By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Arguably the oldest and quaintest neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Urca is considerably smaller and more secluded than nearby Botafogo or Copacabana. With three military academies situated within its confines, the neighborhood is also famed for its almost incomparable levels of safety.
Urca’s architecture dates mainly from the 1920s, though parts of it are much older. It is thought to be the site of the first Portuguese landing and settlement in Rio; and one of its streets, Rua São Sebastião, lays claim to be the oldest street in the city.
Though there are a few modest apartment buildings, Urca never saw the large-scale building of tower blocks that now dominate the skylines of other Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhoods. Therefore, it is often used as a filming location for period dramas.
This low population density and relative isolation give Urca an atmosphere of tranquility and old-world charm, resembling a small fishing village somehow grafted onto the side of Rio de Janeiro.
Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) dominates the surroundings, offering wonderful walking trails as well as stunning views from its summit. And next to the mountain lies one of the safest and most beautiful beaches in the city, Praia Vermelha (Red Beach).
Alongside its military heritage, Urca is also home to the Museu de Ciências da Terra (Museum of Earth Sciences) which features a large collection of minerals, rocks and fossils. The building itself is magisterial, and locals vouch that the popcorn stand outside is one of the best in the city, especially the trademark mix of salted and sweet popcorn, topped with bacon and condensed milk.
Restaurants such as Terra Brasilis, on Praia Vermelha, or Julíus Brasseríe on Praia da Urca, offer fine dining with spectacular views. Whereas classic pub restaurants such as Flor da Urca and Garota da Urca are on hand for simpler, heartier fare, such as pizzas, steaks and ice-cold choppe beer.
Perhaps the most famous location in Urca is little more than a simple wall. The Mureta da Urca (Urca’s little wall) stretches along Avenue João Luiz Alves and separates the street from the bay below.
Locals love to go fishing along here, enjoy a brief dip into the ocean, walk their dogs and especially take in the sunset with friendly conversation and a cold beer. Bar Urca is the most famous stop along the way, offering excellent seafood snacks and soups and of course, ice-cold beer. There is also a restaurant above the bar for those who wish to take in the view with a little more comfort.
“Regarding Urca, the area is very residential and one of the safest place to live in Rio as it has no community nearby and only one entry/exit that is practically always guarded. Mostly Brazilians live there but we have seen in the past years growing interest from foreigners.” said Charlie Jonas of Rio Exclusive.
Jonas also commented on how, “the biggest sale we did last year was actually in Urca, a superb mansion located in front of the little fisherman’s wharf.” The sale price was not disclosed but one can imagine a grand estate overlooking the bay.
Because Urca is mainly made up of private housing options, properties rarely move hands and apartments are hard to come by. The average price per square meter, to buy, currently stands at around R$16,000. For example, R$750,000 will get a 60m² two-bedroom apartment on Avenida São Sebastião.
To rent in Urca is also expensive, at around R$45.5 per square meter. With a 70m² two-bedroom apartment on Avenida São Sebastião renting at R$2,700 a month. As high as this sounds, it is still below the larger and more popular Ipanema and Leblon. These prices exclude condominium fees and taxes.