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Búzios may have a reputation as the St Tropez of Brazil but for Brazilians it is as much a family-friendly destination as it is a place for the jet set to be seen. A small but glamorous former fishing village just two hours’ drive from Rio de Janeiro, its standing as the weekend getaway resort for wealthy Cariocas (the vernacular for Rio residents) is rooted in the 1960s when the actress Brigitte Bardot hid from the press in Búzios with her Brazilian boyfriend. Today, the actress is immortalised by a bronze statue on a seafront promenade renamed Orla Bardot.
These days Armação dos Búzios, to give it its full name, is hardly the sort of place one would choose to hide. In high summer – from January until the end of carnival season in late February – the population can swell from 10,000 to three or four times that. It is also much more upmarket than in Bardot’s day: the main drag along the Rua das Pedras is filled with boutique shops, bars and high-end restaurants. Houses that cost $150,000 when Bardot visited could now fetch more than $3m, according to local agents. Located on a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, the 8km stretch of beaches that surround the town are also popular with golden-skinned surfers and European holidaymakers.
However, you are just as likely to see toddlers in its cobbled streets as you are to glimpse the glitterati. And despite growing numbers of fashionable Italian, French, German and Swiss visitors drawn by the favourable real-euro exchange rate, the best houses are usually snapped up by Brazilians.
This is a place where the menus are not in English or Russian, as in so many other high-end holiday resorts, but in Portuguese (and occasionally Spanish for the long-established Argentine presence).
Ettore Zamidi, of Howells and Partners, a property consultant in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, says: “It has changed a bit in size, but it’s kept most of the important natural characteristics.” That said, he adds, the rapid growth of Brazil’s economy and housing market in recent years has caused prices per sq metre in prime Búzios locations to more than double in the past five years. Between January 2008 and December 2012, average house prices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro rose by 159 per cent and 194 per cent respectively, according to Brazil’s FipeZap real estate index.
Búzios’s proximity to Rio de Janeiro makes it popular as a place to have a second home. High-society Brazilians and politicians favour homes on the beachfront or in the hills, in areas such as João Fernandes Heights. Ferradura and Geribá are popular beaches, as is Manguinhos, a little farther out of town and fashionable with those who want to escape the crowds of tourists in the summer.
In the most coveted areas, properties sell from $1.3m to $4.3m. Ici Le Paradis estate agency is selling a five-bedroom house with a pool and views of Manguinhos beach for $3m. Nearby is the sailing club, where families can learn to sail, dive and windsurf, and the trendy new food hotspot Porto da Barra, a waterfront boardwalk filled with bars and restaurants.
There are some beautiful old fishermen’s houses (mostly now holiday lets) in the old town and near the harbour, but many of the new, slightly smaller constructions are within gated communities, or “closed condominiums” as they are known, and are priced between $365,000 and $645,000. These are built to cater for Brazil’s middle class, which has grown by 13 per cent in the past decade, according to the Getulio Vargas Foundation. In the centre of town, Barbosa Imóveis is selling a four-bedroom condo for $417,000, while Imo Búzios is offering a two-bedroom flat near Geribá beach for $195,340.
With the spotlight on Brazil for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, foreign interest has picked up, say agents, and may do so further with increasing numbers of buyers in nearby Macaé, a flourishing city used as a base by petrochemical workers and only a short drive from Búzios. “People who live and work in Macaé come to Búzios on the weekends, as it’s considered the number-one cosmopolitan town in the area,” says Stella Avellaneda of Ici Le Paradis. “Many people who own apartments in Macaé also buy in Búzios for [use during] the weekends.” It stands to reason, she adds, that foreign interest there will spill over into Búzios.
Yolande Barnes, head of research at Savills who included Búzios in a report highlighting locations that attract local rather than global wealth, says that the mainstream foreign property and holiday market are just starting to notice Búzios. “It’s not really up and coming, but already up and come,” she says. “It’s a great example of somewhere that has built a solid infrastructure for the wealthy buyers that are drawn to it, but which has retained its beauty and sense of tranquillity because so many of its buyers are local.”
● Búzios is just under a two-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro
● International buyers can purchase freely in Brazil but require a government tax number (a CPF). The process can be quite bureaucratic
● Peak season runs from December to March, when temperatures can reach 30C to 35C
What can you get for . . .
$500,000: A modest three-bedroom cottage close to the town centre
$1m: A condo with four to five bedrooms in Geribá with access to shared facilities and possibly a private pool