Rio, the Redeemer
As global hotspots go, Rio de Janeiro has always been at the top of the list. It’s a destination many get wistful about, with pledges to visit—someday. Samba bands, freewheeling revelers, and carnival celebrations—these are the oft-played images of this vibrant South American city. In a country that hovers around 80 degrees year-round, reveling is a constant. A recent survey by Forbes ranked Rio “the happiest city in the world” out of 50 international cities surveyed. After visiting, you’ll understand why; a population of almost 6 million people already does.Arrival!
Flying one of the best airlines in the world makes nine hours seem like one. TAM is the official airline of Brazil and flies direct from many major airports. The service and the seats—superb—as well as the meal service and champagne before takeoff.
When I pulled into The Copacabana Palace Thursday morning, it’s what I expected as one of the jewels in the crown of the Orient-Express Hotels: magnificent. The company aims to offer the highest standard of comfort and service, in the most unique environments possible. The Copa-as locals call it-does just that. Our every whim was indulged and the location was superb—right on Copacabana Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
Lunch first though, at The Pergula, the Copacabana’s lovely restaurant situated next to its near-Olympic size pool, with the beach on the other side. Philip Carruthers, Managing Director of Brazil for Orient-Express, has joined us. He is nothing short of encyclopedic with his knowledge of the hotel, of Rio, and Brazil. Dinner was taken at the Pergula as well, a simple option after a long day. Even though we stayed local that night, we did hit Bar do Copa, the hottest nightspot in Rio. It opened last year in the hotel with a subtlely gorgeous design by Graham Viney, where star-like chandeliers and illuminated multi-colored columns stand amidst a glistening, golden bronze bricks. Very rio glam.
Day Two—and Not Counting
The one thing all visitors to Rio must do is take the tram to the peak of Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer, the 98-foot-high statue crowning the mountain and looking over the city. It is the most spectacular sight—so spectacular it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
A visit also necessitates a typical Brazilian lunch: Feijoada. The typical Portuguese dish has become so much a staple here that it’s considered the national dish. Our choice to indulge: Casa da Feijoada, in Ipanema. Andrea from the Rio Tourism Authority joined us at this friendly restaurant right downtown. After a welcoming cocktail, the waiter brought on the bowls: pork, beef meat, and sausage slow-cooked in black turtle beans, rice, fried collard greens, deep-fried cassava (or farofa) chunks, cassava flour for sprinkling, and hot pepper sauce, followed by sliced oranges.
Friday night we skipped dinner in exchange for local beer and hors d’oeuvres. The place to go: Lapa, the thriving neighborhood known for nightlife. Rio is the birthplace of samba—as well as bossa nova and chorinho. For authentic samba, the Rio Scenarium is it, a four-story restaurant-cum-bandstage-cum bar with a samba band that numbers 15—including a singer—and that beats all.
One More Day …..
The Copacabana Palace has its name for a reason: Rio was once the capital of Colonial Brazil, the Portuguese Empire, and the Brazilian Republic, and is still considered the cultural and intellectual capital of the country. The hotel has been the consistent choice of the elite since it opened in April, 1923, and photos hung in the main foyer attest to those who have passed through-Nelson Mandela, Marlene Dietrich, Mick Jagger, Stravinsky, and more. The day we arrived, Shimon Peres did too, and Madonna was just packing her bags.
The Copacabana is also the destination for Carnival, and for New Years. Not to be missed: 2 million people ringing in another year on Copacabana Beach. I think I’ll be coming back in December …..
The biggest news of all though is the impending 2014 FIFA World Cup, to be held here and in 11 other Brazilian cities. Soccer is eponymous with Brazil and uniformed teams play everywhere, even in the poorest neighborhoods. Rio will also host the 2016 Olympics, the first ever for South America.
My sport on this particular morning? An afternoon at the Copacabana Palace Spa. I tried the Bossa Nova package, a body scrub and massage delivered to the tunes of the legendary Brazilian rhythms. Three floors are filled with seven luxury suites, as well as the Care Palace Beauty Salon. If you’re local too, the spa offers the ultimate pampering of a car and chauffeur for pick up and drop off.
A more fitting end to the day couldn’t be had than dinner at Cipriani, the world-renowned restaurant, run here by Venetian chef Francesco Carli. The cuisine is as good as it gets, and at just 48 seats, it’s a very intimate dining experience. After dinner, one can visit the cozy piano bar opposite for a nightcap and a listen.
Hold Back the Tears
It’s Sunday and time to leave. The bespoke doormen at The Copacabana are so cordial, it’s like we’ve been here for weeks. We climb into our car, wave goodbye, and head to the airport, thankfully back to glorious flight accommodations. No complaint there. We always like to travel in style …. Until next time!!