Every Saturday, the market colonises the streets at the end of Via Taormina. My very first week finds me trundling down there with our apartment’s deluxe convertible backpack/shopping trolley.
There are stalls of seasonal fruit and vegetables and very other imaginable kind of fare – meat, cheese, oils, olives, nuts, preserves, sweets, cakes, bread, cheese, milk, yoghurt and wine. I am bamboozled by the variety and paralysed by the staggering number of choices. In the end, I stalk a matron of upper middle-age. She looks as if she knows a thing or two about cibo. I don’t yet know the Italian for “I’ll have what she’s having”, so I stay close, watch keenly and point. Her choices of olio, olive, formaggio, legume, pane and pollo are faultless, I later discover.
Clothes at the market are seasonal too – warm coats, jumpers, scarves, beanies, vests and boots in winter, sandals, frocks and shorts in summer. Here I need no help, nor do I need words. My first purchase, on a chilly autumn morning, is long black padded coat, of unidentifiable material, but of such warmth that I could venture into the snow with nothing more than a bikini underneath and not feel the slightest chill. Furthermore, despite its bulk, it is as light as feather. Best impulse buy I ever made!
Alongside the perennials there are classics; baby layettes, shawls, christening gowns, communion frocks and suits. There’s underwear of a kind not seen since the first half of the last century, including corsets, bloomers and liberty bodices.
Gadgetry abounds – peelers, corers, squeezers and stoners, miracle knives and magic dusters.
There’s a multitude of Manchester from duvets to doilies, table cloths to tapestries. There are beads, buttons and wool.
Among all this merchandise dedicated to worldly needs and pastimes, the soul and spirit are not forgotten; there are holy pictures and statues, shrines and votive candles too.
I stare in wonder as bloomers, buttons, coats, candles, self sharpening scissors, artichokes and apples fly off the stalls and into trolleys.
This a market, I think, as I trundle back along Via Taormina, with the bulging deluxe/convertible backpack/ shopping trolley, that truly serves its community.
Browsing among the elegant and superbly cut collection in Wellington’s Taylor Boutique in the Old Bank Building on the corner of Customhouse Quay and Hunter Street, one might well wonder if the name Taylor is play on the name of the age old trade.
But no, Taylor is the family name of founder Vicki Taylor, daughter, as it happens, of a fashion industry family.
Still, exquisite tailoring, along with impeccable production and the closest attention to detail, is a hallmark of Taylor pieces. So is fine cloth and all fabrics are carefully selected form the world’s best mills.
The house of Taylor is staunchly Aotearoa New Zealand. Taylor fashions are fully designed and manufactured in New Zealand. Furthermore, Taylor has steered clear of global stores and outlets. Taylor collections are sold only in Taylor boutiques and online stores.
Careful, classy and 100% pure New Zealand – that’s Taylor!
Singapore’s Little India is a flourishing centre, alive with colour, noise and constant activity, where ancient traditions fit harmoniously into ultra-modern life, where diverse cultures blend and different religions sit comfortably side by side. It is unmistakably India but uniquely Singapore.
In 1925, the British brought a contingent of Indian convicts to Singapore to work as construction labourers on the rapidly expanding settlement. For the duration of their sentences they were confined in coolie lines between Stamford and Bras Basah Roads. Once freed, they were given buffalos and land, in the city’s North West, and dispatched to begin new lives in their own India away from India. Thus, Singapore’s Little India was born.
There are parts of Little India which are all India – bright, bold, extravagant and exotic. In the Arts Belt on Buffalo Road, the walkways are hung with Hindu emblems and paved with painted tiles of Indian design. Sensational souvenirs abound – statues, brassware, homewares, jewellery and silks, not to mention very special photos for those who wish to don a sari or a turban. There are demonstrations of traditional performing arts – Gamelan, Silat and Angklung. Across Serangoon Road, the Little India Arcade offers more; beautiful saris and sari fabric, stunning hand embroidered vests and slippers, shawls, trinkets, incense, ayurvedic herbs, wonderful authentic henna hand tattoos of ancient, mysterious design and the strange, mouth-numbing potions of the paan wallah or betel nut seller.
Nearby Campbell Road is the home of age-old businesses; the medicine shop, traditional provisions stores and furniture stores with elaborately carved wooden wares. Here, too, are the Flower Garland shops, where men and women ply the oldest surviving traditional Indian trade, threading jothi, or garlands of marigolds, jasmine and roses, (symbols of peace, purity and love) as temple offerings or tributes to dignitaries. Further down Serangoon Road are the gold stores, selling dazzling and much-coveted yellow gold jewellery in a thousand and one elaborate designs. Deeper into Little India, in Cuff Road, is Singapore’s last traditional spice grinder, the only survivor from the days when spices were ground on the day they were used.
Absolutely everywhere, in Little India, there are eateries; restaurants, diners, cafes, stalls and carts in every street and on every block, offering every imaginable dish and drink from every region of India. The air is alive with seductive smells, they permeate every corner, every nook and cranny; curries of every kind and strength, chapati, thosai, puri and naan breads with lassi of every flavour to wash them down and of course, teh tarik.
Nowhere is timeless and traditional India more evident than in Little India’s houses of worship. The Angullia Mosque was built in 1898 on land donated by the wealthy Gujerati Angullia family, who are still its custodians. The Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple in Petain Road is dedicated to Kaliamman, the protective mother-spirit. The Sri Srinivasa Temple in Serangoon Road which began life as a shrine in 1855 is dedicated to Lord Perumal, preserver of the Universe and God of mercy and goodness. The most famous and the oldest is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Built in 1855, it is dedicated to Kali, the many armed Goddess of power. Fittingly, during Japanese bombing raids World War II, the people of Little India sought refuge beneath the richly adorned turrets of Sri Veeramakaliamman.
Then, there are areas of little India which strongly reflect multi-cultural Singapore, like the houses of worship of other denominations which sit alongside its temples and mosques. The architecturally plain Anglican Church of True Light in Perak Road, built in 1952 for a congregation of Chinese tri-shaw operators now holds services in Tamil, Mandarin and English. The Art Deco Kampong Kapor Methodist Church was built in 1929 to serve the local Peranakan Chinese Community. The Leong San Buddhist Temple, in Race Course Road is known as the Dragon Mountain Temple because of the sculpted clay dragons on its roof. The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple houses a 15 metre tall statue of Buddha surrounded by hundreds of lanterns. A blend of Moorish-Islamic and Southern Indian architecture, the Masjid Abdul Gafoor Mosque, completed in 1907, is famed for the spectacular sundial, decorated with 25 rays depicting the names of the 25 prophets, at its entrance.
Singapore’s blend of cultures and styles is stamped on Little India’s secular architecture, especially on its beautiful old houses and shops. The House of Tan Ten Niah, on Kerbau Road, with its carved swing doors, or pintu paagar, is one of the area’s last surviving stately Chinese villas. Little India is rich in Singapore shop houses, from the early style in Dunlop Street to the transitional in Madras Street, to the blend of Peranakan-Chinese and Malay in Upper Dickson Road to the stunning Art Deco examples along Race Course Road, in the Arts Belt.
There are glimpses in little India, too, of modern, cosmopolitan, commercial Singapore, in places like the gleaming multi-storey Mustafa Centre, in Alwi Road. Crammed with floor after floor of merchandise from around the globe it is packed 24/7 with shoppers from every corner of Singapore as well as tourists from all over the world. The Tekka Wet Market, edged by Buffalo Road, where once long ago, snake-charmers, astrologers, palm-readers and numerologists held sway, has long been a Singapore institution. Rebuilt now, with Housing and Development Board flats above, it is a shiny, clean, up-to-the- minute Singapore place. With its fresh vegetables and meat, the sumptuous fare at its hawker centre and the lively, colourful atmosphere it is always crowded with people – locals shopping for their daily provisions or grazing at the food stalls, tourists browsing and snapping pictures and hopefuls queuing to have their fortunes told by the one last Chinese Fortune Teller.
The full splendour of Little India is revealed at Festival time; Thaipusam, in January or February when men process through the streets with decorated arches attached to their bodies with spikes; Navarathiri, where after nine nights and ten days of fasting, a chariot carrying a statue of the mother Goddess processes through the streets attended by song and dance; Deepavali, the Festival of light, marked by gaily coloured street ligh s and festive bazaars. At these times, ancient rituals and traditions are played out against the backdrop of the 21st century city and modern Singapore comes out to watch.
Thanks to; Uniquely Singapore, Little India Walking Guide.
There is a great deal of the Middle East in Singapore’s Kampong Glam, especially in its shopping precinct.
Like others all over the new world, Kampong Glam’s street names reflect the early settlers’ nostalgia for their homelands; there is a Muscat Street, a Baghdad Street, a Kandahar Street, a Bussorah Street, an Arab Street and a Bali Lane. Tiny Haji Lane recalls the pilgrims, who, for centuries, have stopped here on their way to Mecca for the Haj. Shop names, too, recall the old Arab world – names like Aladdin’s Cave, Baladi, Islamic and Café Le Caire. And in the long narrow verandahs, cluttered with colourful merchandise, which front the shops and border Kampong Glam’s narrow streets, there is something of the Arabian Souk. But above the shops and verandahs, the brightly painted facades of the shop houses, with their intricate blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Arab architectural designs, are uniquely Singapore.
The original businesses of Kampong Glam served the needs of Muslim Singapore. Their clientele ranged from the Royal Court, to pilgrims on their way to and from the Haj to the humble village household. While the much of the clientele and many of the businesses have changed with the times, the traditional Muslim/ Malay/Middle-Eastern focus remains; today, Kampong Glam enjoys a reputation as one of Singapore’s most interesting and exotic shopping, dining and leisure spots.
Some of the regions best treasures and collectibles are to be found in Kampong Glam. In the boutiques and stalls of Bussorah Mall and Baghdad Streets there are unique Malay and Indonesian home accessories; tableware, wall hangings, bed covers, lamps, bowls and baskets along with wooden, leather, cane, willow and brass handicrafts and antiques from all over the Malay Archipelago. In North Bridge Road perfume shops sell exquisite customised blends of essential oils from India, the Middle East, France and Switzerland in unique, hand-painted glass bottles from Egypt, Austria and the Czech Republic. In the oriental carpet galleries of Arab street there are giant pieces, straight from Arabian Nights, woven with elaborate patterns in magnificent colours; wall hangings fit for palaces; traditional prayer mats, with serene designs of ancient times and sinister Afghan rugs decorated with tanks, grenades and machine guns from the time of the Russians.
Probably the most famous corner of Kampong Glam and known throughout the world as one of the last great textile centres, Arab Street is a Paradise for lovers of fine cloth. There is gallery after gallery filled with silks of every shade, weight and weave, stunning Indonesian and Malay Batiks, cottons from China and India as well as lace, embroidery, ribbon, sequins, crystals and beads. Arab Street clients range from the home seamstress to the haute couture houses of Europe and prices range from 15 to 4,000 Singapore dollars per metre. Alta Moda, at number 92 provides fabrics to Royalty around the South East Asia as well as to designers Valentino, Dior and Ungaro. Royal Fabrics, at 59, 65, 87 and 94 is now in the world textile spotlight, having won Tatler Magazine’s Best Company (Fabrics) Award in 2006. The salespeople of Arab Street know and love fabrics. They will cheerfully discuss weaves, textures, dyes or patterns for hours and will happily imagine with you and for you, that dazzling final creation.
If, however, you’re not a closet couturier or skilled seamstress, there are tailors on hand in Kampong Glam to whip the fabric of your hearts desire into the dress of your dreams. There is also a wealth of wonderful shops selling ready-made creations, in fabulous fabrics, elegantly plain or beaded, braided, sequined and sparkling with crystals, to serve any taste or culture; traditional Muslim dress in the subdued hues of the Middle East and in the bright colours of Malaysia; Cheong Sams and tunics; exquisite embroidered Peranakan Nyonya Kebaya and sarongs; stunning traditional Malay wedding ensembles; handmade batik outfits in contemporary designs; modern western gear, both cheap throwaway and expensive designer and even belly dancing costumes. A thousand and one little places sell accessories to go with all this exotic apparel; scarves and shawls, jewellery and headgear, bags, shoes and beautiful beaded slippers.
Buying or simply browsing Kampong Glam’s shops are a wonderful Singapore experience.
In contrast to the fragmented remnants of the British settlement in the west and centre of Singapore, Chinatown, on the south side of the river, remains contained and complete within the boundaries marked out in Stamford Raffles town plan of 1822. Little of the high-rise development that marks so much of modern Singapore has invaded to disrupt Chinatown’s continuity. It lurks at the edges, nonetheless, a ring of stark, concrete and glass towers, dwarfing the two storeyed shop houses, accentuating the narrow streets and throwing their bright colours and constant movement into sharp relief. .
Chinatown’s history is one of hardship and struggle. The original settlers were mostly men who had fled bleak times in their homelands to seek their fortunes in the flourishing new British port. Most came from the provinces of China, some were Peranakan, or Straits Chinese from Southern Malaya and others Indian. All settled in their own enclaves within the Canton. During the gruelling early years, the men were pressed into virtual slavery as coolies in the go-downs, or warehouses, on the riverside docks. Soon hawkers, traders and tradesmen arrived to service the needs of the new community; letter writers, who provided the only means of communication between the mostly illiterate workers and their families at home, tailors, clog-makers and rickshaw runners. In time businesses were established; medicine shops to minister to exhausted and often opium addicted labourers, gold and jewellery shops, where the workers, always distrustful of banks, could invest their money and Bak Kwa shops, selling traditional barbequed meat.
Few women settlers arrived before 1870 but eventually, wives followed long-lost husbands and soon whole families migrated. Skilled, disciplined and beautiful as Japanese Geisha, Pipa Girls, so named because of the stringed instrument they played, arrived to entertain in the leisure clubs. Places of worship were built; the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple and the Jamae Chulia Mosque. By the beginning of the 19th Chinatown was a thriving community with a strong spirit. It was this fiercely loyal, battling community spirit that sustained it through the dark days of the Japanese occupation and enabled it to re-build. .
Chinatown is still a strong community and a thriving one. Old traditions still survive. Old festivals and rituals are still observed. The Temples and the Mosque still fill with the faithful. Offerings of incense, moon cakes and oranges still lie before its shrines . Old men still play checkers in Kreta Ayer Square outside the Buddha Tooth Temple. Although the Pipa girls have gone, along with the letter writers and the clog-makers, the flourishing Chinatown Crafts Centre keeps ancient skills and handicrafts alive. The rickshaws have become tri-shaws, no longer pulled but peddled and by men in baseball caps rather than coolie hats. Although many old businesses have vanished, some remain. Eu Yan Sang’s Traditional Chinese Medicine shop is one of them. Founded in 1879 by Eu Kong, the business now sells thousands of different products and has outlets all over Asia. On Cheong Jewellery, one of Chinatown’s original gold merchants is another. Lim Ghee Guan and Bee Cheng Hiang have been selling Bak Kwa for almost a century.
Alongside these enterprises from a past age, in the narrow streets of last century, in the old shop houses, lit now with fluorescent and neon, new businesses flourish. There are state of the art electronics shops. Antique galleries sell beautiful things from all over Asia as well as distinctive Peranakan treasures; furniture, ornaments, china, household linen and jewellery. There are emporiums filled with gorgeous modern Chinoiserie; bags, boxes, fans, tunics, robes, Cheong Sams of every colour, cut and design, beautiful Peranakan Nyonya Kebaya and Sarong Kebaya and accessories to go with them. Tailors offer packages and specials, made to measure in 8 hours and delivered to any hotel or corner of the world. Restaurants serve cuisine from every region of China, along with Indian, Malaysian, Thai, famous local dishes, like Singapore noodles, naturally, and believe it or not, there’s even a German sausage stall, Eric’s Wuerstelstand! Today, business booms, both day and night in Chinatown.
For a real taste of Chinatown as it was in it early days, visit the Chinatown heritage Centre, in Pagoda Street. Walk down the dark, narrow alleys; stand in the tiny cramped houses. See what life was like for those first settlers who laid the foundations of modern, prosperous Chinatown. Or better still, trace Chinatown’s fascinating history and the stories of the people who struggled and celebrated, lived and died here, through the poignant photographs of the Yup Cheong-Fun, keen and sensitive observer, brilliant artist and “Honorary Outstanding Photographer of the Century”
According to the statistics, most travellers jet into Singapore, stay two days and then jet out again. It’s easy to understand why nobody would want to pass this lovely island by. It’s also easy to understand how, given its size, anyone might imagine that they could whiz through everything it has to offer in a couple of days. However, there’s so much to Singapore, that to really see it, feel it, breathe it, taste it and drink it all in takes time and a leisurely pace. This is a place that merits much more than a lightning tour and a quick look on a two day stopover.
To begin with, if you’re lucky enough to be staying in one of Singapore’s sumptuous multi-starred hotels you’ll need to set aside a sizeable chunk of time to fully enjoy its countless luxuries. There are constellations of these stately pleasure domes all over town, from the dress-circle down on the waterfront, the river and the quays to the gallery up on Tanglin Road. They range from massive, compact modern plinths, like the Pan Pacific on Marina Bay, through grand, rambling colonial mansions, like Raffles, near the old city centre to the traditional Singapore shophouse/concrete, steel and glass tower blend of the Intercontinental overlooking the colourful Bugis Street Bazaar.
Offering multiple, international, Michelin star-studded restaurants, heavenly spas, serious but sans-smell-of-sweat gyms, palm-fringed pools, state of the art technology, exquisite fusion décor where gorgeously ornate east meets elegantly understated west, beds like fat fluffy cloud banks, cool, rarified air, exclusive in-house shopping (Raffles) or skywalks (Pan Pacific) or foyers (Intercontinental) linking to fabulous malls and last but not least service which thoughtfully anticipates and graciously panders to every possible whim, they could keep any hedonist content and confined for weeks.
Enjoy, but beware, don’t let your hotel swallow your whole holiday, there’s so much more outside.
There is, as the Lyonnais say “un embarrass du choix” (an embarrassment of choice) in their fascinating and beautiful city. Whoever you are, Rugbyman, foodie, party animal, nature-lover, shopaholic or film buff and whatever your particular penchant, you’ll find it in Lyon.
With over 1,500 hundred restaurants, many of them award-winning establishments with world-renowned chefs, Lyon enjoys a reputation as France’s capital of gastronomy. Most restaurants are located in Rue des Marroniers and Rue Merciere between Bellecour and Terreaux. Of particular interest to the visitor, and unique to Lyon, are “Les Bouchons”, the hundred-year-old Brasseries where the atmosphere is relaxed, friendly. and old-world. Here you can sample typical Lyonnais charcuterie as well as machons, the before-work snack once eaten by Canuts, or silk workers and chase it all down with “pots” or special thick-based 46cl bottles of Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhone.
Lyon night-life offers many choices. For the party person, there are bars galore around City Hall and Opera. Down on the banks of the Saône, discotheques and pubs pump till dawn. For those with quieter tastes, the night-time streets are perfect for a stroll; they hum with life and people; shadows throw a different cast of beauty on the ornate old buildings; light plays on the rivers; and buskers entertain the passing crowds on every corner.
For a daytime promenade and for a glimpse of the Lyonnais at leisure, the left bank of the Rhône is the place to go, especially on warm weekend afternoons. You can walk for five kilometres along the river and enjoy the chain of parks, playgrounds, skate parks and petanque areas which stretch from the Tete d’or Park to Park Gerland; you can laze on a bench on the riverbank and watch roller bladers, cyclists on velo ‘v (the communal bikes provided as part of the public transport system throughout France) and joggers zoom by, while water-skiers and pleasure boats cruise up the river behind you.
Shopping in Lyon is a pleasant and easy experience – no long-haul treks across the city, burdened with shopping bags – most well-known stores, such as Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, are located in the Presqu’ile, from the Rue Victor Hugo to the Rue de la Republique. Original designs can be found in the Village des Createurs, in Passage Thiaffait, in the Croix Rousse district. But for a unique retro experience, visit the old world shops of the Passage de l’Argue. In the gastronomic capital of France, a little gourmet shopping is a must and the best place for this is the central food market or Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, in Part-Dieu where 56 traders sell every local delicacy.
If you don’t see another Lyon Museum, be sure to visit the Musée Lumiere which celebrates the work of brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere, who invented cinematography right here in Lyon. Its 4 levels and 21 rooms trace the history of cinematography and house such wonders as the “cinematographe numéro un” which was used in the first public movie showing in 1928, a selection of Lumiere films with commentaries and “le photodrama” a kind of giant screen on which in 1901, 360 degree, 6 metre high photographs were projected for public viewing.
It was the 2007 Rugby World Cup that first brought me to Lyon. I’ll always be grateful that it did, otherwise, I might not have discovered this interesting, beautiful and welcoming city.
Style, taste, elegance, chic, glamour, quality, originality, the classic cut, the perfect fit, le look francais, that petit je ne sais quoi – these are the things that bring shoppers from all over the world to Paris.
The exclusive boutiques of Faubourg St Honore and Avenue Montaigne are the province of the mega-rich. Still, there’s great sport here for ordinary folk in “la leche vitrine” – window shopping (literally, licking the windows!) or in watching poodle and parcel-toting chauffeurs trail superstars, princesses and demi-godesses from limousine to boutique and back again.
Better suited to mere mortals, but still elegantly displaying the expensive but attainable treasures we covet, are the boutiques of Rue Etienne Marcel and La Place des Victoires in the Premier Arondissement, or St Germain des Pres in the Cinquieme.
Better still are Les Grands Magasins or department stores. As the name suggests they are grand, in both the English and the French sense of the word. They are also chic, provide a glamorous ambience and offer everything from designer clothing to kitchen wares. On Boulevard Haussman are Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette, with its beautiful glass dome and tiers of shopping galeries which have been the inspiration for some the new world’s great stores. Bon Marche, over on the left bank is another beautiful, old Grand Magasin, with exquisite wrought iron elevator cages, curving staircases and luxurious powder rooms.
Then again, there’s Les Halles, under the site of the old Paris fruit and vege market of the same name. It is a subterranean maze of hallways, corridors, with a few French designer boutiques but mainly shops crammed with European and global labels, as well as those “throwaways” found the world over. Fast, loud and hectic, this is the place for the dedicated bargain hunter and the shopper with stamina and perseverance.
The real Paris bargains and indeed treasures, lie in the markets. Most quartiers have their weekly market, mainly selling produce but also clothing, shoes, jewellery, leathergoods and even homewares, some very good and all “une vraie affaire”. The most famous and the best, however of the Paris markets is Le Marche aux Puces, or flea market, at Saint Ouen, which dates back to 1870 and is now classified as a “protected zone of urban, architectural and landscape heritage”. In its complex of thirteen covered markets, you can find everything from antiques, to bric a brac, to clothes and yes, it’s here that you’ll find that je ne sais quoi, that unexpected treasure meant just for you.
San Telmo is Buenos Aires’s oldest neighbourhood. It was originally the domain of the wealthy but in 1871 a yellow fever epidemic caused them to flee to fresher, uncontaminated ground on the city’s outskirts. Their grand manors were quickly filled by large immigrant families and the area fell from favour.
Nowadays, San Telmo is one of the most charming and popular quarters of Buenos Aires. The lovely old houses are still standing, many of them impeccably restored, while others remain shabbily chic. Quaint cafes and restaurants line the narrow streets. Over the years many “Porteno” artists, musicians and performers have settled and spread their influence through San Telmo. They sketch paint and busk in the streets. There are numerous galleries and studios, as well as a recording company, four museums and a cinema university. Some of Buenos Aires best tango spots are also found here.
But San Telmo’s most interesting corners are to be found in its antique and second hand stores and in its colourful and crowded market – The market building itself is a beauty, with wrought-iron arches and high, vaulted wooden ceilings. It is crammed, literally, with trash and treasure. Everywhere there are glimpses of Buenos Aires’ grand, and not so grand, past lives. Jewellery, china, silverware, religious relics, furniture, toys and books jostle for space with family photographs, tablecloths, rosary beads, statues, holy pictures and suitcases plastered with labels from old Europe. They are all on sale for a song.
In the same building is a produce market as colourful, crowded and cheap as its neighbour.
On Sundays the whole of San Telmo becomes a giant market. The streets are closed to traffic and hundreds of vendors set up booths. Tourists and locals alike pour in from all parts of the city.
A short and fascinating walk from the centre of Buenos Aires , San Telmo is not to be missed.
High on the hills overlooking downtown Rio sits Santa Teresa, one of Rio’s oldest, prettiest and most fascinating neighbourhoods. It takes its name from the Convent established here by Portuguese nuns in the 18th century. In the 19th century influential colonials settled in Santa Teresa and built the grand mansions and the turreted castle which give the area its distinctive architectural character. In the 20th century, when the wealthy abandoned the hills for chic new beachside suburbs, it became “the Montmartre of Rio” an enclave for artists, patrons of the arts and the Bohemian set.
Santa Teresa is still “the Montmartre of Rio”, home to a thriving artists’ colony. One of the city’s big cultural events is Arte de Portas Aberdas (Art with open doors) festival in July, when the artists of Santa Teresa open their doors to the public. However, on weekends throughout the year, many studios and workshops welcome visitors and art works are on display on the sidewalks and in garages. One of Rio’s most interesting art museums, the Museu Chacara do Ceu is located in Santa Teresa. Set in a beautiful garden created by the great Brazilian landscape architect Burle Marx, it houses the Raymundo Castro Maya collection which includes works by native sons like the brilliant Candido Portinari. The Parque das Ruinas, erstwhile home of Laurinda Santos Lobo, an early patron of Brazilian arts, is Santa Teresa hallowed soil. Little of the house remains but regular concerts and art exhibitions are held in the grounds which have sensational views of the city.
As one would expect from an area so steeped in creativity, Santa Teresa has a wealth of unusual shops crammed with quaint and irresistible treasures. Colorful, exotic and enticing, they beckon from every curve of the cobblestone streets; places like Atelie Ze Andrade which sells exquisite china dolls (some in the image of celebrities!) or La Vereda which sells amazing furniture, light fittings and ornaments.
Naturally bars and cafes abound in the Montmartre of Rio. The best, from a tourist point of view, have their own particular twist but offer a singularly Brazilian experience, like Bar do Mineiro which lays claim to some of the city’s best caipirinhas and Simplesmente which hosts evening samba jam sessions from Monday to Saturday. The same goes for restaurants and Espirito Santa serves up some of Rio’s best traditional Brazilian cuisine all in its own divine way.
Quaint and old world lends itself to B and Bs, Backpackers and boutique hotels and behind the facades of many of Santa Teresa’s lovely old homes are bunkrooms, communal kitchens, tarted-up guest rooms and tiny ensuite bathrooms. But contemporary, luxury hostelry, too, is represented on the hill and the Hotel Santa Teresa, Rio 80 and Relais Solar are some of Rio’s latest and finest.
But the stand out among all of Santa Teresa’s attractions is the journey up there on the rattling open sided bondinho or little tram. The queues at the station down in Rua Lelio Gama, just off the Praca Carioca are long but it’s worth the wait. The bondinho trundles off past cone-shaped ultra-modern Saint Sebastian Cathedral and rattles across the magnificent old stone arches which span the district of Lapa, one of Rio’s liveliest nightspots. The arches were built originally in 1732 as the Carioca Aqueduct which carried water from the Carioca River to the city. The bondinho groans up an almost perpendicular hillside, through a cutting and into Santa Teresa’s main street. Here, the tourists begin drop off and local lads latch on, clinging to the window ledges with barely a toe-hold on the steps, along just for the thrill of the ride. Nobody seems to mind. The little tram winds along, through the village and around the hills. More people peel off and others attach themselves to the sides. The tramline ends outside a church in a small piazza, on a hillside on the far edge of Santa Teresa, looking down on the city. The bondinho rests for five minutes. The few remaining tourists mill about while the locals stride off down the narrow lanes. Then the bondinho sounds a tinny bell, the tourists take their seats, the lads take the steps, more passengers stroll up and the journey back begins.
A seat on the bondinho costs about 50 cent, one way. Standing on the steps is free. The experience is priceless.