This iconic hotel on the shores of Copacabana beach in Rio has been welcoming guests for almost a century, but this grande dame has aged like a fine wine – with a few little nips and tucks.
Despite a recent renovation, the Belmond Copacabana Palace remains a character-filled Art Deco charmer with dramatic chandeliers, period furniture and original artworks. It houses several world-class restaurants and the service is attentive and personalised. Famous musicians, Hollywood stars (think Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe) and even royalty have trod these opulent halls, and within moments of being here, you’ll be feeling like a VIP yourself.
All the rooms have glorious king-sized beds, marble bathrooms and the fluffiest towels imaginable. It’s the personal touches here that are most impressive: a welcome note left with a box of chocolates; a constant supply of bottled mineral water; candles; robes and slippers. Thoughtfully, the hotel also provides its guests with a pair of flip-flops, that iconic footwear made for the beach that has Australia taken to its bosom. The rubber version was popularised in Brazil (who among us doesn’t own a pair of Havaianas?) and they’re the perfect accessory for hot-footing it across to the beach after spotting a vacancy on the golden sand from your Juliet-style balcony. In Rio and not in party-mode? The soundproof windows come very handy if you need a nap during Carnival season.
There’s no better place from which to drink in the views of Copacabana Beach than the Belmond. The hotel is just around the corner from Rio’s other iconic beach Ipanema and the exciting Leblon district, which is filled with exclusive boutiques, high-end restaurants and cool bars. Rio’s business district is also within walking distance and the international airport (Tom Jobim) is 40 minutes away, depending on traffic. Sites such as Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Barra da Tijuca Forest are also easily accessible from the hotel.
The Cipriani restaurant (named for the Belmond Copacabana Palace’s sister hotel in Venice) exudes sophistication, with tinkling piano in the background, red velvet drapes, candelabras and decadent Italian dishes such as the classic gnocchi alla romana with lobster and shellfish.
The Belmond is also home to Mee, one of the first South American restaurants to be awarded a coveted Michelin star. The menu, devised by celebrity chef Ken Hom and head chef Kazuo Harada takes diners through the flavours of Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand with dishes such as dumpling with foie gras and fresh oyster, quail egg yolk and sea urchin served with ponzu sauce. A sake sommelier will recommend matching varieties.
For a more relaxed option, dine alfresco at Pérgula Restaurant and try a local dish such as grilled pirarucu (that’s a local fish) wrapped in banana leaf with Brazilian ratatouille and banana purée. At night, the adjoining piano bar entertains guests and A-list locals with outstanding aperitifs.
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The Belmond Copacabana Palace is one of the most sought-after venues for parties and events in Rio. The highlight of the year is the Carnival Ball, which can last until the breakfast service the following day – and there’s no telling what could happen post-Olympics. There are 13 function rooms, but the Antique Casino room is a standout. The former casino from the roaring ’20s has been restored to its former glory with impressive columns, crystal chandeliers and marble finishes. Near the lobby is a florist and a 1923 boutique full of clothing, shoes and gifts. There’s also a beauty spa and salon over two storeys, plus solarium, fitness center and rooftop tennis court.
The English-speaking concierges are efficient and attentive and accustomed to attending to the needs of their pampered charges. There are seven luxurious penthouse suites with 24-hour butler service but rest assured, even if you aren’t in the penthouse the service is impeccable with two-and-a-half staff per suite.
Beach assistants will bring your sun lounge and supplies to the shoreline and even look after your belongings while you cool off in the waves. If the crowds get too much for you, opt to relax next to one of the most beautiful swimming pools in Rio. Friendly staff are attentive in bringing guests iced towels and offerings of fruit from silver trays. Take a deep breathe and relax – yes that’s the hotel’s very own scent that is lightly perfumed throughout the rooms. Now smile, welcome to “Copa”.
In 1923, French architect Joseph Gire was inspired by the Hotel Negresco in Nice and the Carlton in Cannes to build a new hotel on the then-relatively unknown Copacabana Beach. In the 90-plus years since, the Belmond Copacabana Palace has been the home-away-from-home of royal families, actors, musicians and politicians – many of whose faces are displayed in a fascinating photo gallery that lines the walls of the reception salons on the mezzanine floor.
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Location: Belmond Copacabana Palace, Avenida Atlântica, 1702, Rio de Janeiro
Perfect for: Couples, holiday-makers
Number of rooms: 239 rooms and suites