A Curated Guide to Local-Meets-Luxury in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Hotel Emiliano

Personal travel concierges are a growing tourism trend—one that this professional traveler, perfectly capable of curating my own journeys, has admittedly scoffed at. Until, that is, I began plotting my visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and discovered Bromelia Rio Travel, headed by Lauren Quinn. Billing herself as a Rio expert with one foot in things local and another in luxury—aka, speaking my language—Quinn, an American who’s made Rio her home, also noted that getting past the touristy sun-and-sand experience of the popular destination is harder than one might think. “Many people imagine Rio as a beach with a city attached,” she explained, “but it’s actually a complex city with a beach attached.” Heeding her words, I yielded control and let Bromelia curate my Rio rendezvous. The result: a stellar stay.

Bromelia Rio Travel

STAY The ultra-fabulous, 90-room Hotel Emiliano is the Rio place to stay and be seen staying in, but thanks to its low-key facade and minimal advertising, most Americans don’t even know the year-and-a-half-old property exists. Brazilians, on the other hand, flock from all over to enjoy the sleek, sexy hotel, with its gorgeous infinity-pool rooftop, sweeping sea-view balconies and grand bathrooms, like marble-and-gold sanctuaries. I loved that the place definitively didn’t feel like Miami, thanks to such touches as Brazilian wood paneling, green jungle-style décor, local samba music in the restaurants, luscious acai-scented Santapele bath products and a pair of Havaianas for each guest.

EAT Billing itself as “Brazilian Vanguard Cuisine,” uber-trendy Oro is the brainchild of local celebrity Chef Felipe Bronze, host of various Brazilian TV programs. Select from two tasting options, a “Creativity Menu” or an abridged “Affectivity Menu,” and savor dishes as delectable as they are aesthetically pleasing (think mini rainforest on your plate). Best part: the flawless merger of local Bahian flavors like acaraje and moqueca with perfectly done Asian bites and fresh seafood. It’s a true dining experience.

DANCE There is live samba every night in Rio, and enjoying it is an absolute must—but if you want quality samba, you’ll need some on-the-ground savvy. Enter Lauren, with her finger on the pulse of which block or local haunt will come alive as only a Brazlian samba party can. She guided me on a Monday to the Pedra do Sal area of the city center, where the caipirinhas were as delicious as the live band, the colorful street art and the whole life-affirming vibe.

Hotel Santa Teresa

DRINK Rio’s historic, ridiculously picturesque Santa Teresa neighborhood—nestled in the hills above the city, dotted by local artist haunts—may as well be a world unto itself, a different country from Copacabana or Ipanema. Escape from the beach-and-bikini scene with a drink at Bar Dos Descasados in the magnificent Hotel Santa Teresa Rio, a 19th-century coffee plantation turned 44-room boutique hotel. Enjoy the bar’s sexy, boudoir-style feel—complete with red beds for seating—along with its local art exhibitions, a jazz band every Sunday, and an oh-so-Brazilian cocktail menu, with concoctions made from mango, ginger or cashew juice (and named for some of the many famous guests who’ve stayed here, including Chuck Norris and Snoop Dogg).

FLY Think Rio is pretty from land? Try it from the sky—in a glorious 60-minute helicopter ride via Ultra Pilot. You’ll get up close and personal with Sugar Loaf Mountain and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue; my favorite part was spotting hidden beaches that I’ll definitely be hiking to during my next visit.

SHOP I hate overstuffed itineraries, so I told Bromelia to leave me plenty of time on my own to joyfully wander. On one such wandering around Ipanema I discovered a Gilson Martins shop and instantly fell in love with the local brand’s delightfully funky, vividly colored accessories—because they scream “Rio” but are far from tourist knickknacks.

GETTING THERE In 2012 Chile’s LAN and Brazil’s TAM Airlines merged to form LATAM, which is still making its presence in the market known—in a big way. The welcome merger means that getting around South America is easier and more affordable than ever, but the ambitious airline also features long-haul routes to Africa, Europe and Asia. Local cuisine onboard (quinoa on a plane!) and gracious service were a plus.


BONUS TIP It’s a shame to make the long trip to Brazil and not visit some of the sizable country’s other touted destinations. Enjoy the hustle and bustle, glorious street-art scene and samba-filled nightlife of Sao Paulo by booking into the majestic, supremely comfortable Intercontinental Sao Paulo, the consummate high-rise hotel for a mega-city; it features 195 sleek rooms, a sexy outdoor pool and the ideal location for work and play, a block from business-centered Paulista Avenue, two stunning city parks and the city’s MASP art museum. Savor Afro-Brazilian culture in gorgeous Salvador de Bahia by staying at Zank by Toque Hotel, a 16-room designer boutique property in a 19th-century mansion in the charming Rio Vermelho neighborhood, with its winding hilltop streets and gorgeous ocean views.


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