Driving in, my first feeling was regret — I knew there was no way I’d even scratch the surface of this place in 48 hours. (Yes, I flew from New York to Rio de Janeiro to spend two days on the ground, because YOLO, I guess.) There’s much more going on than preparation for the games. Extraordinary views in every direction, a layered landscape of beaches and mountains, busy roads, intense traffic. Noise. Smells. An incredible diversity of neighborhoods. Graffiti. Beautiful people. Short shorts and bikinis.
In the dictionary, a carioca is defined as the opposite of a New Yorker. Not really, but it could be — a carioca is a Rio native, and the stereotype includes an unhurried lifestyle, casual and friendly, totally immune to stress. It helps that they seem to do just about everything on the beach, which is an attractive way to live. Over the years I’ve travelled extensively, solo-style, to amazing locales, always imagining what it would be like to have my wife along for the ride, and this is definitely one of those places where I was kicking myself for traveling alone….
It’s a huge destination already, and a lot of new hotels opened in advance of the games. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out once they’re over, and whether the new hotels will thrive. There aren’t many Tablet hotels in the city, but the ones we do have are excellent — luxury hotels like the Fasano and the famous Copacabana Palace, and tiny, charming boutique hotels like La Suite and La Maison. There’s also Mama Ruisa and the Hotel Santa Teresa, both in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, which is where the artists and bohemian types live. And every single one of them is a Tablet Plus hotel, so you literally can’t go wrong.
I stayed at the brand-new Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro, on Barra da Tijuca Beach — it’s far from secluded, but it’s far enough from the noise of Rio’s crowded beaches and touristy locations (Ipanema, Copacabana) to give you all the privacy you’ll need.
With over 400 rooms it’s a lot bigger than a typical boutique hotel, but they go out of their way to boutique-ify it anyway. I like big hotels that feel small, providing the professional service you expect in an atmosphere that’s a little bit more intimate.
Design lovers won’t be disappointed. The interiors are by Yabu Pushelberg, who also did the London EDITION, the Park Hyatt New York, and many more, and they feel familiar but also fresh, complete with only-in-Rio details, and wide open spaces that feel calm and serene.
The restaurants — Tano (Italian), Shisho (Japanese), and Cantro (locavore Rio) — were all designed by Arthur Casas, a popular Brazilian architect, for a little extra local flavor. I enjoyed them all, but have to say Shisho was the standout — one of the best meals I had this year. It sounds strange to go all the way to Brazil for Japanese food, but there’s actually a lot of Japanese influence here.
An hour-long massage at the Atiaia Spa felt like a spiritual experience after a ten-hour flight. And the Granado shop is a cool story — it’s a pharmacy brand that’s almost 150 years old, and it’s had a sort of pop-culture revival, a lot like C.O. Bigelow in New York.
I actually spent the least amount of time in my Lagoon View guestroom! Not that it was lacking in any way: beyond spacious and comfortable, fully equipped with modern conveniences, and it came with a balcony that hated me for not spending more time with it. When you’re in Rio for 48 hours, though, you damn well better be out there enjoying yourself and testing your caipirinha-consumption skills.
If you’re a Tablet Plus member, you’ll get the red-carpet treatment at the Grand Hyatt — special care from our unparalleled customer service crew prior to the trip, and when you check in, a room upgrade, if one is available — as well as a welcome drink, free daily breakfast, and guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout. Not bad! We currently have well over 1,000 hotels providing this sort of thing for Plus members, so it really pays to be a member.
Ipanema and Copacabana are worth seeing, but the best beaches are outside of the city — and, I should mention, far away from Guanabara Bay, where the water quality is giving the swimmers and rowers nightmares. It takes a bit of planning to get out of town, but it’s worth it.
It feels like hotel developers around the world are content in creating duplicates. Many times I’ve heard Laurent (Tablet’s co-founder and CEO) talk about going into a hotel and not really being able to distinguish it from a hotel visited in another city or country. There’s too much sameness across today’s hotel landscape, and not enough surprises. I’d like for hotels in Rio de Janeiro (and hotels everywhere) to embody a true and authentic sense of place, more vivid expressions/celebrations of local life and color. That’s what makes a hotel experience memorable.