Romantic Rio: Classic Copacabana vs. Innovative Ipanema

by  Donna Heiderstadt | Sep 8, 2010
Copacabana / SL_Photography/iStock

Rio de Janeiro is one of those iconic spots (shown at right; courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels) most couples dream of seeing one day – and if that day involves a romantic celebration, this city with not one but two famous beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, delivers a dose of bossa-nova–infused amor. Each beach has a five-star hotel that’s ideal for a sexy splurge: Copacabana Palace and Hotel Fasano. And yet they couldn’t be more different. So, during a recent visit, I did a comparison.

Copacabana Palace A legend since 1923, this 243-room hotel, known affectionately as The Copa, has long reigned as the social epicenter of Copacabana Beach. Its iconic white façade (shown at left; courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels) and historic interior hark back to an era of elegance and have welcomed some of the past century’s top A-listers, from Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana to Will Smith and Gisele Bundchen (signed photographs of dozens of celebrities line the reception halls on the mezzanine level). With its high ceilings and distinctive murals, it’s a must for connoisseurs of grand old hotels, from $435/night.

Hotel Fasano Opened in 2007, this 91-room boutique property, with interiors by always innovative Philippe Starck, is the spot in Rio to see and be seen – both Madonna and Beyonce stayed here earlier in 2010. Everything is eye-catching, from the  “doorless” hallways (wooden doors blend into the walls and room numbers are illuminated on the floor) to the abstract furniture and sublime rooftop pool (shown at right; courtesy of Hotel Fasano). A stay here will appeal to aficionados of life’s coolest retro-hip pleasures, from $520/night.

The Comparison

Exterior The Copa’s 90-year-old “they-don’t-build-’em-like-that-anymore” façade is so spectacular it blows away the Fasano’s industrial-chic steel and glass design.

Lobby Once you step inside, however, The Copa’s subtle marble lobby is no match for the ingenious drama of Fasano’s retro-modern furniture and sexy curtain walls.

Room décor If classic styling is your thing, you’ll love The Copa’s cheery yellow walls, floral fabrics and dark wood period furniture. Fasano’s innovative curves – sensual red-and-gold striped loungers in the hallways and free-form mirrors and abstract lamps in the rooms (shown at left; courtesy of Hotel Fasano) – will leave you delightfully intoxicated.

Beach views Unless you’re in one of The Copa’s top suites, the views are more of the pool than the sand, whereas all 36 Deluxe Ocean Front Rooms at Fasano (plus 10 suites) have a balcony with views of Ipanama Beach and the Dos Hermanos peaks.

Beds Both hotels offer amazingly comfy mattresses and high thread-count sheets, but I could have slept in The Copa’s pillow-topped king bed forever.

Bathrooms The Copa’s spacious brown or beige marble baths have a fabulous soaking tub, but a mediocre showerhead, while Fasano’s ultramodern white marble bathrooms have an amazing rain shower but no bathtub (unless you book a suite). Note: Fasano’s towels rank among the plushest I’ve ever used.

Restaurant While I adored the Venetian-inspired menu (the basil and crayfish gnocchi was amazing) at The Copa’s Hotel Cipriani Restaurant, I found the old-school ambience and live piano music a bit tired. At Fasano Al Mare, the setting was chic but the seafood-based Italian cuisine, while wonderfully presented, was just not quite as fabulous as the setting. And both are pricy – you’ll drop at least $300 for two.

Bar The Copa’s one-year-old Bar do Copa pulses with 10,000 fiber-optic lights and the post-midnight energy of young locals, while Fasano’s small, hip, London-centric Baretto Londra has a more insider vibe.

Pool The Copa’s Olympic-sized pool is great for morning power laps, but it doesn’t have the wow factor of Fasano’s smaller rooftop pool with its panoramic views.

Spa Hotel Fasano welcomes all guests to its intimate sanctuary with a complimentary 15-minute massage; while the setting and services are serene, treatment rooms are a tight squeeze. Conversely, the Copacabana Palace Spa sprawls over three floors, making it Brazil’s largest urban spa.

Location Copacabana is the longer and wider beach, but the area’s luster has faded, whereas Ipanema’s star is on the rise given its hip vibe and trendy restaurants.

Noise The Copa’s double-paned windows kept out all traffic noise; the same cannot be said for Fasano, where rumbles and honks seeped through the balcony doors.

Service Exceptional at both – as befits properties of this caliber.

Sights & Delights
It’s not enough to sleep well in Rio – you need to sightsee well. Here are some tips: Leave jewelry, watches and wallets in your room safe and enjoy a stroll or a run along Copacabana or Ipanema’s sands or pedestrian pathways. Ride the electric railway up Corcovado to admire the 98-foot-tall statute of Christ the Redeemer and the magnificent view and hop the scenic gondola to the summit of Sugarloaf for an entirely different perspective. Plan a daytrip to the design-centric, Relais & Chateaux-member Hotel Santa Teresa (shown at left; courtesy of Hotel Santa Teresa) in Rio’s bohemian hilltop neighborhood of the same name for a superb lunch and couples spa experience followed by an al fresco dinner at nearby  Aprazivel, where you’ll savor Brazilian-fusion fare as Rio’s lights twinkle below you. Then grab a taxi to the quirky clubs of the 19th-century Lapa neighborhood, such as Rio Scenarium, a three-story antiques shop-turned salsa club that is somewhat touristy yet still so much fun.

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