PUBLICADO EM: 19/09/2019

Why you should swap Rio de Janeiro for a visit to the bigger, bolder and brighter Sao Paulo

“Nothing is walkable!” shouted Flavia Liz from the front seat of our black saloon, responding to a question I always ask when I visit a new city. The driver, Jose Robson, is weaving as best he can through the morning traffic. He’d been held up in the rush-hour and was late to collect me at my remote hotel. Now guide Flavia Liz was anxious for us to get to a gallery on time. “I am always punctual. I am famous for it. Ah, look! Stop!” The poor driver slowed down. “That is the modernist house of…” I’d no idea who she was talking about and struggled to make sense of the chewy Brazilian Portuguese accent. The car swerved left. Flavia Liz cried: “Ah, no, not this way. Ah well, we’ll see it later. Come on Robson, faster!”

This was probably a fairly typical welcome to Sao Paulo, the busiest and biggest city in the Americas by population and just about every other measure. The remoteness of my hotel was a relative thing – it can take four hours to drive across Sao Paulo, which is a constellation of four separate business districts, 39 municipalities, hundreds of neighbourhoods, and millions of miles of asphalt. More than 21 million people live in the metropolitan area.“Everything here is the longest, tallest, most expensive,” said Flavia Liz. “Because this is where the money is!” As our car sped through the barrios, she pointed out Japanese areas, French architecture, and a British-built railway station.“

“Sao Paulo is the real melting pot, not New York. We’re just not so good at marketing it. I have German, Italian, Dutch, French, a little Portuguese, some Moor, plus Indian and Brazilian blood.”

In this respect, she added, she was a typical Paulistana – a resident of Sao Paulo city. (A Paulista/o is someone from the surrounding state). But she was atypical in that, after travelling the world, she had made it her mission to persuade visitors that her native city is the best.“I want people to know it, like me,” she said. “It’s not beautiful, like Rio, but it rewards anyone who puts in a little effort.”

As I scribbled down her positive pitch, I felt a teeny bit shameful. I’ve been using Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos airport – the busiest in South America, naturally – for more than 25 years, to travel to Argentina, where I once lived, or on to the Pantanal, Chile, Paraguay or Bolivia. I once picked up a hire-car from nearby Santos. But I’d never stopped off to see the city, accepting the disparaging views of friends, journalists and even authors of guidebooks to Brazil that the business-oriented mega-city had little to offer, what with Rio just down the road.

To read more, access The Thelegraph’s website.