Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 17, 2017
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Brasília

Brasil's futuristic capital is so "cold," it’s hot

The Jetsons — yes, that charming family from the 1960s cartoon classic — would have felt right at home in Brasília, Brazil’s futuristic capital. With their jet-packs strapped to their backs, mom, pop and the kids would have zipped and zoomed effortlessly between the stark modernist buildings, and the wide expanses of sky uncluttered by signage or unruly treetops.

Brasília officially became the nation’s capital on April 22, 1960. Four years before it didn’t even exist. The world’s most famous planned city, it was originally intended to be almost exclusively a government centre. The Distrito Federal, as the city is known to natives, was not designed for partying — or even, really, one might point out (and many have), for people.

The architecture is the work of Brazil’s own Oscar Niemeyer, who turned 104 last December, and recently finished designing the city’s library and a cultural centre. A student of Le Corbusier, he developed what is now thought of as the country’s signature architectural style by adding sensual curves and organic, baroque shapes to his teacher’s sterile modernist vision.

But the concrete architectural forms, omission of cozy gathering places and vast distances between the carefully planned out districts do not appeal to everyone. And the city’s roads are a system of highways absent of sidewalks. The Royal Institute of British Architects has even long referred to the place as “the Moon’s Backside” and wealthier natives frequently jet to Rio and São Paulo for long weekends, giving the place the reputation of a “three-day city.”

Nevertheless, the unearthly charms of Brasília’s geometrically pristine palaces, cathedrals and monuments make it a modernist mecca. Travellers from Rio and other big cities often revel in its “oasis of calm.” The dry season, which is April through October, has an average temperature of 22°C and constant, impossibly blue skies.

At the conference

For many, the space-age city’s beauty lies in its pre-planned nature. Instead of the mixed-use clutter found in most human environments, Brasília is divided into sectors, so your hotel will almost certainly be in one of the two Hotel Sectors, not far from the Bank Sector and the Commercial Sector. From there, it’s an easy five- to ten-minute drive to the convention centre and not too far from most sites of interest.

The architectural uniformity of the commercial and residential sectors, however, may make getting lost easy, so a tour might make for a more serene experience. Prestheza Turismo (tel: 011-55-61-3226-6224; prestheza.com.br) offers a three-hour City Tour. For a panoramic view of the city, ride the elevator to the 75-metre-high observation deck on the TV Tower, which has a local market and crafts fair at its base. If you want to splurge, appreciate the elegance of the street plan from high above. Esat Taxi Aereo (tel: 011-55-61-2195-0500; www.esataerotaxi.com.br) offers ten-minute helicopter tours for three; call for pricing.

Nearly all of Brasília’s architectural sites are on the eastern part of the Monumental Axis, an avenue that lies at the centre of the city’s airplane-shaped plan. The Praça dos Três Poderes (or Three Powers Plaza) is home to the National Congress, National Parliament, and Supreme Federal Court as well as numerous sculptures and the world’s largest continuously flying flag, which reputedly rips easily due to its size and whose replacement is paid for by a different Brazilian state each month.

You might be interested in the Museu de Valores (tel: 011-55-61-3414-2093; bcb.gov.br; admission free). The Museum of Money boasts an impressive collection from around the world and a complete set of Brazilian currency. Bring your passport; they won’t let you in without it. If you venture onto one of the “wings” of the city, don’t miss the Santuário Dom Bosco (tel: 011-55-61-3223-6542; santuariodombosco.org.br). It’s a shrine to an Italian saint of the same name that modernist detractors might say resembles concrete sewer pipes on the outside, but it’s an absolute wonder of a thousand shades of blue-stained glass inside.

… and after

If the austerity of Brasília’s concrete moonscape leaves you cold, drive 150 kilometres to the delightful old gold-mining town of Pirenópolis for an injection of charm and character. Everybody loves its mix of art deco and colonial architecture, and cozy cobblestone streets, especially latter-day hippies, New Agers and artists who have opened an abundance of organic restaurants and craft galleries there.

The town is famous for its extravagant religious festival, the Cavalhadas, which takes place in spring. You can see festival masks and costumes at the Museu das Cavalhadas (tel: 011-65-62-3331-1166; admission about $1.25). The Pousada o Casarão (tel: 011-55-75-3652-1022; ocasarao.net), a small hotel not far from the town centre, has bungalows each decorated in a different international style and a lush garden with a pool.

Waterfalls and wildlife abound not far from town at the Reserva Ecológica Vargem Grande (tel: 011-55-62-3331-3071; vargemgrande.pirenopolis.tur.br; admission about $12), a huge park with river beaches and fabulous swimming holes. At the Santuário de Vida Silvestre Vagafogo (tel: 011-55-62-3335-8515; vagafogo.com.br; adults about $9, kids 5 to 12 $4.50), you can view howler and capuchin monkeys from tree-trekking platforms and refresh at the café, which serves local fare including preserves made from fruit grown at the sanctuary itself.

Stay out in the wild at the Villa do Comendador (tel: 011-55-61-3333-3333; villadocomendador.com.br), an eco resort that has a fabulous breakfast and offers hiking, swimming, horseback riding and outstanding views of the countryside.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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