In the 18th and 19th centuries, the hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa was a wealthy enclave. The altitude kept its residents far from the yellow fever epidemics that frequently befell the masses along the coast. But by the sixties wealthy Cariocas had begun migrating to Ipanema and Copacabana, leaving their sprawling colonial mansions for modernist beachfront towers. Lately adventurous locals and European entrepreneurs (particularly French) have found new appreciation for the neighborhood's bohemian chic—its faded architectural splendor, turn- of-the-century trams, and artists' ateliers. Welcome to modern times: grand old houses being turned into stylish inns, restaurants, and galleries.
"Santa Teresa is a totally different Rio," says Natacha Fink, the chef at Espírito Santa, the neighborhood's most popular restaurant and one of the best anywhere that does cozinha amazônica. Fink, who catered the Rolling Stones concert on Copacabana Beach, makes things like piranha soup and cupuaçu (a melonlike fruit) mousse. The Amazonian fish tambaqui, cooked in coconut milk and spices, is a particular specialty, so too the jungle-fruit martinis and caipirinhas.
Not far away is La Vereda, a shop and gallery dedicated to native Brazilian crafts. Some of the furniture is made with wood reclaimed from old colonial houses; the poignant little figurines of masked bandoliers are hand-painted in a nearby village and show up in Santa Teresa's new boutique pousadas. The most high- end of these guesthouses is the seven-room Mama Ruisa. Owner Jean Michel Ruis has whitewashed the interior, added smart splashes of color, and named each room after Frenchies like Cocteau and Colette. There's also a fantastic pool. Another redo is the mansion Solar de Santa, which has five bedrooms done up in hand-done murals and furnished with a mix of colonial pieces and folk art. The room to book is the Jabuticaba, occupying a separate coach house. The funkiest of the new openings is Casa Mango Mango—in the airy living room hang works by local artists. The terracotta–roofed mansion once belonged to 19th-century writer and feminist Julia Lopes; it has a pool, some 400 banana trees, and stunning views of the city.
Casa Mango Mango $ From $140 to $200. 587 Rua Joaquim Murtinho; 55-21/2508-6440; casamangomango.com
Mama Ruisa From $280 to $445. 132 Rua Santa Cristina; 55-21/2242-1281; mamaruisa.com
Solar de Santa From $150 to $220. 32 Ladeira do Meirelles; 55-21/2221-2117; solardesanta.com.br
Espirito Santa Dinner, $110. 264 Rua Almirante Alexandrino; 55-21/2508-7095; espiritosanta.com
La Vereda 428 Rua Almirante Alexandrino; 55-21/2507-0317
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.