- Detailed Review
- Facts & Amenities
Without a doubt, the Belmond Copacabana Palace is the most iconic hotel in Brazil. Built in 1923 and inspired by Nice’s Negresco and Cannes’ Intercontinental Carlton, this 239-room property was the first luxury hotel in South America. ‘If the walls could talk’ certainly applies here to this grande dame.
Spend some time perusing the hotel’s corridors, which are lined with black-and-white photos of famous guests from over the years; its visitors’ book is a veritable who’s who in the world. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together at the hotel in Flying Down to Rio in 1933. After this, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Robert De Niro, Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, many politicians, including the Obamas, and many famous athletes have stayed here.
Synonymous with glitz and glamour, the hotel, with its neoclassical facade, has been beautifully maintained and is still a glimmering shade of white, as is the interior of the hotel. The look is cool, elegant and extravagant. Within the hotel are many pieces of fine artwork and period furniture pieces to appreciate, most from local artists and some in the rooms themselves, which are all individually appointed.
The swimming pool, one of the city’s largest and most attractive, is a big draw, as are the hotel restaurants. The elegant Cipriani, the Italian restaurant (there are several around the world) named after the original in Belmond’s Venice property, overlooks the pool. On Saturdays you can try feijoada, Brazil’s national dish – essentially a Portuguese stew of meat, veg and black beans, in the less formal Pérgula restaurant by the pool. In 2014, the stunning pan-Asian restaurant, MEE, opened, which today proudly boasts one Michelin star.
So, with fame, decor, food and the facilities covered (did I mention there’s a tennis court?), all you really need to do is select your room. All windows are double-glazed so you won’t be disturbed by traffic or revellers on the beach; just don’t pass up the chance to stay in a room facing the ocean, which is probably why you’re here anyway. For a few more Brazilian reals you’ll wake up a whole lot happier, trust me.
The area surrounding the hotel is somewhat seedy, but I closed my eyes and didn’t wake up till my ride arrived at the hotel. My bags were taken from the car straight to my room and I was made to feel very welcome from the moment I walked through the door. I was looking forward to getting down to the pool, so I checked in, went to my room and changed, and made my way downstairs without wasting a moment.
Rooms and suites
The king-sized or twin beds and their crisp, pillow-covered linen will guarantee a good night’s sleep, and my room, facing the ocean, was very nice indeed, decorated in soft shades of blues and lime green. The rooms, like the hotel in general, are large and airy and have a very nice feel to them. A little Juliet balcony provided a respite from the air conditioning if I needed it. It’s important to note that not all rooms have an ocean or a pool view. Be careful when booking, as some face onto side-streets looking out over some rather insalubrious sights.
The TV in the room had some decent movie and news channels in English, and the Wi-Fi was complimentary, which was nice, although the signal wasn’t super-strong. The only noise I heard was from the corridors as guests slammed their bedroom doors while trying to work out how to close them. People being what they are, these guests had no doubt been shown but not paid attention to how to operate the door by the front-desk person who first took them to the room (you need to swipe your key card on the way out to free the locking mechanism).
The hotel underwent a refurb not long ago, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it has retained a classic rather than a more contemporary style. Vast chandeliers, copious amounts of marble and forests worth of polished Brazilian wood set the tone in the reception area – a theme continued in every room and in every corner of this gracious palace.
Guests on the executive floor have the added luxury of butler services. Since I wasn’t on that floor, I had to unpack and pack up again myself. Luckily, I travel light.
The bathroom was somewhat nondescript although it was spacious. It was long and narrow, with yet more marble, twin sinks, Bulgari (some had Etro) toiletries, and the towels, like the bed linen, were luxurious.
There was a big tub with a separate shower, and plenty of room for all my toiletries, which I appreciated had been artfully arranged on a washcloth in the evening at turndown time. This is always such a nice touch.
I got dressed for dinner and, having booked weeks before, headed down to MEE, super-excited to be going here after reading so much about it. Like a true foodie, I had studied the menu before arriving.
The decor is chic and very red, with lovely banquettes, which are nice for groups as well as couples. Led by chef and TV star Ken Hom, the kitchen offers samplings of Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian, Singaporean, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cuisines. It sounds like a lot but it’s really just the best of all worlds. The menu is impressive; it’s hard to make a choice.
Still, over a glass of champagne and a bowl of edamame beans, I sat down and studied the menu again, and decided to go for the crackling Vietnamese spring rolls, which sounded heavenly (and they were), followed by the crispy Sichuan confit duck with pancakes (the best I’ve ever had) and a side of stir-fried broccoli with ginger. It was a delicious meal, which I topped off with a slice of tofu cheesecake. It sounded (slightly) healthy but turned out to be both light and decadent at the same time.
There are only six restaurants in Rio with Michelin stars, one star being the highest score of any to date. I’m not sure if restaurant service has to be of a higher standard for the establishment to receive a Michelin nod, but in the case of MEE, the service team deserved their own medal – they were that good.
The restaurant has a sake menu of which I’m sure even an expert would be hard pressed to say he (or she) knew every single one. Since my knowledge of rice wines is nil, I was glad there was a sake somm to help me out. I loved the two glasses that he chose for me to accompany my food.
Just so you know, MEE charges a cover on Friday and Saturday nights – something I found odd but I assume there’s a reason.
Other restaurant options
At breakfast, the buffet is sufficient but not spectacular for a hotel of this size and calibre, although the fresh fruits offered were amazing. However, the service was almost non-existent and the cooked dishes (when they finally arrived) were underwhelming. All in all, it’s not what one expects from a Belmond hotel, and particularly one as iconic as this.
One evening after dinner, I headed to the piano bar for my one-a-day-in-Rio caipirinha fix, and while the drink didn’t disappoint, the venue was not well frequented. It lacked the ambiance I was looking for (it was very formal), so I drank up and headed upstairs to my room to watch a movie on my big-screen TV.
Sunday brunch at Pérgula is popular with guests and locals alike, and drinks a-gogo are included, so you’re forewarned. Poolside snacks and cocktails are worth the splurge, as the atmosphere is very fun and uber-cool, but beware if you can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke – there’s a lot of it floating around outside.
Spa and wellness
The hotel has a sizeable spa, with seven treatment rooms, two couples’ rooms, a sauna and a steam room. Various treatments and experiences are offered, but because the 30-minute jet-lag massage was shrieking out my name, I went for that as I felt I could well afford to spend half an hour to alleviate my suffering. And the massage did just that; I was a different person when I left. They use an organic Brazilian range of products here, which smelled lovely and felt even better on my skin.
The spa facility itself is good but not spectacular by today’s standards. There’s also a hair and beauty salon attached. With everything under one roof, there’s a lot here to dip into and let yourself be pampered by the very dedicated team.
The gym facilities are Technogym and the vicinity is nicely air-conditioned. There’s a weights room and separate area for treadmills and other machines. I popped in for a quick look around, but if you’re a fitness fan there’s a professional coach here to take you through your paces if you so desire. Stretching and Power Plate sessions are available on request.
I loved the fact that there’s a rooftop tennis court. Balls and racquets are available from the concierge, who might also be able to rustle you up a partner.
Pool and beach
The day I decided to go down to the lovely pool, getting a sun lounger proved no problem. The large pool, at ground level, is a lovely spot, and the water is maintained at a perfect temperature, not too hot and not too cold. The sun loungers are heavenly, perfect for a post-lunch nap in the shade.
The sun is only over the pool until about 2pm, so if it’s rays you’re after, you can head over to the hotel’s private beach area in the afternoon, where the staff will watch your belongings as you swim and keep you topped up with ice-cold water and refreshments around the clock. Note that the set-up is far from the water’s edge, so sitting here will not grant you a water view.
A pair of Havaianas were provided in my room, in just my size. A nice addition to my collection of hotel memorabilia.
Although the ambience of the hotel is upscale, its size and ample space on every floor, plus the numerous dining options, make it suitable for families, even those with small kids. The huge pool is always a big hit with children, and the staff will be sure to help entertain all ages.
I should point out that a pet-friendly policy means the family doggie can come and share in the luxury, too. Awww…
Staff and service
Staff in all departments were courteous and charming. A few, like those on breakfast duty, spent a lot of time talking among themselves, which wasn’t professional at all. But apart from that, the attentive, polite, English-speaking team has been well-drilled in dealing with guests efficiently and discreetly.
When I needed help, I enjoyed interacting with the concierge, for whom every task was never too much to ask. He seemed to be able to arrange golf outings, sightseeing trips, dinner reservations and reconfirm flights, all at the same time without breaking sweat.
Lots of Americans and many Europeans were in residence when I was. Sadly, I didn’t see any celebrities during my visit, but even if there had been any in residence, the staff would never tell. I spotted honeymooners canoodling by the pool, and couples enjoying the spa or a meal before heading out to do some sightseeing. There were a few groups of friends travelling together, enjoying their time in the beautiful atmosphere and sunshine, just as I was.
Staying here was truly a pleasure. Departing was bittersweet, as I was sorry to go but eagerly anticipating trying out the competition in town. The porter promptly came up for my bags when called, and I was all checked out and ready to go in moments.
How to get here
40 minutes by road from Rio De Janeiro International Airport
241 rooms and suites