By Oliver Bazely, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the excesses of Carnival and the stifling heat of summer fading, now is the time to get out of the city and into the countryside. There are no shortage of places to indulge these healthy urges, but for those looking for both views and a beach, Itacoatiara in Niteroi offers the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.
Itacoatiara is best known for its legendary surf, with a beach break that can produce some huge barrels, as well as point break which is popular with bodyboarders.
The main beach is 1.5 km of soft sand, flanked by two huge outcrops of rock. At one end of the beach is a small cove, known as Prainha, which offers sheltered access to the sea, and is perfect for families. The other end of the beach is bounded by a steep outcrop called Costão.
There are kiosks and beach vendors, so you can expect all of the normal beach-side services, while back on the main street, there is a small bakery and a surf shop, if you need any more substantial provisions. The rest of the village of is made up of expensive low-rise houses, which have helped preserve Itacoatiara’s laid-back charm.
In addition to the beach, there are a few other attractions to tempt the more adventurous visitor. The most of accessible of these is short trail winds through the forest surrounding Itacoatiara village, and leads to the top of Costão.
The trail takes approximately 30-45 minutes in each direction, and although it is relatively short, the climb is steep in places, and the rock surface offers little to hold on to, so decent footwear is advisable. The start of the trail is marked by a small guard shelter, located on the road immediately below Costão.
Walkers are required to sign a visitors book before setting off, to ensure safety. The reward for the reaching the summit is a spectacular view back over the beach, and on a clear day, Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf) and Rio are visible in the distance.
A second trail that requires slightly more effort takes walkers to the top of Pedra do Elefante, which is the large hill that looms over Costão (named after a remarkably elphantine profile that is apparent from the one side). It juts out from some forested hills between Itacoatiara, and the longer Itiapuaçu beach.
The trail starts with a hike through some protected forest, ending with a thirty minute scramble up a large crack in the bare granite of Pedra de Elefante. The path is well marked, takes about ninety minutes and expect to have to use hands and feet to pull yourself through some awkward crevices.
The view from the top of Pedra do Elefante is almost 360°, and stretches all the way from Pão de Açucar in Rio, to the Serra dos Orgãos mountains near Petropolis, as well as along the entire length of Itaipuaçu beach. To make the most of the view, go on a day with good visibility and have a picnic at the top.
A final adventure, that will be well-deserved by those that have completed either of the trails, is a small excursion to a ramshackle jungle cantina called Quilombo do Grotão, that serves superb home-made feijoadas at the weekend.
The restaurant is difficult to find, but those that manage it will find huge pots of steaming beans, rice, chicken stew and couve warming over an open fire. Locals often bring musical instruments, and food, cachaça and Samba are served up late into the afternoon.
Find out more about Niterói, and enjoy a healthy get away across the bay.