A CAIPIRINHA cruise – three hours of blissful sailing with a cocktail in hand, stopping now and then at a beautiful beach.
It is the perfect end to a trip I needed badly.
In the wake of a tough break-up, I prescribed myself sun, sand and culture. So I hopped on one of Norwegian’s new direct flights from Gatwick to Rio de Janeiro.
Dreamliner planes make the nine-hour trip comfortable even in Economy but I recommend upgrading to Premium for the extra legroom and free prosecco on tap.
Rio is clean, bustling and welcoming. The locals — cariocas — are the friendliest people I have met.
It feels safer here than in the big European cities I have visited.
It is affordable too. I picked up a flash three-course meal, including drinks, for £35.
Those moreish caipirinhas range from £2 to £7 depending on the bar. But my beverage highlight was a fresh £1 coconut from a beachside hut. I greedily gulp the contents while watching hunks play football in their Speedos.
Ex? What ex?
The statue of Christ The Redeemer looms over Rio from atop the 710-metre Corcovado mountain. I gazed up at it in wonder, having visited first thing in the morning to beat the crowds.
Another must-see is Sugarloaf Mountain, though it takes two cable cars to reach the summit. Travel is easy and cheap via buses and the subway.
Uber is here too and don’t be surprised if a policeman offers you a lift, as happened to me.
They also dish out advice on places to visit — and thanks to one handy tip, I visit Sugarloaf in time to catch an incredible sunset.
Next, I headed to the vibrant bohemian neighbourhood of Lapa — and the Escadaria Selaron.
These 215 famous steps are covered in the colourful fragments of 2,000 ceramic tiles, brought together from 60 countries by artist Jorge Selaron.
Rio’s brilliant yellow trams are just as captivating in their own way. I rode to the villagey hilltop district of Santa Teresa to inspect the Chacara do Ceu gallery, which boasts a brilliant mix of European and Brazilian art.
I wandered round the sprawling botanical garden amid orchids, palms, cactuses and carnivorous plants.
Monkeys are a common sight and there is a hint of the Amazon jungles here, though they are thousands of miles away in this vast and wildly diverse country.
At last, the beach beckons. Rio has two stunners — the Copacabana and Ipanema. I ate at local seafood shacks and dived gleefully into warm blue waters.
Rio is all about “body beautiful”. I didn’t feel out of place here among the six-packs of the volleyball players or the thong-sporting Gisele Bundchen lookalike I spotted walking her dog — even with my pasty thighs on show.
I stayed at the Hilton, just metres from the beach. It had everything you could possibly want.
While the going to the beach is mandatory in Rio, football is the city’s lifeblood.
Ask the locals for a kickabout. They will love you for it — and knock goals past you for fun. With some mates, I lost a friendly game 10-0.
Gareth Southgate wouldn’t be pleased but I couldn’t stop smiling.
My heartache was a distant memory — especially after a boozy three-hour Sunday brunch at Pergula, a restaurant in the celeb-tastic Belmond Copacabana Palace.
Everyone from Prince Charles to Mick Jagger has been seen at this art-deco hotel.
For those watching the pennies, try the local eateries. The old-school Churrascaria Palace served me a mouth-watering steak — and it does sushi too.
As for the century-old Confeitaria Colombo, weeks after my trip I am still craving their delicious black-bean stew with rice — a Brazilian staple.
I extend my stay from a week to ten days and finish in Armacao dos Buzios — or just Buzios for short — a resort town on a narrow peninsula 75 miles to the east of Rio.
Cariocas flock here for the 25 pretty beaches and crystal-clear seas ripe for snorkelling. The restaurants and bars here are as good as those in Rio.
If you can splash out, stay — as I did — at Casas Brancas.
My time at this clifftop boutique hotel was chiefly spent reclining on enormous sun-loungers overlooking the ocean, or gobbling crispy lobster and duck gyozas from the restaurant 74.
In between, I packed in yet more relaxing, first after booking a daybed at the Silk beach club — an Ibiza-style haunt at a fraction of the typical Balearic cost — then on that boozy cruise to Buzios’ finest shores.
Back in Rio, my toughest decision was where to go for late-night drinks. Among hundreds of tempting bars, my favourite — just about — was Lapa’s Rio Scenarium.
Getting there: Norwegian has return flights from £449pp; norwegian.com.
Staying there: A night’s B&B at the Hilton Rio de Janeiro Copacabana starts from £55pppn based on two sharing. See hilton.com. A night’s B&B at Casas Brancas starts from £76pppn based on two sharing; casasbrancas.com.
Out and about: Trains from Cosme Velho to Largo do Machado for the Christ the Redeemer statue start from £11. Entry to the Botanical Garden is £2. See visit.rio.
Spanning three floors, it boasts live samba and a chummy clientele. Ask a regular for a whirl on the dancefloor and they will gladly show off their moves . . . and forgive your mis-steps!
On my adventures I met not just high-fliers but tourists on a budget, families, couples and lone rangers.
Brazil is a perfect match for almost anyone. No wonder it so wonderfully healed my broken heart.
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