Welcome to architravel: a new reason to roam Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

You'll be hearing a lot more about architravel – it's one of the hot trends in holidaying right now. The thinking goes: why travel to the other side of the world, just to lie on a beach or get drunk in a bar? Why not learn something, absorb the real city, get to know the design and the architecture – and by association, the people and culture.

Many of us live in homes needing renovation or a complete transformation. And in a young multicultural country like Australia, you can approach your DIY design project free of past cultural convention. So we travel in search of design inspiration in countries that have been perfecting their craftsmanship for centuries. Along the way we soak up the music, food, the dance, the history and the entire flavour that goes with it! 

It's how I holiday and it adds to the experience just so much.

The first thing I do when I hit a new city is explore the buildings (yes, even before the gardens) and that's how my recent holiday to Rio went down.

Although I love to surf, like many others I have swapped my surfboard for a camera to search for a very different wave: design. I was staying a sweet Airbnb home slightly away from the beach – close enough to get to the hotspots, but also removed from the hubbub so I could get a good look at the homes and the suburbs. I checked out the local markets and the people going about their daily life – and the architecture.

Architecture

Rio is known for its tropical toucans, lush jungles, brilliant beaches and an unstoppable urge to dance. Many may ask: what can a famous beach city Like Rio de Janeiro offer in terms of design? This city of almost 7 million, with 2.5m living in the 400 favelas, is a goldmine of mid-century modern architecture on the cusp of getting its proverbial facelift, what locals are calling "Olympic collagen injections".

I'm not sure if they will they pull it off, but I found a deep design history, further fuelled by young talent taking the world by storm. 

When it comes to design, one man danced for his country until he was 104. Oscar Niemeyer is known by the rich and the poor of this vibrant city. The Pritzker Prizewinning architect left his colossal concrete works of architectural art all over the city – 600 projects spanning 78 years – and scratching the surface of it all is a joy.  With so many works, a walking tour of his works is recommended. The most famous of all would be the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum perched on the side of a cliff like a giant red and white spaceship. Niemeyer was a man with no fear of breaking convention as the nature of this proud work boldly shows. (Bonus tip: a beautiful restaurant waits for you below.) Also check out the Ministry of Education building he helped design as a young pup and the beautiful Oscar Niemeyer Popular Theatre. 

The latest piece of architecture to hit Rio in time for the 2016 Olympics is the jaw-dropping Museu do Amanha (Museum of tomorrow) by one of my favorites: Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava. Onlookers can't get enough of this brilliant white spine-clad, solar-powered piece of genius that looks like a giant tech praying-mantis cantilevered at least 400 meters over the forecourt of Rio's downtown port area. Could this be Rio's answer to the Sydney Opera House? It only gets better inside, with a series of interactive installations that educate and inspire us all on the subject of our planet's future. Kids love it: I befriended a group of local boys who've been four times. This is what I call successful architecture for our new generation, with all the right messaging. 

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Then take a quick stop at the Museo De Arte Do Rio next door, for a bite of historic art, some sharp contemporary pieces – and an excellent rooftop restaurant with a view.

For a more authentic dining experience, on a tip from the locals, I hit the "Bohemian beers" at the incredible three-level bar/restaurant Rio Scenarium, in the Lapa area.

It's consists of four warehouses joined together, filled with more than 10, 000 antiques, Brazilian gold, mind-blowing live local jazz and couples dancing their cheeks off in a restaurant that makes me feel like I've been transported back in time. If you hit Rio you must do this place (but book early on 21-3147-9000). I down a delicious cut steak with green rice and "batatas" and build up the courage to hit the floor with ladies old enough to be my mother.

Another great find is a Bossa Nova Bar in Ipanema called Vinicius Show Bar on Rua Vinicius de Moraes. 

Design 

I reckon that antiquing in the city you are visiting helps you discover its soul. The generations of the past that have made these decorative choices in their private homes can tell you so much about the people. It's the pieces that are still here long after they are gone. 

The 100-vendor-strong Associação Brasileira Antiquarios area in Copacabana is the place to go. It's a little overpriced and could do with some quality curation, but it gives me a taste of the people in this colourful city. Such as the longtime local restoring a centuries-old shrine, who is kind enough to let me into his workshop to photograph his handiwork.

Brazilian furniture and design is huge right now so I'm keen to explore the furniture and décor hot spots around Iponema. I fall in love with Novo Ambiente, four levels of Brazilian gems in a very chic store. You can feel a deep connection to nature with these sophisticated furnishings: the way they embrace relaxation through the subtle reclines in the chairs is a Brazilian fingerprint.

There's a troupe of young up-and-coming designers of today producing beautiful work: Bernardo Figueiredo was a name I kept seeing; his pieces were a stunning combination of old and new. The "Poltrona Bag" by young Bruno Faucz was my standout furniture piece. Best of all, prices were reasonable!

Viva Brazil!  

TRIP NOTES

More information

See www.riodejaneiro.com

Getting there

Australians require a visa to travel to Brazil. See brazil.visahq.com.au. A number of airlines fly daily to Rio from Sydney, the most common stopover is Dubai. 

Staying there

Airbnb has hundreds of Rio homes; choose city, beachside or suburbs at a range of prices, from entire houses and chic apartments to private and shared rooms. See www.airbnb.com.au

Spending there

The Brazil currency is the Real (pronounced ray-all) or plural Reais (pronounced ray-eyes) and is strong against the Aussie dollar. 1 Brazilian Real equals 0.39 Australian Dollar.

What to do

Nightlife:

Rio Scenarium, Rua Do Lavradio 20, open Tue-Thu from 6.30pm, Friday from 9 pm and Saturday from 8pm, reservations advised on 21-3147-9000. 

Vinicius Show Bar, Rua Vinicius de Moraes 39 Ipanema RJ, reservations 21-2287-1497/ 2423 4757.

Design:

Antiquarios area, Rua Siqueira Campos (near the Metro station), 143 Copacabana.

Novo Ambiente store, Rua Redentor,4 –Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro- RJ, 22041-030

Architecture:

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, Mirante da Boa Viagem, s/nº - Boa Viagem, Niterói - RJ, 24210-390

Museu do Amanha, Praça Mauá, 1 - Centro, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20081-262

Jamie Durie was a guest of Airbnb.

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