BACKGROUND The iconic Copacabana Palace opened in 1923, but underwent an extensive $20 million revamp between 2011 and 2012, during which time the hotel was closed completely for four months. A touch of modernity was added to the main building, many of the rooms and suites, lobby – which is now 60 per cent larger, and Cipriani restaurant.
The art deco property was originally designed by French architect Joseph Gire and, over the years, has attracted many well-known stars, from Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles, to Elton John and Madonna. In 1989, it was saved from demolition when it was bought by the Orient Express hotel group, a member of which it remains today.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? The hotel is a majestic, cream-coloured palace that immediately stands out in its elegance on the Copacabana oceanfront. Upon entering the cool marble lobby, the concierge is to the left of the entrance and reception set back, to the right. Continue straight ahead up a flight of stairs and you will see a set of lifts, and a corridor leading down to the outdoor pool, Pergula eatery and Cipriani restaurant in the Tower annex.
The ten-storey main building has bedrooms occupying six floors, while the 12-floor Tower (including one level for residents) dates back to the 1940s – this was renovated about five years ago. The overall look and feel of the hotel is classic luxury, with plenty of marble, plush carpeting, wood paneling, period furniture and delicate splashes of floral chintz. The light, airy décor is offset with pastel greens, yellows, golds and dark wood.
WHERE IS IT? On Avenue Atlantica, which runs alongside Copacabana beach. It is 26km from the international airport and 9km from Centro.
ROOM FACILITIES Bedrooms start from 30 sqm, while suites are from 60 sqm. All have free wifi, separate baths and showers, flatscreen TVs, bottled water, air conditioning, minibars, robes and slippers, workdesks, reading lamps and iPod docks. Those in the main building are fresher and more contemporary with a grey, cream and white colour scheme. When I stayed, the toiletries were Copacabana-branded, but I was told these would be changing to Trousseau. The seven penthouses feature Bulgari products, butler service and use of a private rooftop pool, while six of them also have private terraces with sea views.
I was staying in a Pool Ocean View suite in the Tower. It came with a homely living room with a walk-in wardrobe, workdesk, sofa, armchair and al fresco terrace overlooking the pool and sea. (Unfortunately, it also looked down on an ugly residential block next door.) In addition, the suite had a sunlit bedroom with windows that could be opened to let in fresh air, plus a very comfortable bed, and a spacious marble bathroom with twin sinks, a separate tub and walk-in shower. The chic décor had a subtle classic flavour thanks to floral prints, velvet armchairs and pale green curtains.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS One of Rio’s trendiest nightspots is Bar di Copa, next to the pool. I didn’t have time to visit but the website describes it as having “dazzling gold-mosaic décor and 10,000 micro-lights shimmering in the ceiling”. It is open Thursday to Saturday from 10pm, and when I walked by late one evening there was a line of well-heeled men and women queuing to get in. I did, however, eat breakfast at Pergula restaurant, which has seating both inside and outside by the pool. There was a lavish buffet of wonderful tropical fruits and juices, cakes and pastries, bread, cheese, cold meat, eggs and cereal. It also serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
On the ground floor of the tower, overlooking the pool is the Copacabana Piano bar (open Wednesday to Saturday), and opposite, Cipriani restaurant (open 12.30pm-3pm, and 7pm-12am Mondays to Saturdays; lunch-only Sunday). I had dinner here one evening for a special birthday treat, and felt thoroughly spoilt. Headed up by chef Nicola Finamore, the cuisine is northern Italian with Brazilian influences and ingredients. (For those looking for a personalised experience, people can also book the chef’s table for up to six diners, and experience a unique menu created on the day.)
The ambiance was romantically candlelit and convivial, with piano music wafting across and relaxed diners who leaned over to chat to one another. The charming waiting staff were the very best, appearing from nowhere to top up glasses at just the right moment, but never being over-bearing.
I had a generously portioned seven-course tasting menu, which started with an amuse bouche of artichoke salad, followed by vegetable cannelloni with tomato tartare and bufalini cheese. Then came a rich parcel of sesame-crusted Taleggio cheese wrapped in pastry and flavoured with black truffle, and eggplant gnocchi with tomato and basil sauce as the main.
Desserts were of a decadent tiramisu Veneziana, and an ice cream degustation of six different flavours each served on a china spoon. Each course was paired with a different wine chosen by the sommelier. Needless to say I couldn’t eat it all, much as a crime it was to leave anything. The evening was completed by a rendition of Happy Birthday on the piano, with all the other diners joining in. A very memorable experience with superb cuisine.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES There is a 24-hour business centre just off the ground-floor lobby with six PCs, a printer and an Illy coffee machine. There are 11 venues for events, including the restored Antique Casino and adjoining Palm and Crystal rooms for up to 1,200 delegates. Meanwhile, the Front Room can host 120 for a reception, the Blue Room 90 people standing, the Carioca and Rio de Janeiro rooms for 20 to 40 conference-style, and the Red and Yellow rooms for 15 people in each for a board meeting.
LEISURE FACILITIES The spa (open 9am-10pm) is in the Tower on floor two and has seven treatment rooms, while the nearby fitness centre on the lower level is open 6am-10pm and features natural light, free weights and Technogym machines. There is also a tennis court. The outdoor pool is great for laps and is surrounded by plenty of loungers for sunbathing. I spent a few hours here one morning and found the service to be very attentive, with fresh towels and chilled coconut water served in the shell delivered on request. Copacabana beach is opposite and the hotel has its own section with loungers, umbrellas, water and fresh fruit for guests. The promenade running parallel is popular with joggers and cyclists.
VERDICT The Copacabana Palace remains one of the best five-star hotels in Rio and is all the better for the extensive facelift it recently received. The Cipriani restaurant is a true highlight and there is a compelling choice of meeting space for business travellers.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 241 rooms and suites across six categories – Superior City View and Deluxe Beach View rooms, and Pool Ocean View, Avenue City View, Deluxe One-Bedroom and Penthouse suites.
HIGHLIGHTS The sea views, glamorous pool scene and high-class Cipriani restaurant. The prime location on Copacabana beach is also a plus, as is the excellent service.
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in August started from R$1,723 (£506) for a Superior City View room.
CONTACT Copacabana Palace, Avenida Atlantica 1702, Rio de Janeiro; tel +55 212 5487 070; copacabanapalace.com