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RioBy Danielle DiGiacomo

Rio de Janeiro has plenty to offer the bon vivant in any season –- beaches and Carnaval are but the most obvious attractions of this glittering seaside gem, and are more accessible year round than you might be aware. The hearty food that fueled the nation’s foundational efforts is largely unchanged, and is a tribute to freshness and simplicity. The nightlife is as frenetic and joyous as you might expect from the place that gave us samba and bossa nova.

Should these urban diversions weary you, natural tranquility and vibrant green surround and rise over the city in the mountain mists. Take a cable-car ride up Sugarloaf Mountain and survey all of Rio, from its founding site to Corcovado mountain and Christ the Redeemer across the water. Local childrenwill politely step aside if you want to get a closeup of the frolicsome monkeys that call Sugarloaf home. The ocean is everywhere; even discount discount hotels may be found just a shell’s throw from the water. The three hotels I visited offered different levels of accommodation but the same awesome view.

True to the melting-pot culture of Rio, some of the best attractions unite contrasts. The modern tastes of landscape designer, art collector and naturalist Roberto Burle Marx are on exhibit at the sprawling Sítio Roberto Burle Marx outside of Rio, but so is the nature he taxonomied and imagined so well. You’ll need a rental car to get there, but the city is best enjoyed via car at any rate –- and traffic won’t trouble you much. Europcar, Sixt, Hertz and Avis are all represented.

Religious iconography and nature collaborate to awe you at from the mountaintop home of Christ the Redeemer, reached by driving a spiraling steep road or train. And the erstwhile Saturday holiday slaves’ feast has been mainstreamed into the national dish, expertly prepared at Casa de Feijoada. This hearty long-simmered stew of beef, pork and black beans is eaten with balancing sides like sliced oranges, toasted manioc flour and shredded collard greens.

Don’t fret if you can’t make it to Rio during the summer or Carnaval season. The water is no more bracing in late fall than New England’s Atlantic in the summertime, and it’s easier to find travel deals in the quieter months. If it suits you to laze about in the sun, you might enjoy watching Rio’s adroit kitesurfers practice.

Even a last minute trip can include some Carnaval, if you schedule it over a Thursday. The "City of Samba" has a Thursday shindig that’s an all-ages event demonstrating samba culture’s integration in Brazilian life from infancy to retirement. For a mere 10 Reais (about USD7) it’s complete with stage performances from the competing schools, a small parade with floats and fireworks, and snacks and drinks in the admission price. It’s a handy way to see a lot of Carnaval pomp and prep if you can’t make the main event.

It takes a large carrier like TAM, Delta, United or American to get there, but cheap flights for intranational travel might be more likely on regional airlines like Gol, Varig or former JetBlue CEO Neeleman’s new venture. Once Neeleman’s announced his airline, the market for budget airfares in Brazil is only going to get hotter.

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Danielle DiGiacomo is a freelance journalist who has written for, among others, Executive Travel, Travel Savvy, and Chrysler Magazine. In addition, as head of Documentary Acquisitions at, she attends an average of 20 major film festivals a year. Danielle lives in Brooklyn.

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