SO WE got there. England will be travelling to the World Cup, meaning thousands of us will be off to South America’s biggest country to watch our nation crash out in meek fashion in the quarter finals.
Still, we can dream, right? If you’re thinking of making the pilgrimage next summer, here is our guide to a whirlwind vacation in Brazil.
It is such a vast country that during our summer (their winter), while the Amazon is enjoying its dry season, the west is in the midst of winter, albeit one where temperatures range from 15-35°C.
My whistle-stop trip starts in Sao Paulo. The city is vast, sprawling and resolutely urban. It is the commercial centre of Brazil, yet the city is a great base from which to acclimatise oneself to the country.
The food is excellent, samba is omnipresent and shopping is to die for. Be warned though; that cute bracelet by an upcoming local designer will probably come with an extra nought on the end – things are pricey here.
I base myself at the Fasano hotel. The Brazilian-owned chain is super chic, with a focus on beautiful design. This one harks to a lost age of elegance, with its bashed leather chairs, liveried waiters and a vast, weathered map of the world pinned against the exposed brick wall at reception. Rooms are minimalist but warm, and the complimentary “slippers” are a pair of cool Ipanema flip flops.
Its restaurant serves up Italian dishes (a nod to the family’s heritage), and the gym offers arresting views of the swanky high rises, complete with helipads dotted with figures awaiting their morning lift to work. It is located in the upmarket (and safe) area of Jardins where you can stock up on Havaianas (the flip-flops) for a fiver a pair.
I head by taxi to Villa Madalena, a hipster area full of vintage stores, followed by a caiparinha at bar Astor. Art lovers should look in at Beco de Batman (Batman Alley), a wiggle of roads painted top to bottom in street art, which changes every few months in a territorial game of tag. To buy the work of the artists, pay a visit to Choque Cultural gallery that represents most of the biggest names in Brazilian street art.
Local restaurant Dalva e Dito serves interesting dishes from around the country. Head to the suburb of Mocoto, home to a restaurant serving Brazilian regional food with a twist, washed down with divine caipirinhas. Stop in for a nightcap at Baretto, the Fasano’s jazz joint with visiting musical stars.
Next stop: Rio, for an altogether different experience. Here the beach reigns supreme – well, the beach and Christ the Redeemer, the giant statue atop Corcovado mountain casting his gaze over the city (weather permitting; he is often clouded in an ethereal mist). It is a city where surf dudes cycle the streets, topless with boards under arms, even in the business district.
The perfect combination here is to spend a couple of nights at the Philippe Starck-designed Fasano, which is located right in the centre of Ipanema, and, crowd wise, is Miami meets Monte Carlo; then to head to the relative peace and quiet of the Santa Teresa Hotel, located in a colonial district overlooking the city. The rooms at the Fasano are great (nab one overlooking the beach) and the rooftop pool and bar is a real showstopper, and one of the world’s premier posing spots.
Top of the tourist list is, of course, a trip to Sugar Loaf mountain and Corvocado (take a taxi to the top then a bus, unless you want to wait half a day for the train). Go on a clear day when you can – if the clouds come in, views at both are limited or non-existent.
I explored the old town and Botanical Gardens – a beautiful spot and a reminder that you are effectively in the middle of a jungle. Giant jack fruits hang from trees, occasionally exploding in a pulpy fug.
For a relaxing retreat, Santa Teresa Hotel is one of the most heavenly hideaways. The pool overlooks the city, and rooms are decorated in an elegantly colonial way, all white shutters and four-poster beds. The hotel, a former coffee plantation mansion, feels informally sophisticated. It also has some of the best food I ate in Brazil. Tereze serves gourmet Brazilian food, and it is a must if you want a special meal.
The hotel is located a stone’s throw from Lapa, where Saturday is spent perusing the flea market and eyeing up Brazilian 50s furniture to ship home. It is also here the best nightlife is to be found (Leblon is good, too, but less local and more yuppie-ish). I made a dash for the exuberant Rio Scenarium, a jam-packed samba club then bar-hopped into the early hours.
The next day, I was feeling partied out so I decided it was time to hit the white sandy beaches of Bahia. I flew into Porto Seguro and, an hour’s drive later, hit Trancoso, the hot spot for chic Paulistas (and the likes of Bill Gates, Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bündchen).
Home for the week is Uxua hotel, a collection of ten casas, all immaculately designed by owner Wilbert Das, former creative director at Diesel. There is not a Bahian ornamental headdress out of place here and much of my stay is spent wondering if hand-crafted wooden showers would work back in Pimlico (no), or if the downstairs loo would look good painted in the same magenta (ditto).
My casa faces directly onto the main hub of Trancoso: the quardrado, a square flanked by brightly coloured houses, and a simple white church at the end, with the ocean over the hill beyond. It is hard to leave the overgrown haven but I venture to some neighbouring beaches, including the excellent beach club of Etnia, a great spot for lunch. Otherwise head to Uxua’s own beach club, or just recline around the pool before taking a Capoeira class in the airy white gym room.
Sunday is a day to try Fejoada, a national dish of pork and beans, and Casa di Gloria next door serves it (only on Sundays) in a garden bursting with flowers and wildlife. For regional specialists, Sabor da Bahia is brilliant – the fish coconut stew (moqueca) is a must, as is its sizzling steak with banana and pineapple. The nightlife is quiet – the best parties are the private ones – but Monkey Bar, owned by a friendly Texan, is the best place in town; hard to find but worth the effort.
There are also some amazing Brazilian designers in situ. Stock up on swimming trunks at Osklen, bikinis at Lenny Neimeyer and gorgeous jewellery at Cristina Pessoa.
Days drift by and it is soon time to say goodbye, but not before a stop in Brazil’s third largest city, Salvador. It hits me between the eyes like a shot of cachaca. There is samba blaring out of every car and reggae on street corners; groups of young men practice Capeoira in squares, leaping into backflips.
We spend a day exploring the old town, baroque churches and fascinating temples of the all-permeating local religion, Candomble, an African import. Platforms are being put up for the forthcoming carnival, which some say is the best of its kind in the whole of Brazil, and the finishing touches are being put to the football stadium for the World Cup.
While England’s hopes may be limited, any fans lucky enough to be making this trip won’t leave disappointed no matter what the results.
Where the games are being played
• Rio de Janeiro
Stadium: Maracanã, capacity: 76,804
Stadium: Estadio Nacional, cap: 68,009
• São Paulo
Stadium: Arena de São Paulo, cap: 65,807
Stadium: Arena Fonte Nova, cap: 48,747
Stadium: Arena Pernambuco, cap: 44,248
Stadium: Beira Rio, cap: 48,849
Stadium: Estadio das Dunas, cap: 42,086
Stadium: Arena Amazonia, cap: 42, 374
Stadium: Castelao, cap: 64,846
Stadium: Arena de Baixada, cap: 41,456
Stadium: Arena Pantanal, cap: 42,968
• Belo Horizonte
Stadium: Mineirão, capacity: 62,547