Búzios, Brazil

This chic peninsula in the state of Rio de Janeiro was once a holiday hideaway for French siren Brigitte Bardot. What can we say, the girl’s got taste.

Just three hours drive from Rio de Janeiro lies Búzios, a vibrant, cosmopolitan peninsula that’s been dubbed Brazil’s St Tropez.

Originally settled by European pirates and slave traders, this once modest fishing village shot to fame in 1964 when French starlet Brigitte Bardot came here with her Brazilian boyfriend. She publicly declared her love for the place and the rest is history. Tourists flocked to the growing sunny resort town and it became an exclusive playground for Brazil and Argentina’s elite. Over the years Búzios has welcomed the likes of Mick Jagger, Raquel Welch and Madonna. My my my, if these waters could talk.

Búzios is not a single town, but three settlements – Ossos, Manguinhos and Armação dos Búzios, each with its own unique feel. The further you travel along the peninsula, the more upmarket it becomes. Armação dos Búzios, towards the tip, is where most tourists end up. Here you’ll find Rua das Pedras – the cobblestoned main street – brimming with boutiques, bars, restaurants and hotels. It’s also where you’ll find Orla Bardot, a serene shoreline named after the actress, complete with bobbing boats and a steep, green island, so close you could swim there. Not a bad tribute, really.

With more than 20 stunning beaches, Búzios will leave you spoiled for choice. Brava Beach is spectacular, with great rolling waves, steep, rocky coastline and the Brava Club, where you can kick back on a daybed with a great meal and take in the view. If you’re serious about the surf, Geribá is the place to go. If you’re looking for some skinny dipping, head to Olho de Boi. João Fernandinho is small and calm with crystal-clear waters and some great bars and restaurants along the shore.

Brigitte Bardot statue

During the day the pavements of Rua das Pedras are heaving with gorgeous, well-heeled shoppers.  At night the vibe changes – there’s live music, laughter, crowds eating, drinking, soaking it all up. In Rio, tourists are advised to dress down and are warned not to be ‘too flashy’ for fear of attracting unwanted attention. Such rules don’t seem to apply in Búzios. Don’t be afraid to get dressed up, especially if you’re hitting the nightclubs! Legendary Ibiza nightclub Pacha has a venue here overlooking the beach – it’s small, not particularly gay but the music delivers (pacha.com). Privilège is the other big clubbing destination in town (privilegenet.com.br). Arrive early to avoid the queues and try to get hold of VIP passes beforehand if you want to avoid hefty cover charges. Ask your hotel concierge! Also, it’s Brazil, so don’t forget your ID – it’s the law here and you won’t get into a nightclub without it, no matter how old you look.

With all the trappings of wealth, Búzios can often feel quite separate from the rest of Brazil, like its own little upper-class microcosm.  Here, people don’t bat an eyelid at buying cocktails that cost the equivalent to what most average Brazilians earn in a day. After spending some time in Brazil, you become accustomed to seeing varying degrees of poverty – the run-down buildings, the simple, half-completed houses, the dirty streets. There’s a noticeable absence of this in Búzios. It’s as though the social problems that sometimes weigh the country down are simply left at the gates. Aesthetics and atmosphere are front of mind, the streets are leafy and spotless, the stores and restaurants pristine.

For lovers of the great outdoors, Búzios has plenty of options, from snorkelling and diving to dune buggies and schooner boat tours. Buziosnauta run daily boat tours that will whip you around to many of the area’s best beaches and islands with some opportunities to swim and snorkel too. Or try the glass bottomed catamaran if you prefer to stay dry (tourshop.com.br). For the more co-ordinated and daring there’s kitesurfing , waterskiing, trekking and mountain biking. You can even hire a dune buggy and go exploring on your own!

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you’re sure to find something you like in Armação dos Búzios. Chez Michou Crêperie on Rua das Pedras is very popular. This vibrant open-air restaurant serves delicious sweet and savoury crêpes. DJs from 9pm each night will help you work your way through the extensive cocktail list (chezmichou.com.br). Restaurante do David on Rua Manoel Turíbio offers a mix of seafood, Italian and Brazilian cuisine. If you’re looking for a great meal by the sea, try the delicious Thai food at Sawasdee (sawasdee.com.br) or the steak and seafood at busy Bar do Zé (bardozebuzios.com.br). For a more local experience, grab something cheap and cheerful at Pizza Gool Pizzaria, before crowding around the TV outside a nearby bar to watch a football game or perhaps a novela.

Vila d'este pool

At Vila d’este, one of Búzios’ finest hotels, guests are greeted at the front gate by a bronze statue of Brigitte Bardot sitting on a suitcase, gazing out to sea. First opened in 1991, this intimate hotel has built its reputation on ‘handmade hospitality’ and it’s not just a tagline. There’s a real feeling of authenticity – luxury without the pretence, effortlessly elegant.

The staff are warm and the service is slick and seamless. The heart of the property is the sunny sitting room which offers comfortable couches and plenty of books, as well as dazzling views framed by long, white billowing drapes. Large French doors open out onto the sun terrace. Think less hotel and more luxury home by the sea.

Suite Master - Vila d'este

There are two pools to choose from – one cold and one warm. Both are the perfect places to sip a cocktail and watch the sun slowly slip into the bay. The warmer of the two has an adjoining steam room – you don’t even need to get out of the water to use it, just plunge underneath the glass and you’re there.

Meals in the restaurant are truly decadent, with superb food and views to match. An afternoon massage by the pool is not to be missed. When night falls, the hotel becomes a romantic sea of candlelight and soft breezes. Inside the fireplace crackles, outside the palm trees glow in the moonlight.

With only 19 apartments, Vila d’este impresses like a grand hotel while maintaining its intimacy. The location is ideal – close to the busy centre without being part of it. Rooms have all the premium trimmings you’d expect, some offer ocean views, others private gardens. You’ll sleep soundly – thick pillows, soft sheets, peace and quiet are all in plentiful supply.

Rua das Pedras

With so much natural beauty and top-notch hospitality, this sophisticated little peninsula is an absolute jewel. Thanks to Brigitte Bardot, Búzios may not be Brazil’s best-kept secret, but some nights, as you stroll along quiet beaches or tranquil, fairy-lit streets, it certainly feels that way.

GT travelled with British Airways from London Heathrow to Rio Galeão £640 return (ba.com). Transfers to Búzios available through Costa Verde (costaverdetransportes.com.br).  GT stayed at Vila d’este (viladeste.com.br).

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