6 -min. read

The descent into Rio’s Santos Dumont airport on a clear day is arguably one of the most beautiful aeroplane landings in the world. The city’s undulating topography, lined with lush tropical rainforest, dotted by shantytowns and interspersed by a mass of buildings that sit between the hills and the sea, forms the textured landscape that gives Rio so much of its allure.

Despite the social and political afflictions Rio is notorious for, it always feels like a privilege to spend time in a city as scenic as this. Its overall beauty holds many microcosms with multifaceted cultures nurtured in different neighbourhoods that provide nuanced experiences of the city. Today, Rio boasts a wide selection of properties that cater to the assortment of discerning travellers it entices – a handful are especially noteworthy.

Emiliano Rio [photos: MCA Estudio]

The recently inaugurated Emiliano Rio takes the top-tier hotel brand from São Paulo to the shores of Copacabana beach, reviving the appeal for this emblematic neighbourhood, which is also home to the classic beachfront Belmond Copacabana Palace that heralds the notorious 1930s and 1940s glamour. Designed by architects Arthur Casas and Chad Oppenheim, Emiliano’s white trellised façade injects contemporary flair into the otherwise washed-out neighbouring seafront building exteriors. From inside the spacious and airy sea-view rooms bathed in plenty of light (hard to come by even in other high-end properties), the panels that form the façade function as articulated floor-to-ceiling shutters off the terraces that can be folded into and out of the iconic waterfront view (the higher up you are, the quieter the rooms). The hotel’s interiors are decked throughout with a plethora of modernist and contemporary design pieces and photographs of the city’s historic architecture by Leonardo Finotti, while a wall of lush tropical plants in chef Damien Montecer’s first-class restaurant, Emile, sets it apart in style – the mouth-watering menu lives up to high expectations. The rooftop is a quiet haven facing the immensity of the Atlantic and vast extent of beach that is flanked by the Copacabana fort – an excellent spot for a coffee with a great view – and the distant Sugarloaf on the north-eastern horizon. The panoramic view can also be enjoyed from inside the sauna and gym, located in the outstanding Santapele spa area. These delights, coupled with the sharply dressed staff, on-call butler, beach service and off-site activities including early-morning yoga by the sea, raise the bar of hotel service in the city significantly.

Emiliano Rio [photos: MCA Estudio]

On the neighbouring beach of Ipanema, Fasano Rio de Janeiro trail-blazed twenty-first century luxury hotels in the city a decade ago and its rooftop swimming pool has become world-famous for its party scene and panoramic views of the beach and the iconic rocky mounds that crown it – Morro do Dois Irmãos. Half a block in from the beachfront plaza, the small boutique hotel Ipanema Inn, designed by Brazilian architect Bel Lobo, is a gem. Family-run, Ipanema Inn’s friendly staff remember guests’ first names, are full of Brazilian cheer and seem genuinely eager to help, making it feel homely and ideal for an extended stay. All 56 rooms are very comfortable and well equipped, varying significantly in size and view (opt for front-facing rooms to avoid the noise from neighbours’ air-conditioners). The Superior Duplex Suites are split-level, have a side-view of the beach, and a terrace. The onsite restaurant Quitéria is a destination unto itself: cosy, clad with furniture designed by Brazilian icon Sérgio Rodrigues, with a well-priced menu. Chef Alejandra Maidana’s dishes lure foodies from all over town to delight in her inventive use of fresh locally sourced produce and unique ingredients that speak to Brazilian contemporary culture and cuisine. The refreshing watermelon and basil caipirinha is a must; the banana leaf-wrapped sea bream with bean mash and the tapioca and cumaru pudding, unparalleled. A spot just a few blocks from Ipanema’s chic boutiques, cafés, the beautifully branded Q chocolate shop, design and art galleries makes Ipanema Inn’s location one of the best in the region. Its sister property, Hotel Arpoador, primely located on the homonymous northern cove of the beach, is under significant refurbishment led by Brazilian architect Thiago Bernardes and due to reopen to guests by the end of the year.

Ipanema Inn


In Botafogo, a neighbourhood that stands in between the historic city centre and the southern aforementioned coveted beaches, John Hitchcox and Philippe Starck’s first Yoo2 hotel in the world (Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil and Hong Kong are to house future properties of the brand) boasts the most iconographic view of any hotel, framing the Sugarloaf and Botafogo bay – which fill the entire stretch of wall-to-wall windows of the frontward facing rooms and spacious Sugar suites, and are the backdrop to daytime drinks on the rooftop terrace tha’s home to a swimming pool. Were that not enticing enough, the wraparound terrace also has views to the Corcovado mountain with the Christ the Redeemer statue atop. Even though Botafogo doesn’t offer guests the possibility of falling out of bed and onto the beach (it’s 10 minutes in a taxi) the landfilled and landscaped Flamengo park is close by and waterfront bike rides are extremely scenic. Yoo2 plays up to its location with aplomb and is ideally located to cater to the hipster and city-snooper in travellers. The last few years have seen the neighbourhood rise and update its alternative, no-frills-but-cool vocation. This is where you can get your finger on the pulse of contemporary Rio. Botafogo is home to theatres, art venues, independent businesses, cult cinemas and cool, unassuming restaurants such as Sei Shiroma’s South Ferro, which serves excellent cocktails, wines by the glass, acclaimed pizzas and Asian-inspired noodle dishes and broths.

Yoo2 [photos: MCA Estudio]

As food rises to the forefront of conscientious citizens, a scheduled visit, cooking class and immersion into David Hertz and Massimo Bottura’s Refettorio Gastromotiva – a Michelin-starred soup kitchen inaugurated during the 2016 Olympic Games in the central district of Lapa, a short taxi ride away from Botafogo – is uniquely inspiring. Aside from daily feeding groups of Rio’s homeless, RG is also a teaching kitchen and part of Bottura’s Food for Soul initiative, which aims to combat food waste and stimulate the full use of produce that would otherwise be incinerated. The beautifully designed warehouse, created by Metro Arquitetos, in which it’s housed stands out from the tiny historic street it’s on and was built to feel accessible and welcoming: large doors open up onto the adjacent playground and at night its simple, vernacular shape decked in translucent polycarbonate panels is lit from inside, transforming it into a neighbourhood beacon on the otherwise dreary street. The interior is decked with artwork by or selected by Vik Muniz and furniture designed by the Campana brothers. Not far away, the temporary exhibitions at MAR (Museu de Arte do Rio) are worth a visit, as is its rooftop terrace and on the waterfront, by Mauá pier, the Museum of Tomorrow (designed by Santiago Calatrava) is one of the most recent of the city’s architectural landmarks and one of the most picturesque museums in town, as it is encrusted by the bay. The building’s innovative design houses an interactive science museum that intends to bring to light how the paths laid out today will inextricably determine our future, through impressive high-tech and informative displays. Set aside at least three hours for an immersive experience; if you plan ahead and take your suitcase with you, you can hop on the handy VLT overland train just outside and head straight to Santos Dumont airport for a panoramic flight out of town.


Camila Belchior
Camila Belchior is a freelance writer and former Innovation Director and Editor at Bamboo Magazine. Her specialities are culture, art, design, architecture and travel, and her work has been published in Bamboo, ArtForum, Frieze, Flamingo Lens, Wallpaper*, Time Out and Travel+Leisure, among others.

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