Tag Archives: beaches

Copacabana

Rio de Janeiro is famous for its beaches. Most famous of all is Copacabana, star of a billion photos, setting for innumerable movie scenes, subject of countless songs and favourite haunt of tourists and Carioca (people of Rio) alike.

If the statue of Cristo Redentor represents Brazil’s conservative Catholic soul then Copacabana beach represents its totally unabashed body. Its wide golden sands are domain of the bronzed, the bold, the beautiful and the not quite so beautiful, in bikinis that are barely there.

Copacabana Beach at Sunset
Copacabana Beach at Sunset

The body beautiful, and even not so beautiful, is high maintenance and from dawn and dusk, thousands of Carioca jog, bike and skate along the pavements of Copacabana. Thousands of others tan, or belt volleyballs over nets on the sands. Some swim and surf the waves.

On the weekend Copacabana is a city of beach umbrellas and deck chairs. Business booms in tent cafes and chairside peddlars ply everything from ice-creams to colouring books. For millions, locals and tourists alike, the year begins and ends at Copacabana, with one of the world’s greatest New Year parties. Fabulous fireworks light the sky at midnight and big name bands play through the night. The beach police, in runners, shorts and caps, keep Copacabana safe at all times, doubly so at New Year.

But Copacabana is more than just the stretch of sand that runs from Posto Dois or Lifeguard Tower Two to Posts Seis. At either end of the beach are two historical forts. At the north end Fort Duque de Caxias, was built in 1779 by the Portuguese colonists. Fort Copacabana, at the south end, was built in 1914 and went down in Brazilian history in 1922 when 18 officers (Os 18 do Fort) mutinied. Today, a giant ferris wheel turns above the old fort building which houses an army museum and the Café do Fort, an institution among Rio Cafes.

The fort looks back across the beach to the promenade. Here is one of Copacabana’s most striking features and one that has come to symbolise the beach – the black and white mosaic pavements in the pattern of stylised waves.

At the north end of Copacabana’s promenade, a Feira Hippy, or hippy market, does a roaring trade in crafts, art, food and souvenirs, including pareos, printed with the famous Copacabana wave pattern. Apartment buildings, restaurants, clubs, bars and hotels line the promenade. Star among them is the stunning Copacobana Palace, an Art Deco icon built in 1923.  Here Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made their dancing debut in the film Flying Down to Rio. Today, the red carpet still rolls out for celebrities, royalty and the fabulously rich.

But while there is extreme wealth in Copacabana, there is also extreme poverty. While there are streets lined with opulent apartments and de luxe hotels like the Copacabana palace, there are also favelas or shanty towns like Morro dos Cabritos, Pavão-Pavãozinho, Chapéu Mangueira and Babilônia Leme. High walls and heavy security defend the former from the latter. In this, Copacabana mirrors Rio and even Brazil.

The beach, however, is another country, open, boundless and free and Copacabana is just the beginning of miles of glorious coast and many more stunning beaches.

A child’s Christmas in Aotearoa New Zealand

When I was a child in New Zealand, Christmas was a simple occasion. Compared to the excesses of today’s celebrations you might even call it meagre.  But it was fun and it was an adventure.

A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand
A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand

On Christmas morning, we would head off “down the East Coast”. Although Rotorua, our home town, had lakes, streams and hot pools where we swam all year round, the sea was something else and the very word was synonymous with summer, holidays, freedom and happiness.

There never seemed to be a plan. We stopped at will at random spots – for a swim, for an ice-cream, to explore the bush, to look at a tree, for a paddle in a stream, for “forty winks” (nap), to “see a man about a dog” (have a beer or raspberry and lemonade, depending on age) at country pubs  or for chance meetings with strangers and even long lost friends along the road.

Our Christmas dinner was ham, bread and cold Christmas pudding.  We ate it on the beach. Dad cooled his beer in a rock pool and lit a fire to boil up a battered kerosene tin for tea. Sometimes there was fizzy drink. Our Christmas tree was the ancient pohutukawa, the New Zealand Christmas tree, decorated with bright red flowers for the season. We watched the sun go down, and tucked up in an old army blanket on the sand we gazed at the fire and listened to Dad’s stories until we fell asleep.

Along the Elbe

Hamburg is one of the world’s great river cities. As the Seine is to Paris, as the Thames is to London and as the Danube is to Budapest, so is the Elbe to Hamburg. It has shaped and defined the place. The Elbe is not just the life blood of the city, a superhighway to the Atlantic for its ships and the world’s greatest inland port, the Elbe is also a treasured leisure ground for the people of Hamburg.

An evening at the beach on the Elbe
An evening at the beach on the Elbe

In any season, hundreds of walkers stride along the Elbe’s paths, their alpenstocks always at the ready. Cyclists can follow tracks for miles, through suburbs like leafy Elbechaussée with its gorgeous 19th century villas, its restaurants and its cafes and on into the country. But, if they tire of the view from one side, the Old Elbe Tunnel will take them to different vista, from another bank.

In summer the people of Hamburg pack into beach clubs along the Elbe, to enjoy a Riviera style experience with bars, decks, deck chairs, waiters and bathrooms. There’s the ‘Strandperle’ or Pearl Beach, described in one tourist brochure as “:the mother of all beach clubs”, so presumably it’s the star of the fleet. Then there’s the sensibly named Hamburg City Beach Club, as well as the exotic Lago Baz, the fanciful Hamburg del Mar and the whimsical Strand Pauli.

The most popular beach on the river, though, is the fittingly labelled Elbe Beach. On the July summer evening that I dropped in on Elbe beach, its broad sands were alive with sizzling barbecues, sunbathers soaking up the last of the sun’s rays and swimmers were splashing in its waters. It could have been any bay, any lake, any riverside beach anywhere in the world. But with the giant ship, tall as an apartment block, tracking slowly seaward, just off shore and the port of Hamburg bristling with cranes and stacked with containers just beyond, it could only have been the Elbe.

Mykonos, Part 8, Around the Island

Our Sunday afternoon drive around Mykonos begins and ends with beaches.

A Yacht at anchor off a Mykonos beach
A Yacht at anchor off a Mykonos beach

With our Guide Spiros at the wheel of Windmills Tours’ unprepossessing little Econovan, we head out of Chora, past beautiful Mikhaliamos, the place of sand, then up over the hill. On the other side is Korfos Bay, where a tier of new houses is under construction. Since 1977, to preserve the integrity of the environment, the law on Mykonos has limited architecture to the Cycladic style. These Korfos houses are laid out along the hillside, like illustrations of each stage of the art. Some are just concrete shells, others have their coats of white plaster and others have their shutters in regulation colours of mauve, blue, turquoise or red. From Korfos we look across the bay to the island of Delos, Sanctuary of the gods, and to Saint John’s Beach, where the seminal feminist movie, Shirley Valentine, was filmed.

Driving across the island from Korfos, on a narrow road bordered by stone walls, we pass fields where a few scraggy sheep pick at sparse blades of grass. Once, Spiros tells us, these fields grew abundant crops of wheat and barley for export to Russia. Houses, like trees and foliage, are scattered. Some are crumbling into piles of rubble, others are freshly white-washed. We pass a huge cactus with fruit that look like an alien life-form.

The road takes us to Ano Mera, a village drawn in around a square, where a child’s bicycle lies abandoned, its wheels spinning idly, while handful of tourists and locals laze in the afternoon sun on a café terrace.

On the other side of the square is Panagia Tourliani. This 17th century monastery has an impressive bell tower with elaborate stone carving. It is also home to two museums, the Ecclesiastical Museum, were the precious Epitaphos of Eleni of Mykonos Town is kept and the Agricultural Museum, which has a wonderful collection of farm implements. The monastery church is regarded as the protectress of Mykonos and every year on August 15th, one of the island’s most important festivals is celebrated here. The church houses numerous beautiful pieces of folk art but its pièce de résistance is the stunning wooden iconostasis which was carved in Florence in 1175.

After a visit to the church of Panagia Tourliani, we suggest a spell in the sun on the café terrace, but Spiros knows a better place. We head down the cliffs into a semi-circular bay that is fast filling with Cycladic houses on the grand scale. On the beach thatched shelters are lined up. A life guard’s tower rises above them. This is Paradise Beach, place of endless summer parties. It’s almost deserted now. In contrast, the nearby beach bar is busy – it’s the hour for apératifs and Mezes. We find ourselves a corner table. Over Mythos and Mezes, we find our common ground. Spiros shares his dreams of an eco tourist resort, of a business introducing the finest Greek produce to the world – Symposio. We watch the sun sink lower in the sky.

Our last stop on the tour is at Psarou Beach- the playground of the rich and famous. There is a yacht anchored just offshore. The beach is empty this late in the afternoon but the churned up sand attests to a busy day. Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” booms from the nearby bar. It’s happy hour. But somehow the song strikes a harsh discordant note here. It bounces off the cliffs and echoes too loudly around the sheltered bay. It cuts across the gentle swish of the waves and the distant hum of a boat.

For us it’s a time for silence or perhaps for some poignant Greek music. It’s time to head back to Chora. It’s been an amazing afternoon with an erudite, eloquent and inspiring guide.

 

The Greek Riviera, Part 4, Varkiza

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The road which runs along the coast from Athens to Sounion is punctuated with lovely seaside towns, each with its own special character.

Beyond Vouliagmeni, there’s Varkiza. Its folds of sheltered coves are tucked out of sight below the road, so ease up as you approach or you’ll miss it.  Unless of course, the lines of parked cars tempt you to stop and check out exactly what they’ve stopped for!

As in Vouliagmeni, Varkiza beaches are both “free” and “private” so you can either pay 6 to 8 euros and languish in a deck chair, or lounge for zilch on the sand. Either way, you still swim in the same clear blue waters and enjoy the same sweeping views out across the Aegean Sea.

Varkiza is the area’s premier windsurfing spot. Not only does it offer a stunning natural setting for the sport, with fabulous views both out to sea and back to shore, it also boasts the best facilities. Favourable breezes go, of course, without saying!

Like Glyfada, Vouliagmeni or anywhere along this coast, the seaside experience is complemented and enhanced by the culinary experience. The perfect Varkiza day finishes in one of the local taverna, overlooking the Aegean, savouring the local seafood and sipping on an ice-cold Mythos.

The Greek Riviera, Part 3, Vougliameni

East of Glyfada but still in the shadow of Mount Hymettus, lies Vouliagméni.

A fishing returns to Vougliameni
A fishing boat returns to Vougliameni

With their golden sands and turquoise waters, the beaches of Vouliagmeni rank among the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. Many, including the famous Astir, (home of the late Jackie Kennedy’s favourite resort) are private. Although this sounds exclusive it really means that, for about 8 euros, anyone can colonise a deck chair and avail themselves of the facilities and services. For nothing at all, though, you can swim at a public beach (equally beautiful) lie on your towel, do without facilities and services, mingle with the locals and still have a great day out.

Just a five minute stroll from the town square, is Vouliagmeni Lake. Formed by mineral springs which bubbled up from underground to fill an ancient limestone cave, the lake is famous for its soothing, healing waters. It’s heaven, they say, for sufferers of arthritis and rheumatism and it also takes the sting out of an overdose of sun!

Vougliameni also boasts a Marina full of classy yachts and a collection of glam hotels and resorts. There are great cafes, restaurants, tavernas and clubs in Vouliagmeni. The nightlife, especially in summer has a buzz all of its own.

One of Vougliameni’s loveliest spots, however is its picturesque harbour with its view out over the distant islands of the Saronic Gulf.

The Greek Riviera, Part 2, Glyfada

Glyfada
Glyfada

Sheltered by Mount Hymettus on one side and bordered by the Saronic Gulf on the other, Glyfada is one of Athens’ most beautiful, lively and desirable suburbs. Whether you’re shopaholic, a café aficionado, a party person, a greenie, a beach bunny or a soul in search of the simple seaside life, you’ll find your niche in Glyfada.

For shoppers, Glyfada is  paradise,  with a line-up of local icons  like Kokkoris (for eyewear addicts) Ensayar (for brand afficianados) and Zer Teo (for exquisite jewellery) as well global giants like Zara and Mango.

Elegant cafes, restaurants and bars abound in Glyfada. All along the waterfront are brilliant open-air nightclubs which rock the place on summer evenings.

With a state of the art “green” tramway which features a carpet of grass between the tracks and a central pedestrian zone, Glyfada shopping, dining and clubbing is an easy feat.

The very best of Glyfada, however, is down on the beach during sunshine hours. There are miles of golden sand, a stretch of blue water, views of an off-shore island, fishing boats chugging in and out and fishermen selling their catch fresh from the sea.

What makes Glyfada so special, so attractive, so stimulating and so comfortable is its perfect balance of 21st century glam and timeless simplicity.