Summer in the city

Rio de Janeiro is the megacity of the moment – and not only thanks to the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. We take a drive through a city poised for liftoff.

André Vieira
Carmen Stephan

A city like Rio is something to be understood with the heart, not the head. Sit on the dock wall outside Bar Urca in the early evening with a plate of deep-fried sardines and you’ll see why. Here, at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain, green hills cascade into the sea to meet the setting sun, the last gondolas swaying towards the mountain station and luminous skyline. One peak over, Christ the Redeemer switches on the lights, while further on, a plane climbs into the pink-tinged heavens. Back at the waterside, fish wriggle on the end of lines to a backing track of clamoring voices. It’s hard to absorb the beauty of Rio without feeling as if you’ve overindulged on the bubbly. “I have the most beautiful open-air office in the world,” says Lucia Coimbra. She’s holding a sardine in one hand and, in the other, the smartphone she’s been using to discuss a shoot for Italian Vogue. Lucia’s company, 21Sun Productions, moves in the world of international fashion – and just for good measure, she’s currently bringing a second start-up to life as well. Her phone is ringing off the hook: everyone wants Rio.“Rio used to be where visitors fell in love with a girl and took her back home,” Coimbra says. “Now they just use that as an excuse to move here.” Never, she asserts, has the city been so confident, so at ease with itself and full of possibilities – and the landscape itself seems to echo her words. “Every glance takes you towards the horizon,” she says, eyes wandering into Guanabara Bay. “The openness of Rio spreads out in front of you.” We climb into the new BMW M6 Gran Coupe and drive in a long sweep around the sensually rolling hills framing Botafogo Bay. Emerging from the sea is the face of a young woman, her eyes closed in mid-dream. Rio too is a delightful dream. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better image for this city, this country, than the 40-foot-high Olhar em meus sonhos (“To see my dreams”) sculpture erected in the shallows by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa.

“This city is the most beautiful open-air office.”

Lucia Coimbra, producer

Shedding a special light: the BMW M6 Gran Coupe in the hills of Rio de Janeiro at sunset.

Brazil has always been defined by its openness to new things, its knack for looking forward rather than back. It is now the world’s sixth-largest economic superpower, bigger than Great Britain, Italy and Canada. The eyes of the world were trained on the country for the 2014 football World Cup and on Rio specifically for the 2016 Olympics. The legendary Maracana stadium – whose hallowed turf has seen the footprints of Pele, Romario and Ronaldo – is being converted into a multi-funtional arena at a cost of $565 million. New stadiums, golf courses, and sports and residential complexes are springing up across the Zona Oeste. Brazil’s GDP is on an upward curve; estimates suggest 3.6 million new jobs will be created by 2016. Musician Brian Eno, who was in Rio recently, rejected the idea of Brazil as a country of the future – this, he was clear, has long been the country of the present. Rio doesn’t need waking up from its dream, because that dream has already become reality. Architect Thiago Bernardes is one of those creating a new face for the city with his spectacular Museo de Arte do Rio. Guiding the M6 Gran Coupe along the banks of Rio’s aquamarine lagoon, we watch the Pedra da Gávea monolith loom into view. A tropical rain forest clings to the hills. We pass the elegant Jockey Club in the Botanical Gardens district, where jungle foliage envelops the roads and some of the houses hugging the slopes boast their own waterfalls. Bernardes talks of Rio’s architecture grinding to a halt sometime in the 1970s. Only now are people starting to rediscover it, and the government is investing in major building projects once again. The traffic system is being brought up to date, the Metro is expanding, and an express bus has been introduced in the district of Barra. “Rio de Janeiro has a big opportunity right now to shine brightly again,” says Bernardes. “The ‘pacification’ of the favelas [Brazilian shantytowns] has opened up a lot of possibilities. There are no longer these self-contained ghettos in the city, the boundaries have become transparent and we can meet each other again instead of building up barriers in fear.” We drive on from the port toward the next beach, past the white façades of the fashionable Copacabana Palace Hotel and further along the Copacabana strip. Oskar Metsavaht’s apartment lies on the rocky outcrop of Arpoador, which reaches out into the sea like an ancient fort and marks the neighborhood boundary with Ipanema. Metsavaht is one of Rio’s visionaries – one of those people in whose company you have the feeling that anything is possible. He is a doctor and fashion designer, snowboarder and climber, honorary consul of Estonia and director of an institute focused on sustainable development. His Osklen casual/luxury clothing label arguably sums up Rio de Janeiro like no other brand.

Outlook good: Lucia Coimbra brings photographers and film crews to Rio from around the world, and demand is constantly rising. Can any other city offer such spectacular surroundings?

With 560 hp stretched under its hood, the BMW M6 Gran Coupe ensures the perfect interplay of engine and chassis wherever it ventures.

With 560 hp stretched under its hood, the BMW M6 Gran Coupe ensures the perfect interplay of engine and chassis wherever it ventures.

It’s not thanks to the World Cup or the Olympics that Metsavaht sees Rio as the city of the future, “but because we’ve found a way to balance our contradictions.”People come to Rio because they find something here that Metsavaht calls “Brazilian soul.” It is a slogan he once had printed on his t-shirts as a kind of manifesto, an alternative to the American dream and European luxury. “Why was Oscar Niemeyer so successful around the world?” he asks. “Because his architecture is minimalist in the Bauhaus style, but also has a Brazilian soul: flourishes to go with the clean lines.” Every time Metsavaht talks about Brazilian soul, he makes a hand movement like a wave. To understand what this gesture means, you only have to walk out of his house and head for the sand, where you’ll quickly be in among the waves and Rio’s famous beach set. Their “father” is illustrator Marcus Wagner. Swimming trunks and bikinis are de rigueur in Wagner’s ensemble of researchers, fitness trainers, artists and the like... not that you’d know by looking at them what they do for a living”!

During the summer, they adhere to an unspoken arrangement to meet up at Arpoador Beach every evening. “Look at it now,” says Wagner, an illustrator by profession. “The beach is almost empty today, but still, everyone in our little crowd is standing close to each other. They want to be together. Nowhere else has the same culture of human contact you see in Rio de Janeiro.”As the sun sinks into the sea between the hills, everyone turns to admire the show. As Oskar Metsavaht (no stranger to the beach set himself) will tell you, in Rio true luxury is allowing yourself a moment to watch the sun set – the light turning soft and golden, the sky red, the lapping of the sea becoming gradually quieter. At this moment, when nobody yet knows what the evening will bring and everyone is looking forward confidently to a new morning, you recall the words of the great Brazilian writer Jorge Amado: “Everything can happen in Brazil. And everything does!”

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Exclusive. Elegant. Powerful. Athletic. The four-door M6 Gran Coupe hits all the right notes as a luxury Coupe – and as a member of the M family. There are the obvious hints: M badging, side gills, more muscular contours, a carbon-fiber roof, quad tailpipes, and signature M touches throughout the cabin. Under the long, sweeping hood, BMW’s M TwinPower Turbo V-8 takes care of propulsion: 560 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. A 7-speed M Double Clutch Transmission with Drivelogic channels the engine’s power to the rear wheels through the Active M Differential. Gear changes are executed in mere fractions of a second, with no interruption in the flow of power. Reflecting the lessons of the track, optional M Carbon Ceramic Brakes are extremely durable, heat- and wear-resistant, and – with the gold-painted calipers bearing the M logo – good-looking, as well.*

Olympic beach volleyball player Pedro Cunha uses the courts in Barra to train for the games in his home city.

Model facts

BMW M 6 Gran Coupe


Engine – M TwinPower Turbo


Displacement (cc)


Output (hp@rpm)


Max torque (lb-ft@rpm)


Acceleration 0 –60 mph (sec)*


Top speed (mph)**


*BMW AG test results. BMW urges you to obey local speed laws and always wear safety belts.
**Top speed limited electronically.