On another beautiful winter day in Rio, we were headed to the Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar) and apparently everybody in town had the same idea – we got there and it was p-a-c-k-e-d! We decided to visit Parque Lage instead of waiting for an unlikely parking spot at the Sugar Loaf. Parque Lage is located in the neighborhood of Jardim Botânico (very close to the actual Jardim Botânico – Botanical Gardens). I hadn’t been there since my college years, a long time ago 😉 We followed the signs to Jardim Botânico and after some confusion (even cariocas get confused!), we arrived. You can park there for R$ 7 a day.
The Lage’s house and the park
We walked towards the house, which is an Italian “palazzo” built by Henrique Lage for his Italian wife, an opera singer, in the 1920s. These days the house is home to the Escola de Artes Visuais, EAV (School of Visual Arts – not a college though, anybody can sign up for art classes). Inside of the mansion, you can find EAV’s art galleries and students painting in the hallways (my daughter thought it was really cool seeing them paint).
Smack in the middle of the house there is a pool, and surrounding it, D.R.I.‘s restaurant tables.
The house is at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain (with the Christ statue on top), so you can see it in the background. The gardens are huge, and part of Floresta da Tijuca preserve, one of the largest urban forests in the world.
The house is very pretty, inside and out, but the kids really wanted to explore the gardens, so we ended up not spending a lot of time inside. Long before the Lage family acquired the land and built the house, this area was a sugar cane plantation (in the 16th century).
Lunch at Parque Lage
Since it was lunch time, we decided to eat at D.R.I., which I had tried and enjoyed at a different location (at Shopping da Gávea). Too bad they don’t offer the kid’s menu during the week, but there are some kid-friendly options anyway.
Julia and Eric shared a delicious shiitake mushrooms pasta, I regretted not ordering the same for myself (my mom ate the same thing and also really liked it). In truth I wanted to eat the “escondidinho” which is a very traditional Brazilian dish: it has a layer of mashed potatoes (or mashed yucca) hiding (escondendo) a shrimp layer (or carne seca = Brazilian beef jerky); some cheese, butter and seasonings finish it off. Unfortunately they didn’t have it that day. I ordered a shiitake and leeks omelet with a side of greens; it was good but nothing extraordinary.
They had high chairs and an activity sheet and crayons for the kids (the latter is not so common in Brazil), Julia and Eric liked everything.
I thought the menu was fairly large for a small restaurant inside of a park, you can get a full meal or just a snack, afternoon tea or breakfast, which by the way is quite popular. On the weekends you can have the breakfast between 9 AM – 1 PM and it will cost ou R$ 27 while during the week you can get it for R$ 25, between 9 AM – 12 PM. If all the tables are full, you can always bring food to have a picnic at the front lawn or at the picnic areas in the gardens.
Exploring the gardens – ops, forest
The gardens are not exactly what I imagine when I hear the word “gardens”: lush rainforest patches connected by cobbled stone streets. The only “garden” in the traditional sense, is the English garden in front of the house, created around 1840 (unfortunately it was undergoing some maintenance work and we couldn’t get in). Following the cobbled stone streets you get to the garden’s main attractions: a small Aquarium, inside of a grotto; an old-fashioned kids playground; a “castle” (including a tower that could had been Rapunzel’s); another grotto; a lake with a gazebo; the old stables and carriage house; a pond with carps; and the trails that go up the Corcovado Mountain, with its beautiful views (note: there have been reported cases of people being mugged on the trails that go up the mountain, so it’s better to stay close to the park’s main area).
We started our walk through the gardens going to the Aquarium (Aquário da EAV), the kids enjoyed seeing the river species in the 12 tanks inside of a grotto (I swear this grotto reminded me of a Hobbit house from the Lord of the Rings movies!). The natural light enters through the ceiling and at the time of our visit, was casting some nice rainbows around, which Julia really liked. The aisles are kind of dark though, and there was a bit of water dripping from the grotto-like ceiling making some puddles here and there (Eric slipped in one of those). Better to carry small children around. My kids particularly liked the carps and the piranhas!
We walked to the old-school playground, with swings, slide, see-saws, a climbing structure and some tables and benches that you can use to have a picnic. There are no bathrooms nearby (only inside of the house) and no changing tables either (nothing like the outdoor changing table we saw at Parque dos Patins in nearby Lagoa), we changed Eric’s diaper on one of the benches. We brought a soccer ball so Eric chased the ball while Julia played, since the playground equipment is not appropriate for toddlers. The slide needs some maintenance, the playground could use some TLC.
After they were done playing, we continued to walk around the gardens. We saw the charming Gazebo, next to a pond.
Next we headed towards the Castle, it has a tall tower which supposedly has a nice view. The problem was the path to go up: it was muddy and dark, so we didn’t think it was a good idea to go there.
We went by the Grotto, really nice but also quite dark, there’s no lighting and I could hear some bats when I approached the darkest area, so I turned around at that point. Julia barely went in, it was too dark for her. The exterior rocks of the grotto are covered by plants and vines, with a pond and a small bridge next to it.
We passed by the Stables/Carriage house on our way to the car, but they were closed. Too bad we couldn’t see it inside, although I think it’s being used by the EAV these days.
Since we were there with the kids, I didn’t even consider going up the trail up the Corcovado Mountain, which goes up close to 2,000 feet. This trail is not the safest either, there have been cases of people being mugged in the trail, so be careful if you decide to hike.
We ended up not seeing the Carp’s pond, where the children can feed the fish. We’ll have to come back for a picnic and then we can find the pond! It was a nice afternoon at Parque Lage, a good mix of history, art and nature.
Parque Lage’s official website
Address: Rua Jardim Botânico, 414, Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro
Hours: Daily, 8 AM -5 PM
Parking: R$ 7
Good to know:
– Parque Lage has two gates, one is open to pedestrians and the other is open to vehicles as well as pedestrians.
– there are a couple of vending machines on the ground floor of the house, facing the Aquarium (on the right side if you are looking at the house).