Sampa not Samba
Text Ilona Marx Photos Adrian Louw Illustration Roman Klonek
While Rio de Janeiro is immediately associated with beaches and samba, its big sister São Paulo has a Blade Runner-style image with a criminal background: wild and potentially dangerous – and anything but sexy. Which is of course accurate at first sight. When flying into the city, the biggest metropolis of South America with a population of 11 million appears like a seemingly endless sea of high-rise buildings. Thousands of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, like small pinpoints on the horizon. It may sound crazy but this view has something exhilarating about it – its uniformity possesses an allure that is hard to ignore.
São Paulo has a very special charm. And this has a lot to do with its mayor Gilberto Kassab, who declared the 'Sampa', as the city is known by the locals, a 'Clean City' in 2006, banning every type of large-scale advertising from the cityscape. It has had a profound effect: the streets appear uniformly tidier, as if they have undergone a thorough cleansing of loud, garish advertising billboards and attention-seeking placards. If anything is brightly coloured and graphically eye-catching then it's the graffiti and street art tags; the artistic creativity that has made São Paulo well known, even renowned.
A good spot from which to admire the urban beauty is the roof terrace of Edifício Itália, one of the tallest buildings in the city. From here you can enjoy a panoramic view of the pastel-coloured concrete structures, as well as marvelling at one of the city's landmarks: the imposing, curved façade of the Copan building which, like so many of the impressive edifices in this country, was designed by the incomparable Oscar Niemeyer. It was this Brazilian architect, together with Roberto Burle Marx, who designed another of the great sights of the megapolis: Ibirapuera Park, the city's large green belt.
Señor Niemeyer, who is now over one hundred years old, is still full of creative energy and, as a pioneer of Brazilian modernity, is, for his successors, a living paragon of his trade. That is also true of the already legendary architect Isay Weinfeld, who was responsible for the most exciting shopping and gastronomic projects in São Paulo. It is wonderful to see how much effort is being invested into the building of stores and interior design in booming Brazil. Europe can only dream of the variety of shops and restaurants shooting up out of the ground here. São Paulo is simply thinking big, and that is particularly visible in the city's upmarket Jardin district. This neighbourhood, located northeast of the Avenida Paulista and bordered to the southwest by Avenida Brazil, boasts the most extravagant shops and exquisite restaurants. Although admittedly what's on offer is expensive, even by European standards, it will still leave you wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Somewhat more affordable – and no less inspiring – are the quarters of Vila Madalena and Pinheiros. Here, you will discover rows and rows of up-and-coming restaurants, vintage stores and interior design shops. And not forgetting the numerous art galleries, all united by one thing: their international renown. And finally, SP-Arte, the most important art fair in the whole of South America, is based in the city.
However, beyond all its culinary and cultural assets, São Paulo is and remains a business city. Tourists are few and far between. Even the beautiful and the rich, who elsewhere would be indifferent towards visitors, are genuinely happy to discover that you have found your way to the 'Sampa'. The friendliness and helpfulness for which the Paulistas are known, ensures that, despite all expectations to the contrary, this multi-million metropolis exudes human warmth, and a familial, almost cosy atmosphere. Sociable rather than dangerous, that was the lasting impression for J'N'C editor-in-chief Ilona Marx and Cape Town photographer Adriaan Louw, who during their subsequent visit to Rio, found themselves longing to return to São Paulo.
PLUS CHECK THESE OUT
Rosa Maria (Restaurant that is just as hip as it is pleasing on the eye – reservation highly recommended!) www.restauranterosamaria.com.br
Hotel Emiliano (The coolest luxury hotel – bathed in sunlight.) www.emiliano.com.br
Hotel Unique (Rock star hangout with unusual architecture: this hotel is built in the shape of a huge slice of watermelon.) www.hotelunique.com.br
Skye Bar (Bar on the rooftop of Hotel Unique – with views over the city and the Ibirapuera Park.) www.hotelunique.com.br
D.O.M. (This gourmet temple has the reputation of being the city's best restaurant and is one of the 50 best worldwide.) www.domrestaurante.com.br
Dalva e Dito (Another top address of the famous D.O.M. chef Alex Atala – with beautiful interior design.) www.dalvaedito.com.br
Frevo (50s snack bar that serves the most delicious nibbles going by the name of 'Beirut'.) www.frevinho.com.br
AMP (T-shirts and urbanwear presented in a very European-inspired setting.) www.amulherdopadre.com
Alexandre Herchcovitch (One of the most important representatives of Brazilian fashion design.) www.herchcovitch.uol.com.br
Forum (The hip address for sophisticated fashion – which is even surpassed by the store's architecture.) www.forum.com.br
Ibirapuera Auditorium (A UFO slap bang in the middle of the park, designed by brilliant architect Oscar Niemeyer.) www.auditorioibirapuera.com.br
Pissani (Fantastic homemade pasta – the ultimate luxury takeaway.) www.pissani.com.br
Legado (Gorgeous vintage furniture, surrounded by numerous interior design stores.) www.legadoarte.com.br
Galpao, 1416 Rua João Moura, 1416 - Pinheiros (Fantastic treasure trove for vintage interior design.)
Paulo Alves (Eccentric Brazilian furniture design.) www.marcenariasp.com.br
Coletivo Amor de Madre (Interior design and art go hand in hand here.) www.coletivoamordemadre.com
São Cristovão, Rua Aspicuelta, 533 - Vila Madalena (Very popular bistro – packed to the rafters with football trophies.)
Copan Building (Oscar Niemeyer's signature building: best admired from the rooftop terrace of the neighbouring Edifício Itália.) www.copansp.com.br