Brazil is a land of staggering beauty and unsurpassed diversity. It is also the birth place of Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994), one of the most influential and ground breaking landscape artist of the 20th Century. I traveled with twelve adventurers and garden enthusiasts to Rio and beyond to explore the landscape design genius of Burle Marx, the natural wonders of Itatiaia National Park, and the art, history, culture and cuisine of three cosmopolitan cities: Rio de Janeiro, Petropolis, and Belo Horizonte.
Burle Marx was a renaissance man of the 20th century. Not only did he introduce modernist landscape architecture to Brazil, he was also a noted painter, print maker, musician, ecologist and naturalist. He eschewed typical European geometrical landscape and brought to the Brazilian landscape (and to the world) the use of colorful native species in conjunction with abstract and cubist patterns. We visited Roberto Burle Marx’s home as well as many public and private gardens he created in Rio, Petropolis and Belo Horizonte. Laura Mourao, a student of Burle Marx who has renovated several of his gardens, joined us to provide insights into his design process.
In Rio we stayed on Copacabana Beach, a great jumping off point for exploration. Burle Marx designed the mosaics that run the length of the beach, as well as those at Ipanema. While in Rio we took the funicular up iconic Sugar Loaf and the cog rail to the top of Corcovado to stand at the foot of Crist the Redeemer. The Jardim Botanico was another highlight of our itinerary. The garden lies at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain and displays more than 6,000 different species of tropical and subtropical plants, including 900 varieties of palms. The astonishing Avenue of Royal Palms, boasting 134 trees, beckoned us the entrance into the gardens.
Petropolis, also known as The Imperial City of Brazil, is nestled among the Serra dos Órgos Mountains. Noted for its mild climate and beautiful surroundings, the main attraction is the former Summer Palace of the second Brazilian emperor, which is now the Imperial Museum. We visited the palace and also saw two remarkable private Burle Marx gardens, those of Gilberto Strunck and Rual Martin.
We then traveled to two coffee farms, transformed by Roberto Burle Marx into luxurious gardens, including the fabulous Fazenda Vargem on our way to Itatiaia National Park, Brazil’s oldest national park. This lush Atlantic Coast rain forest is heaven for birders (over 350 species of birds are found here). Here we stay at the all-inclusive Hotel do Ype, which provides opportunities to pursue diverse interests.
Bello Horizonte features a mixture of influential contemporary and classical buildings, and is home to several modern Brazilian architectural icons, most notably the Pampulha Complex. Oscar Niemeyer designed a complex of buildings surrounding a lagoon. The gardens designed by Burle Marx, paintings by Portinari and sculptures by Ceschiatti, Zamoiski and José Pedrosa complete the project. In Belo Horizonte, we also visited Inhotim, an art center composed of 87 acres of gardens with works of art displayed indoors and outdoors. The scope of this garden is monumental, and the art breathtaking.
We said goodbye to a few of our travelers, and the remainder flew to Campo Grande, and then on to our lodge in the Pantanl, Brazil’s Serengeti. We quickly settle into our digs at Fazenda Barranco Alto after a breathtaking flight over the vast flooded plain of the southern Panatanal. The Pantanal was the perfect place for a thrilling safari to see indigenous animals and an astounding number of rare birds including hyacinth macaws, the world’s largest parrot. Along with the macaws, we saw giant anteater, but alas no jaguar or tapier