(Photo: Alessandro Batistessa/Orient-Express Hotels)
By Sam Borden, New York Times
Starting rates of about $450, with prices apt to soar during the World Cup in June.
Some say that a hotel in Rio is just a place for cleaning off the sand, but for those who prefer to do so with monogrammed towels, Trousseau toiletries and a marble soaking tub, the Palace fits the bill. A piece of Old World elegance amid the allure — and menace — of Copacabana Beach, the Palace, with 232 rooms, completed an extensive renovation late last year. It promotes itself as a modern property that still conjures the glamour of the days when Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles were guests. In many ways, the combination is spot-on: the glistening pool deck, for example, is hip (and gorgeous); the maddening wait for one of the two clunky elevators in the lobby, however, is an irritating throwback to the technology of yesteryear.
The good: Copacabana Beach is about 50 yards from the front door, and the hotel offers beach loungers and towels to guests. The bad: when asked if the neighborhood was safe to walk around at night, the receptionist nodded a little too quickly, then whispered: “It might be better if you leave your passport in your room when you go. And maybe stay away from the side streets, O.K.?” Best advice: Take cabs.
The hotel staff refers to rooms as “apartments,” and my king-bed dwelling certainly was bigger than the average Manhattan studio. The furnishings were antique and elegant — no ergonomic desk chair here — but there was the standard iPod clock and a DVD player alongside a flat-screen TV. The airy and open space seems nice until you realize there’s no coffee table or anywhere to place, say, a room-service tray.
It was spacious enough to contain a sizable closet, along with a marble vanity and a shower with a glorious high-volume spray. But the adjacent tiny room for the toilet was so cramped that it was difficult even to be alone with one’s thoughts.
Luxury comes naturally at the Palace, but it will cost. For example, the Palace contains a high-end spa with myriad treatments, like the five-hour “Copacabana” experience, which included a mask of Amazonian white clay. It cost about $600. On the other end, whiling away the hours by the sleek, heated pool was free, as were the flip-flops left by my bed during turndown. The complimentary Wi-Fi was adequate but not especially speedy; to upgrade to a faster tier, it cost about $25 a day. The most useful amenity was a plug converter placed conveniently in the desk drawer.
You could certainly do worse than having lunch at Pérgula, the poolside patio restaurant, and dinner at Hotel Cipriani, the northern Italian spot also on the premises. Both are highly regarded, though I preferred to venture into the city for meals. For room service, the options are extensive; my “light breakfast” was anything but, featuring an egg-white omelet, toast (without the crusts!), a yogurt smoothie, tea, papaya and cottage cheese with turkey. While tasty, the price also wasn’t particularly light: 79 reais, or about $35 at about 2.26 reais to the dollar.
It is often hard to find a middle ground between beach grime and overwhelming opulence in Rio, which has a reputation as a mediocre hotel town. The Palace isn’t in that elusive middle either, but you mostly get what you pay for — if you’re willing to pay.
Copacabana Palace, 1702 Avenida Atlântica, Rio de Janeiro; (55-21) 2548-7070; copacabanapalace.com.