WHAT’S IT LIKE? Once a 19th-century coffee plantation mansion, this rustic boutique hotel is a member of Relais the Chateaux, and is set in lush, tropical gardens with sweeping views of the city in the far distance. The interiors feature Ype wood floors, shutters and furniture, hand-carved sculptures, fresh orchids, wild cotton drapery, and works of art by Brazilian designers such as Sergio Rodrigues, Carassas, Studio Vitty, Zemog and Rock Lane.
The Santa Teresa describes its aesthetic concept as “a thematic journey to the lands and roots of ethnic Brazil” representing the Xingu and Tupi Guarani Indians, and Afro-Brazilian traditions and culture, with handicrafts from Maranhão, St Jorge Ogum, Pernambuco and Piaui, as well as “sacred and mystical art” from Bahia. In some rooms, there are old black and white etchings of African slaves, which I thought could be a bit controversial for some guests, although the slave trade was a significant part of Brazil’s history and the pictures fitted with the sense of heritage the hotel was communicating.
The Santa Teresa is a laid-back hideaway from the hustle and bustle of downtown Rio, and has a real sense of authenticity about it. It’s luxurious but with an eco-chic, “wabi sabi” flavour to it. (Read our article on travel trends to learn more about this.) Natural materials incorporated into the interiors included coconut and banana tree fibre, Portuguese tiles, green, black and gold slate, canvas, linen, burnt cement floors and brick.
Reception staff were always charming and helpful, booking taxis, sorting out problems and offering chilled bottles of water, but sometimes I found the language barrier could be a problem and that service wasn’t as efficient as it could be. That said, it’s Brazil, and if you are staying up here in Santa Teresa, there is no harm in leaving your watch in your room and going at a slower pace if you’re taking a some time out from work.
WHERE IS IT? In Rio’s cobbled, hilltop district of Santa Teresa, which is often described as the “Monmartre of Rio”. It’s is one of the most charming and picturesque areas of the city, with a peaceful atmosphere and European-style architecture. There used to be an old yellow tram that ran through it but after an accident in 2011, it is closed until all necessary renovations have been done. Santa Teresa is a ten-minute drive down to the business district of Centro and 16km to Rio de Janeiro-Galeao International airport.
ROOM FACILITIES Standard category Superior rooms start from 27 sqm and come with king-size beds, air conditioning, LCD televisions and free wifi. My Deluxe room (35 sqm) had an open-plan bathroom with a combined bath and shower, slate walls, deliciously fragrant Brazilian bathing products that smelt of lime, a separate toilet and an attractive wooden trough with two hand-carved armadillos in it. There was also space for a couple of washbags.
Suites start from 40 sqm. Some rooms have freestanding baths, private terraces with hammocks. If you can afford it, the Loft suite is a stunning 160 sqm penthouse featuring a long terrace with panoramic vistas, refined interior design, old wooden beams, heaps of natural light and animal skin rugs on the polished floors.
During my stay, I found the language barrier to be a bit of a problem. One evening I called down to order room service breakfast for the following morning and was transferred five times to different people as no one understood what I was asking. Finally, a woman took the order but didn't seem to fully comprehend what I was asking for. As I suspected, the breakfast didn't arrive at all in the morning, so I just went down to the restaurant for it.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS Tereze restaurant is accessed by walking through the gardens, past the outdoor pool and down a flight of stone steps. A buffet consisted of fresh sliced fruit and juice, pastries, cakes, bread, cheese and cold cuts. If you are looking to venture out from the resort, I’d recommend walking down the hill, taking the first left and walking back along the parallel road lower down (Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno) a short way to an un-named local café (opposite the grander Café Cite) that sells fantastic cheese bread balls, coffee, and other delicious breakfast items for just a handful of change.
“Innovative Brazilian cuisine” is served for lunch and dinner (though I didn’t try it), and the winelist has 200 labels from the Old and New World. I did, however, hear it has a great reputation and, instead, have a drink at Bar dos Descasados – it is a wonderful, exotic open-fronted space that is positioned beneath stone arches and has capacious chairs, sofas and even beds to recline on. It was so comfy, in fact, and dimly lit with only candles late at night, it was hard to stay awake. It’s very special place, especially at sunset. Snacks and light meals are also served.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES There is a 24-hour business centre, a meeting room for 30 delegates theatre-style, Bar dos Descasados for 200 people, and the restaurant for 100 people seated.
LEISURE FACILITIES Le Spa uses “eco-Amazonian” products from Natura, and offers a range of massages, saunas and relaxation areas. The 25-metre outdoor pool isn’t huge, and is lined with dark green slate so doesn’t quite look as dazzling as a normal turquoise pool, but is great for doing laps or lounging next to with a book. The pool terrace also has a Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, and low tables and chairs for eating and drinking. Views are magnificent.
Again, I found service to be a bit haphazard here. The pool was not staffed in the morning until about 11am so I had to search behind the bar to find towels. Then, after heavy rain the night before, one of the pool boys was poking the awnings above the seating area with a pole to push all the water off that had collected in them. He was doing it stage by stage and didn't seem to notice that I had all my clothes and belongings on a lounger and, consequently, completely drenched them. It was an accident, of course, but one might expect a bit more care to be taken in a resort of this caliber.
VERDICT Relais the Chateaux’s Santa Teresa is a gorgeous, boho-chic property in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Rio. It is not a business hotel, but Centro is not far, and it is a wonderful place to unwind if you are taking time out. If the service could be improved a little, it would be perfect.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 42 rooms across five categories – Superior and Deluxe rooms, Junior suite, Master and Loft suite.
HIGHLIGHTS Free wifi, outdoor pool with beautiful views and Veuve Clicquot bar, eco-chic décor and Bar dos Descasados.
PRICE Flexible internet rates for a midweek-stay in July started from R$1,025 (£301) for a Superior room room.
CONTACT Rua Almirante Alexandrino 660, Santa Teresa; tel +55 21 3380 0200; santa-teresa-hotel.com