Avenida Atlantica, 1702, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro
Certain hotels exemplify the glamour of a city and keep its history alive. The Copacabana Palace is one of them. A place of legends, this luxurious establishment was opened in 1923 and has been welcoming the rich and famous ever since.
The Copacabana Palace’s stately Mediterranean–style structure sits a little back from busy Avenida Atlantica, allowing guests to appreciate its elegance. It’s as if it is making sure you notice that it occupies nearly 130,000 square feet of some of the most expensive real estate in Brazil.
Doormen offer a formal welcome as you enter the reception area, which can't really be called a lobby because it is quite small. Smartly-dressed staff behind desks on either side tend to the business of registration and guest relations. You are offered water, coffee or pineapple juice, but there is no place to sit until you climb a wide stairway to the elevators. These stairs present a problem to guests who are physically challenged and to porters handling bulky luggage, but the building is a heritage structure and changes to the original design are not allowed. We’re told that staff will do everything they can to assist with wheelchairs and those with limited mobility.
Walking around the block to the rear of the building, you’ll find interesting photos of the hotel in its early days posted on the white stucco wall. Designed by French architect Joseph Gire and inspired by two hotels on the French Riviera, the Copacabana was started by the Guinle family of Rio de Janeiro and sold to James B. Sherwood of Orient–Express Hotels in 1989 (rebranded Belmond hotel group in 2014).
Since its opening it has undergone extensive yet discreet renovations. New illumination of the facade shows off the hotel’s fine bones by night and its large pool area has been upgraded. A sixth floor was added to the main building to house seven penthouse suites which have butler service, balconies with fabulous views and a private rooftop pool. The Copacabana Palace Spa opened a few years ago and it features treatments from Shiseido, Decleor and Natura, as well as a fitness room, hair salon, sauna, steam bath and relaxation area.
The main building now holds 71 suites and 76 rooms. The Tower Building, added in 1949, holds another 96 suites and rooms. Many rooms have great views of the beach and its 2.5 mile–long wavy sidewalk mosaic, completed in 1970 by landscape designer, Roberto Burle Marx. A Copacabana balcony is the place from which to view the spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Spacious hallways have plush carpeting and are bright with natural light. All rooms have high ceilings and are decorated in classical European style with printed fabrics and Persian carpets. At the foot of the beds stands an Belmond signature piece: a mirrored table hiding the TV set. The push of a button raises it for viewing. Despite all the technology, we’re pleased to note the windows actually open to let in the ocean breezes.
If you wish to be on the beach, head for the area reserved for Copacabana guests. Here the staff will get you a reclining chair with cushy mat and towels, bring water and fruit, and watch your belongings. There's even a shower built on the sand.
The hotel’s public spaces are the stuff of legend. Soaring ceilings—some 21 feet high—stately columns, crystal chandeliers, and marble or hardwood floors could no doubt tell tales of love, intrigue and celebration. Three beautiful rooms across the front of the building offer 12,000 square feet of entertainment space when opened up. A 5th floor executive lounge can provide private or group check–in so guests are able to bypass front reception.
Photos of notable guests line the 4th floor hallway. In the 1920s and '30s, guests were often European nobility. But, after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers brought fame to the hotel in the 1933 film, Flying Down to Rio, Hollywood discovered it. Over the years, guests have included royalty, movie stars, musicians, politicians, sports stars and business leaders.
Food and beverage service is exemplary throughout the hotel. There is a wide range of choices at the daily lunch buffet in the Pérgula Restaurant by the pool, but Saturday lunch is special. It features the Brazilian speciality “Feijoada,” a stew which includes a variety of dried meat, bacon, salt pork and ribs, different sausages and, most importantly, the ear, tail and trotter of a pig! Rich and hearty, for sure.
The Hotel Cipriani Restaurant is an oasis of elegance at the entrance to the tower. In March 2009, the Bar do Copa opened beside the pool. With fiber optic lighting turning the ceiling into a starry sky and eclectic music by live bands and DJs, this place promises to put a new-age face on a graciously timeless hotel.
The Copacabana presents a traditional face and personality that is the exact opposite of the Fasano’s standoffish trendiness. It appeals to a moneyed crowd that values personal service over attitude and art.
Review and photos by Paul and Lorie Bennett, small photo by Paul Bennett, the rest courtesy of Belmond Hotel