a patch on Rio’s, but it’s still an excellent excuse for the locals to party. In January and early February, all the samba schools in the city rehearse their performances. On Friday nights, head to the Vai-Vai school in Bela Vista, while on Sunday afternoons watch the Pérola Negra rehearsals in Vila Madalena before enjoying a drink or five in these two distinctly boho areas.
BA and Varig both have regular direct flights to São Paulo.