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A favorite of international cosmopolites, Rio de Janeiro steps into its role as a holiday retreat.

By Norman Sklarewitz

Ksenia Ragozina - Shutterstock.com_shutterstock_145375342
A hike up Corcovado Mountain offers views of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro long has been the domain of seasoned jet-setters, many of whom are drawn to the Brazilian city’s relaxed pace. Recently, however, the South American retreat has come into its own as a haven for holiday travelers (rio.com).

Rio suddenly basks in the travel world’s spotlight due to the confluence of a series of high-profile sports events. Next summer, 12 Brazilian cities will welcome FIFA World Cup matches, and Rio will host the tournament’s final playoffs.

To accommodate the flood of eager fans, the local government has mobilized, improving Rio’s infrastructure with new roads, transportation facilities and international hotels, most located in the upscale Barra da Tijuca neighborhood.

World Cup frenzy will be on the decline when in 2016, Rio will play host to the Summer Olympics. Expected to infiltrate the city are upward of 10,500 athletes from 205 nations who will compete in 28 events. The games are slated to run Aug. 5-21, marking the close of Brazil’s winter season.

Rio entices visitors to enjoy a bounty of cultural experiences with historic architecture, museums and galleries. The annual celebration of Carnival, held for five days each February, emphasizes the city’s pervasive air of sensuality.

Cariocas, as natives of Rio are known, enjoy time spent together eating, drinking and dancing. In the Lapa District, one of Rio’s most popular nightlife areas, the beat often goes on until 4, 5 or even 6 a.m. “Places stay open as long as customers are still buying drinks,” one resident comments. Restaurant patrons can expect to wait to be seated for dinner—even if they show up at midnight.

A must is a meal at a churrascaria or rodizio restaurant, both of which specialize in mixed grill dishes featuring fresh slices of beef, lamb or pork. The meats pair well with a caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, which features a spirit made from sugar cane called cachaca as its base. Fruit juices, sugar and ice are added to the liquor to create a libation that’s tasty yet potent.

Rio offers more than a fair share of conventional attractions. A ride on the system of Swiss-made aerial gondolas, installed just five years ago, carries visitors first up the towering Urca Hill, then to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain. The journey offers breathtaking views of Guanabara Bay, downtown Rio and the Atlantic Ocean from an altitude of 1,300 feet.

A trek up Corcovado Mountain yields uncompromised access to the statue of Christ the Redeemer and panoramic views of the city. The beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema offer 3.5 miles of shoreline and are ideal playgrounds for travelers who visit during Brazil’s summer, which lasts from December through March. LBM

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