Discover the finest hotels and journeys in Mexico, Central America, and South America

DPNY Beach Hotel—Ilhabela, Brazil

Av. José Pacheco do Nascimento, 7668, Praia do Curral, Ilhabela, São Paulo, Brazil

An oft-quoted review published in The Guardian neatly sums up the DPNY Beach Hotel as “hipper than hell.” Of course, DPNY’s setting—a strip of golden beach backed by the lush jungly mountains of the volcanic island of Ilhabela—is much more like heaven than hell. Nonetheless, this pithy catchphrase will inevitably echo inside your head when you arrive at this hotel–cum–club that’s revolutionized the concept of the luxury beach hotel in Brazil.

DPNY Beach Hotel

From the outside, the DPNY Beach Hotel, its low–lying structures painted in deep watermelon hues, does a nice job of blending into the surrounding tropical landscape of Praia do Curral, a beach on the southern end of Ilhabela that, lying 200km north of São Paulo, is one of wealthy Paulistanos’ favorite getaways. Step inside, however, and like Alice, you’ll have the impression of falling down a rabbit hole—albeit an extravagantly designed one. For starters, the reception is covered with thousands of tiny colorful azulejos (ceramic tiles) that, along with the 100,000 others that adorn much of the hotel, were handcrafted by the staff (there are over 100 employees). The sensation of arriving in an alternate universe will continue as a concierge escorts you to your room, which will be quite unlike anything you’ve ever likely seen—but more about rooms later since you probably won’t be spending that much time in inside.

After all, DPNY is a beach hotel. True to this guiding principle, the hotel’s public spaces, facilities, and activities are located in front of, or right upon, the beach—which is where Wonderland really kicks in. By law, there is no such thing as a private beach in Brazil, but DPNY comes pretty close: it has staked claim to a strip of sand at one end at Praia do Curral by setting up an intricate maze of beach chairs, parasols, four–poster beds, and teepees (for the privacy starved and sun–shy). All of the above come with white leather cushions or mattresses and enormous zebra–skin pillows upon which you can very easily fall asleep. Fluffy white towels are as easy to find as sand between your toes.

Although the beach is small and not that wide, the water is calm and emerald–hued. Views of the jungle–covered mountains of the mainland across the ocean are quite breathtaking. If you’re feeling active, the hotel rents everything from snorkel gear and kayaks to wakeboards, banana boats, and power launches to take you to the far–flung paradise beaches on Ilhabela’s eastern coast. Even so, many guests seem equally seduced by the large, palm-fringed, pool overlooking the beach, which functions as the hotel’s focal point.

DPNY Beach Hotel RoomWhile the sea and swimming pool provide ample recreational possibilities, aquatic offerings are everywhere. Scattered throughout the pool area are glass shower stalls for freshwater dousings while the palm trees on the beach spritz a refreshingly dewy mist into the air. Meanwhile, a grand staircase sweeps up to a pseudo–Venetian palace (with hints of the Taj Mahal) that houses the spa. Inside lurk red- and orange–tiled pools and hot tubs where you can zone out with massaging jets while a galaxy of tiny ceiling lights twinkle above. A steam room features a psychedelic yet soothing light show that will definitely make you a believer in chromotherapy.

For those who prefer bliss of a drier variety, DPNY offers myriad lounges and spaces—all of them merging with the beach, and decorated with color, whimsy and panache. Helmed by young French–trained chef Renata Raikov, the much-lauded Tróia restaurant makes use of local ingredients to create succulent contemporary dishes served with flair. A lavish breakfast buffet can be savored at tables overlooking the beach while you can enjoy lighter fare at the Hippie Chic Beach Club. This is a funky bar, festooned with brilliantly painted surfboards, that spills right onto the sand. Guests who prefer surfing the Web to surfing waves will find Mac laptops along the bar while traditionalists who prefer print can peruse glossy mags from around the world at a lounge that also carries DPNY CDs mixed by the hotel’s stable of regular and guest DJs.

DPNY Hotel SpaYes, DPNY has its own DJs and no matter where you are or what time of day it is, your every move will be accompanied by a suitable soundtrack. In theory, such a gimmick could be invasive, but in practice, the DJs have got the musical accompaniment down to a subtle art that enhances rather than intrudes upon the mood. They even have “cloudy day,” “sunset,” and “5am–on–the–beach” music—the latter fuels the Saturday night beach parties.

Truth be told, DPNY is like a giant club and if you’re not a clubber, you might want to consider steering clear of the place during the peak of summer or during holidays or long weekends. Although the hotel claims to be seeking an eclectic client mix—to attract guests who are more hippie than chic, it has converted a house across the main road and three fishermen’s cottages on a former coconut plantation into lodgings—it gets its share of pretty young fashionistas and bigwigs who feel compelled to call their brokers during breakfast.

Of course, there’s plenty of room to get away from the scene–iness—one of the options, of course, being your room. Aside from the aforementioned choices, the 86 rooms in the main complex vary in terms of size and price, but all feature basics such as king–sized, four poster beds, iPods, flat screen cable TVs, temperature regulated a/c, safes, and minibars imaginatively stocked with fun stuff such as Joy Juice and iced green tea. The most basic suites are a little small, but very handsome. The lighting is flattering and the bathrooms are large. The one drawback is the absence of any windows, which might lead to a little claustrophobia and/or stuffiness. If this is the case, you can upgrade to more spacious 5 Estrelas or Master Suites (with room enough to sleep four) that come with or without beach views (the views cost more). The luxury factors (and the windows) really kick in if you decide to splurge for the Bangalo Suites, which offer more privacy and space as well as whirlpools and ample beach and pool views. For total jaw–dropping decadence, the Presidential and Imperial Suites are works of art: sumptuously decorated tropical palaces with lounges and verandas galore.

DPNY employs a young and attractive staff of around 100 (the owner makes a commendable point of hiring locals as opposed to shipping in recruits from São Paulo). While sheer quantity ensures that there are plenty of people around to cater to your needs, amiability and attentiveness are somewhat hit–and–miss.

In a country where upscale beach hotels have traditionally equated luxury with conformity and where “contemporary” too often apes Euro-American design tendencies, DPNY achieves the rare feat of being mind–blowingly original in a way that pays homage to Brazilians’ talent for combining disparate elements to create works of great singularity. What saves DPNY from being too hip is its emphasis on casualness and playfulness—happily, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you’re in the mood for fun in the sun amidst beautiful surroundings, you won’t be disappointed.

Web Address: DPNY
Total Number of rooms: 86
Published rates: $218 to $1,276

Review and photos by Michael Sommers.