If it is true that Brazil is not for beginners, as the father of bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim, used to say, then Sao Paulo is certainly not for the faint-hearted either. The chaos that its 20 million inhabitants (including suburbs) face on a daily basis is the product of decades of disorderly growth and lack of urban planning. The outcome, though, can be suprisingly enjoyable, so long as you are able to escape from the mainstream business routine, which often involves spending hours in maddening traffic congestion.
Living here for almost 10 years has taught me that it is not worth trying to wrestle with the city's crushing force. It is much better to try to explore its well-hidden beauties.
A good start is the Terraco Italia, a traditional restaurant with panoramic views of the sprawling city from the 42nd floor of an office tower in the old part of town (also serves afternoon tea). The Centro Historico is often described as seedy and unsafe, but assuming you take the usual precautions, it is well worth venturing out (just grab one of the numerous white cabs if you do not feel comfortable).
My favourite place is the Patio do Colegio, a Jesuit college that hosts a small church and a museum, as well as a charming coffee shop with a pleasant courtyard. This is the birthplace of the city and one of the last reminders of the colonial era. It is also a good place to pause before heading for the vibrant and colourful Mercado Municipal. This old marketplace was refurbished a few years ago and looks splendid. Try local delicacies such as a mortadella sandwich or a tasty cod fritter at Bar do Mane on the ground floor (the mezzanine restaurants are more comfortable, but have less character).
For music lovers, the nearby Sala Sao Paulo is not to be missed. This former railway station, impeccably restored, has been turned into a first-class concert hall and offers some of the best quality entertainment in town. Good jazz and blues can also be enjoyed at Bourbon Street, a traditional and somewhat pricey club in the Moema district, while Tom Jazz, a more recent venue in central Sao Paulo, is a good place to see some good Brazilian popular music. Alternatively, check out the listings to see what's on in the various neighbourhood cultural centres (Sesc), which offer good-quality entertainment.
Vila Madalena is the most lively district at night. Bar-hopping is popular among Paulistanos: kick off at Astor and see where the evening takes you. There are some good pizza joints (Santa Pizza) and numerous night clubs (Grazie a Dio! is recommended for its friendly atmosphere).
Meat-lovers usually have a splash at a good churrascaria (steakhouse), such as Fogo de Chao in Santo Amaro, while the nicest place for an open-air treat is Figueira Rubayat, in the Jardins district, where tables are laid below an impressive old fig tree.
A word of warning: compared with other cities in the developing world, Sao Paulo is not cheap. But if your pockets are deep enough, you should indulge yourself at D.O.M, a fashionable restaurant of international cuisine headed by top chef Alex Atala. And if you're looking for a luxury hotel with a difference, you will be spoilt for choice between the stylish Hotel Unique in Itaim ($300-$700 a night) or Hotel Emiliano and the Fasano in Jardins (the latter being more traditional and home to the classy jazz club Baretto).
To escape from the city buzz, head for the parks: Paulistanos tend to crowd the large Ibirapuera park at weekends, which is well worth a visit. The fascinating Afro-Brazil Museum, which presents the African influence on Brazilian culture, is also accessible from Ibirapuera. But if it is the football crowd that you are after, try your luck at the Morumbi or Pacaembu stadia to see some of the local teams in action.
- Thierry Ogier is a business writer based in Sao Paulo and is correspondent for French business newspaper Les Echos.