I checked in on Facebook at DFW Airport for my flight to Rio de Janeiro and posted: “Off to the land of caipirinhas, Havianas, and samba!” Stereotypical Brazil, right? Of course I experienced all of these things (in abundance!), and yet the fifth-largest country in the world is so much more than that.. From the passionate locals I met, to the works of art visited, to the miles of beaches bicycled, to the misty rainbows shooting out of the stunning Iguazu Falls, and finally to the chic seaside retreat Ponta Dos Ganchos on the southern coast.. there is no stereotype for Brazil. And I am absolutely convinced that everyone should visit at least once!
As a colony of Portugal for three centuries, Brazil’s culture and language derives much from that history but is also considered a melting pot of nationalities including African, other European, and native Brazilian. The recent World Cup of 2014 and the upcoming Summer Olympics of 2016 have put Brazil at center stage and ready to welcome the world. I began my adventure in Rio de Janeiro, which evokes the iconic images of Sugarloaf mountain, Christ the Redeemer, and of course, miles of golden sand beaches.
Day 1: Santa Teresa – Rio
On the first day, I arrived to Rio in the morning on a direct overnight flight from Dallas. A private driver waiting for me at the airport made the transfer to the Hotel Santa Teresa (a boutique Relais & Chateaux property) easy and seamless! Upon check-in, I relaxed a bit from my overnight flight and enjoyed a light lunch of octopus salad on the rooftop terrace, which also features the hotel swimming pool and fabulous views over Rio. Santa Teresa is a bohemian neighborhood in Rio, high up on a hill overlooking the city. There are many shops and cafes and in general is a contract to the bustling areas around Copacabana or Ipanema beaches. You should stay here if you are looking to experience a smaller, more local accommodation and don’t need to be on a beach (which is 15-20 minutes away).
Day 2: Copacabana Palace – Rio, Project Morrinho, Santa Teresa, Escadaria Selaron, samba!
This morning I moved over to the iconic Belmond Copacabana Palace hotel, a gorgeous Belmond property (formerly known as Orient-Express) and settled in with my group over a local lunch of caipirinhas, fresh coconut water, and feijoada (a local stew of pork and black beans). Done in an art deco style, this hotel opened to the public in 1923 and has hosted countless celebs and dignitaries ever since. And of course, this famous property was the inspiration for Barry Manilow’s eponymous song.. “her name was Lola, she was a showgirl..” As both Virtuoso and Belmond Bellini Club, I am so pleased to be able to offer my clients extra value-added benefits at the Copacabana Palace including free breakfast, upgrade if available and $100 spa credit.
After lunch, we visited the famous Project Morrinho, which is an art project just inside of the Pereira da Silva favela, or slum. In 1997, a group of youth started building a model of their favela to entertain themselves and keep their minds off of everyday life. The project grew to encompass miniature shops, people and cars, just like their favela. This recreation of favela life grew international acclaim, and the young artists (who did not even see themselves as artists at all) were invited to visit other countries and to recreate their project. The original Project Morrinho stands today not just as a work of art, but as a place where the favela’s youth can play and express themselves. Truly a fascinating exhibit!
After visiting Project Morrinho, we visited an incredible villa available for rent overlooking the city of Rio and then on to walk around the Santa Teresa area for a bit. We popped into a few of the artisan shops before checking out the Escadaria Selaron (aka the Spanish Steps of Rio). They are the work of a Chilean artist who created them as a tribute to the Brazilian people. They border the neighborhoods of both Santa Teresa and Lapa (neighborhood known for great dining and nightlife). The steps are internationally recognized, having been featured on music videos by Snoop Dogg, U2 and the TV show The Amazing Race.
After exploring Rio all day, we had dinner at night at Zuka, a trendy little place in the Leblon neighborhood. Leblon is a very upscale area of Rio, just adjacent to Ipanema Beach, and where many of the city’s best restaurants are located. Following dinner, we had to partake in some traditional SAMBA!! The club Rio Scenarium is a very popular nightspot, with three levels each decorated in antiques. From each level you can look down to the small dance floor where a band is set up and the partygoers around them are swinging their hips to the sweet samba beat.
Day 3: Copacabana Palace – Rio, bicycling the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, Hotel Fasano
This morning after breakfast we set out on bicycles to bike over 6 miles of Rio’s famous beaches. And this being a Sunday, the beaches were dotted with an intricate weave of barely-clad patrons and colorful umbrellas.. so many at times it was hard to see the sand!
After checking out the local beach scene on bike, we cooled off with some coconut water and headed to the Hotel Fasano for lunch at Fasano al Mare and a dip in the rooftop pool. The Fasano is an uber-hip hotel occupying a prime spot of real estate on Rio’s legendary Ipanema Beach. It is Philippe-Starck designed and the first Fasano hotel in Brazil. It definitely draws a very trendy, see-and-be-seen crowd. As a Virtuoso property, I am so pleased to be able to offer my clients at the Fasano a complimentary daily breakfast, $100 resort credit, and upgrade if available.
Dinner this evening was at the great Mee restaurant inside the Copacabana Palace – an Asian fusion restaurant which is adjacent to the pool area. Delish!! Then off to bed as we are early to rise tomorrow morning… and a 4:30am departure time!
Day 4: Copacabana Palace – Rio, Christ the Redeemer statue private visit and breakfast, Tamarind yacht around Rio (aka does it get any better than this??! I don’t think so.)
This morning was an AMAZING, once-in-a-lifetime private visit and breakfast at the Christ the Redeemer statue, the icon of Rio, before it opened to the public. The morning began with a 4:00am wake-up call and a 4:30am departure from the Belmond Copacabana Palace- the only hotel able to offer this exclusive access!! We took a van up to the very top of Corcovado, where the 98 foot tall statue commands a pious presence from atop a 26 foot tall pedestal. Christ the Redeemer was built between 1922 and 1931 and is made of soapstone; up close it appears to be covered by tiny mosaic tiles!
It was pitch black when we arrived and we all hurried out of the van and up the steps to survey our surroundings. Just imagine.. what is crowded with thousands of people every day, we literally had all to ourselves at 5:00am. We excitedly watched for the 5:15am sunrise as the awesome Copacabana Palace staff arranged a picnic breakfast for us at the base of the Christ’s pedestal. The first shimmers of sunlight peeked through the patchy morning clouds and began to illuminate the Cidade Maravilhosa. The contrasting inky blue sky and twinkling city lights slowly gave way to a hilly landscape as daylight settled in and some of the clouds remained. But still, it was just us, the vast Rio skyline, and Christ the Redeemer. And expertly prepared coffee, pastries, and yogurt from the Copacabana Palace. Talk about meeting the Christ in style. After hundreds of photos (selfies with Jesus!) and really just taking the experience in, we heard the history of the statue and a prayer from a local priest. By 8:00am, we were back at the Copa, surely as the throngs of tourists were beginning their ascent to Corcovado.
Does it get any better than a private sunrise visit and breakfast at Christ the Redeemer?! Apparently, YES!! Around lunchtime we experienced the Tamarind, a 32 meters long historical yacht built in 1959 which has since been completely refurbished. It is a gorgeous vessel that can accommodate up to 6 passengers, a guide, private chef, and captain. It is perfect for small group or family charters around the Brazil coastline near Rio, with suggested itineraries for 4 and 7 days, but of course, you can choose whatever you like! Please ask me for more info on traveling in style in Brazil on the Tamarind.
Upon returning from a leisurely 3 hour cruise around Rio, we sadly had to say goodbye to Rio, and head to the airport for our next stop.. Iguazu Falls and the grand Belmond Hotel das Cataratas! Until next time… adeus Rio!!!