With a population close to 11 million, Brazil's (decidedly non-Rio) urban powerhouse blends the exuberance of South America with the poise and sophistication of old Europe.
AUTHOR STEPHAN TALTY PHOTOGRAPHS RAYMOND PATRICK
RIO MAY OFFER the flash, but São Paulo, with its Latin motto non ducor, duco (“I am not led, I lead”), is where you’ll find the sophistication, the power and the future of Brazil. Founded by Jesuits in the 16th century, the city grew rapidly over the next 300 years into a center for the coffee trade before its merchants—many from families that originated in Italy, Portugal and Germany—branched out into heavy industry, banking and financial services.
Its population has since mushroomed to 11 million, making it the biggest city in South America. But what makes “Sampa” (the affectionate nickname for the city) truly a world-class metropolis is how the city’s fathers have managed to keep it surprisingly livable. They’ve blended the monumental and the intimate, the cutting-edge and the folk, the European and the South American. Within the crowded, sprawling megalopolis you’ll find serene parks studded with startling modernist sculptures, restaurants that take Brazil’s beef-dominated culinary tra- ditions and advance them with flourishes from around the world and, of course, teeming clubs that blend Brazil’s bossa nova breeze with the unrelenting thump of modern dance music. With the power and glamour of a cosmopolitan city, but minus the neon-lit ego, São Paulo doesn’t beguile you like Rio or assault you like New York. It sizes you up then smiles and invites you over for a caipirinha.
Image – Raymond Patrick
DAY ONE You wake up in the elegant Meliá Jardim Europa (1), a sleek concrete and glass affair in the heart of the busy Itaim Bibi neighborhood. The Meliá is a serious hotel, with tycoons in $3,000 suits making billion-dollar deals in the posh, minimalist lobby, so leave the flip-flops upstairs. Step outside and hail a taxi for the Benjamin Abrahão Mundo dos Paes (2), a legendary bakery. Grab a croissant and a cup of dark local coffee, then grab a taxi and follow the natives into the Centro, the gritty heart of São Paulo. Your first stop is the century-old Teatro Municipal (3). The building’s gorgeous baroque interior—including a chandelier made of 7,000 Belgian crystals—was the site of the revolutionary 1922 exhibit “Week of Modern Art,” which helped launch Brazilian modernism, a stylistic blend of the European masters and Brazil’s more primitivist native traditions.
To get a look at what those rebel artists were freeing themselves from, walk over to the Basilica de Nossa Senhora da Assuncão (4), a beautifully somber church where every morning you can hear the vaulted central chamber thrum to the sound of or- gan and Gregorian chant. It’s here that you feel Sampa’s connection with Old World Europe most profoundly.
In need of a snack, you head across the square to Cafe Girondino (5), a faithful recreation of one of the famous Centro hotspots favored by the noisy bohemian types who roamed the streets at the start of the 20th century. You scarf down a slice of Girondino’s delicious torta húngara topped with chocolate shavings and cherries while surveying the crowd—mainly bearded artists and the tourists they hope will buy their work. You walk over to Rua 25 de Marco (6), a throbbing avenue packed with shouting vendors selling everything from trinkets to folk art, and pick up a handcrafted tourmaline necklace as a gift. The indigenous semiprecious crystals come in greens and blues so brilliant they seem to glow.
By now that torta has worn off, and you’re ready for lunch. Hop a taxi and head to the fabulous Obá (7), whose Mexican-born owner, Hugo Delgado, travels regularly to Thailand, Mexico and Italy to find inspiration—and spices—for his restaurant. You ask for the English-language menu (a rarity in São Paulo) and choose the salty, sun- dried carne seca, a northeastern Brazilian pork specialty. For dessert: the bolinha, fried tapioca dusted with almond. It’s so good you take a picture of it with your cellphone and beg Delgado for the recipe. He only smiles.
A bodega proprietor
Image – Raymond Patrick
You visit Sampa’s leading museum, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (8) and stroll among the Rodins. Then finding yourself suddenly in need of some street- level culture, you hail a cab for “Beco do Batman” (9), a street famous for its walls and alleyways adorned with eye-popping graffiti. Among the sprawling mythical creatures and political allegories are some of the most vibrant spray-can works south of the Bronx. Continuing with the art theme, you take another cab to dinner at the charming Mercearia do Conde (10), the rafters of which are festooned with paintings and crafts by local artists. Order the fantastic beef medallions with mustard sauce and have a gander at the art on the walls, all of which is for sale. Pick up a Santeria- inspired statuette of a white chicken and take it back to the hotel, where you grab a seat at a table next to one of the outdoor fountains and order a caipirinha, the traditional Brazilian cocktail made with cachaça, sugar and lime. You say “Obrigado” (Portuguese for “thank you”) to your server, finish your drink and retire to bed.