Oct 27, 2009

Iguazu Falls now have a classy hotel, courtesy of Orient-Express

Great news in the Brazil hotel front: at long last, there's a classy place to stay at Iguazu Falls, or, as we call them, Cataratas do Iguaçu. Orient-Express hotels bought the tired old Hotel das Cataratas and is giving it a great facelift, as they did with the glamorous Copacabana Palace in the eighties. Great timing: as I mentioned in the post below, the falls were just named world's # 1 tourist attraction by the readers of UK's The Guardian newspaper!

Here are excerpts from the press release:

"First opened as a hotel in 1958, Hotel das Cataratas is an elegant two storey Portuguese colonial style building. It has one of the most impressive and enviable locations in South America, with the world famous Iguassu Falls just a two minute stroll from the property, and is surrounded by almost 1,850km² of national park. As the only hotel within the national park, Hotel das Cataratas has an unbeatable location, allowing guests to enjoy exclusive access to the falls each morning, before the park opens at 9am.

The 193 guest rooms, including 15 suites, have been decorated in line with the Portuguese style and feature paintings of the local flora and fauna by well known Brazilian artist, Ludmilla de Montes. Traditional Azulejos painted tiles, specially designed for Hotel das Cataratas, have also been used throughout the property, further enhancing the Portuguese history of the hotel. Many of the 16 Cataratas Deluxe Rooms boast lovely views of the falls, as do the Tower and Cataratas Suites.

A new spa opening at the end of November will offer an array of treatments from the Brazilian brand, Natura, which uses tropical fruits from the area, as well as ingredients sourced from the Amazon. There will be five treatment rooms with ipod docks, so guests can choose to listen to their own music if they wish, as well as a relaxation room and a sauna.

Hotel das Cataratas has two restaurants; the Restaurante Itaipu, serving a blend of Brazilian and international cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner, located on the ground floor of the main building, with a veranda for al fresco dining. The Ipê Grill by the main pool, is named after a local wood and serves light snacks throughout the day and a churrascaria (South American style meat barbecue) with live music for dinner. The terraces surrounding the hotel have been extended, allowing guests to dine al fresco.

On the hotel’s grounds is the Belvedere Look-out Point, which offers unparalleled views of the falls and a perfect photo opportunity.

In 1986, UNESCO listed Iguassu National Park as a 'Natural Heritage of Humanity' area. The park, home to the Iguassu waterfalls (or cataratas), comprises 1,850km² of forest reserve and preserved to maintain the area for future generations.
The Iguassu Falls are a spectacular collection of 275 waterfalls extending over a length of almost five kilometres in an enormous canyon on the Iguassu River. There are 19 big waterfalls, the largest of which is the 'Devil's Throat', the drop of which is over 90 metres. Only three of the falls, Floriano, Deodoro and Benjamin Constant are located on the Brazilian side with the majority located on the Argentinean side facing Brazil, therefore affording the Brazilian side the better view.

Local activities which can be organised through the hotel include helicopter tours over the falls, boat rides through the rapids, four-wheel drive jungle adventures, bird park and nature walks within the national park.

A double room at Hotel das Cataratas starts from US$375 (approx. £231*) per room per night including breakfast."

Hotel Das Cataratas, Iguaçu National Park, Paraná, Brazil
Tel: (55) 45 2102-7000 Toll free USA: 800-837-9051

Iguazu Falls named top tourist attraction in the world by The Guardian

Oct 24, 2009

Iguazu Falls voted top tourist attraction in the world by The Guardian's readers


The British newspaper The Guardian polled its readers about their travel preferences, and got 19,248 responses. Their favourite tourist attraction in the world? Iguazu Falls, better known in Brazil as the Cataratas do Iguaçu.

Here are the top five in The Guardian's ranking:

1. Cataratas do Iguaçu

2. Templo Angkor

3. Machu Picchu

4. Grand Canyon National Park

5. Great Barrier Reef

Full story on The Guardian's website.

And here, more info on the Iguazu falls, a photo and a virtual tour

Oh, and also this week, The New York Times ran a Q&A answering readers' queries about Rio and Paraty. The paper recommends the Bar do Copa at the Copacabana Palace hotel and the restaurant Roberta Sudbrack, among other places. Here, the link.

Testino, Donatella, Diddy and Mariah are at Rio's Oi Fashion Rocks

Tonight the Brazilian fashion world is sizzling with zillions of feverish tweets fired off commenting on the Oi Fashion Rocks fashion event in Rio. Oi, a phone company, is the sponsor of the extravaganza held at Rio's Copacabana Palace hotel and Jockey Club. Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Versace, André Lima, Lenny, Alexandre Herchcovitch and Lino Villaventura will have runway shows, while the event will also feature pocket shows by Mariah Carey, Grace Jones, Diddy Combs, Daniela Mercury, Wanessa & Ja Rule, Ciara, Estelle e Stop Play Moon.

For those who speak Portuguese, the live "coverage" is available on Twitter, just follow the #oifashionrocks hash tag (but be warned: it's more like senseless gossip and nasty remarks sprinkled here and there with nuggets of actual useful info).

Oi Fashion Rocks official website.

And more Rio fashion and shopping on this blog:
  1. Best shops in Ipanema: Lenny, Mara Mac, etc.
  2. Fashion Rio, the biggest fashion event
  3. Rio's best beauty addresses

Rio's best pastry and cofee shops, juice bar and finger food

My friend and hard-core chocoholic Constance Escobar lives in Rio and spends good part of her free time eating out and testing out the city's cofee shops, pâtisseries and juice stands. She was invited by renowned mag Veja Rio to vote for the best addresses in several food categories (for their annual restaurant issue), so she dove into more taste tests, with great relish. She's been kind enough to share with us her votes and her expert and unbiased opinions. Here it goes:


Chocolates are delicate and refined. The ganaches are expertly well-balanced. The bonbons are never too sweet.
Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva, 1321, Leblon, tel. 2274-1001. 10 am to 8 pm


Beth Chocolates

Brigadeiros are chocolate candies that are soft and chewy and enrobed in chocolate sprinkles. A Brazilian delicacy that is completely addictive. Beth serves her velvety brigadeiros in tiny cups (pictured below), and sprinkles them with bittersweet Callebaut chocolate. First-rate.

Rubro Café

Great blend of beans from the hills of Minas Gerais. Efficient baristas.

Escola do Pão

A bit pricier than the competition, but makes up for that in quality. It's a veritable feast: artisanal breads, sandwiches, delicious cheese gratin, corn porridge, etc etc etc. All of it impeccable.
Rua General Garzon, 10, Lagoa, tel. 2294-0027 or 3205-7275


Le Blé Noir

Owned and run by an expat from Bretagne. Light, golden crepes made with top-quality ingredients.
Rua Xavier da Silveira, 19, Copacabana, tel. 2267-6969. Dinner only.

Garcia & Rodrigues

The best selection in town: queijadinhas, tartelettes, éclairs, petit-fours; tiramisù, pastéis de Belém.... all excellent.
Rua Ataulfo de Paiva, 1251, Leblon, tel. 3206-4100 (204 lugares). 8am to midnight, daily

Aconchego Carioca

The bolinhos and croquetes (fritters) made her are true icons of Rio's pub food. Be sure to try the manioc fritters with shrimp bobó, absolutely delicious. As are the feijoada croquettes.

Bazzar Café

Top-notch hot dogs, burgers, falafel sammies and croque-monsieur.

Made artisanally, its texture is unbeatable.
Rua Ataulfo de Paiva, 1251, Leblon, tel. 3206-4100 (204 lugares). 8am to midnight, daily.



They take extreme care with their juices, divided on the menu in categories so clients know if they're made in a blender, a juicer or whatever else, and what is added to the final result. Great combos like the pineaple, lime and grape juice. All made to order, of course.

And here, a link to Veja Rio's annual restaurant edition.

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Oct 23, 2009

Beauties of Tiradentes and Ouro Preto, in Minas Gerais state, are praised in The New York Times

I've said this before, but I've gotta say it again: ever since New York journalist Seth Kugel moved to São Paulo, a few months ago, the already excellent coverage by The New York Times of Brazil as a whole went up yet another notch.

My theory was once again confirmed by the publication, this weekend, of yet another travel story in the Times that shuns the tired clichés of the girls from Ipanema, soccer players and party beaches. It paints a vivid portrait of a part of Brazil that is absolutely stunning and yet hardly known by foreigners: the colonial towns of Minas Gerais state.

As Kugel puts it, too many tourists miss "the Brazil that lies beyond the Christ on the hill in Rio, the eco-lodges of the Amazon and the model-flecked beaches of Florianópolis. Instead of a cross on a hill, Minas has colonial towns loaded with Baroque-style churches. Instead of vast rain forests, Minas has gorgeous mountains and countless waterfalls. And instead of beaches, it’s the home of a country cooking style famed across this nation of more than 190 million."

It's worth a read.

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Oct 7, 2009

Caipirinha heaven: Academia da Cachaça, in Rio, is top bar for tasting the signature Brazilian cocktail

Every single bar in Rio or elsewhere in Brazil serves cachaça - the national sugarcane spirit - either neat or in a caipirinha (muddled with lime and sugar and topped with crushed ice). But no bar is better known for its cachaças than the Academia da Cachaça, a quaint whole-in-the-wall in the Leblon district of Rio.

The bar claims that it was the first to ever prepare caipirinhas substituting the lime of the classic recipe for other fruits, like passion fruit or kiwi. Whether true or not, the fact is this is a great place to have a taste of the true cachaças (artisanal, aged ones, and not the mass-produced harsher versions).

The bar also serves a myriad "petiscos", or finger food, like beef and cheese croquettes or jerk beef with toasted manioc flour. The full-size dishes are also quite good and typically Brazilian. Try the escondidinho (shredded chicken or cod au gratin) or the vatapá carioquinha, a more delicate version of the famous Bahian dish. Feijoada - the national dish of black beans, rice, wilted kale, farofa and orange slices - is served daily.

Academia da Cachaça Leblon: Rua Conde Bernadotte 26, lojas E/F/G - Leblon. Tel.: (21) 2529-2680 / (21) 2239-1542. Sunday-Thursday from noon to 1 am, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 2 am.

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Oct 6, 2009

Aquim restaurant, in Leblon: charming spot for lunch or dinner

The adorable Café Aquim, in Leblon, is a true family business, run by the Aquim family. The chef is Samantha Aquim, who studied at the École Lenôtre and spent some time working under überchef Joël Robuchon.

At first, the focus was on breakfast and tea, and the place served incredible pastries. With time, they've shifted direction. They stopped serving breakfast and put all the emphasis on lunch and dinner - a decision that has left some longtime regulars like food expert Constance Escobar puzzled and even a bit disappointed.

At night they serve, among other things, a plateau of assorted cold canapés: foie gras cone, crusted pineaple, tomato financier and haddock savarin.

At lunchtime, they offer a few options of prix fixe:

Fórmula 1 – R$ 37,00: Appetizer and main course

Fórmula 2 – R$ 37,00: Main course and dessert

Fórmula 3 – R$ 48,00: Appetizer, main course and dessert

Fórmula 4 – R$ 60,00: Appetizer, main course, dessert, glass of Terrazas wine, bottled water and Illy coffee

At night the menu is more ambitious. Appetizers include a shrimp bisque (24 reais) and fresh heart of palm roasted whole and paired with prosciutto chips. Mains include a lamb and black rice risotto and magret of duck with almond risotto and caramelized apple.

The elegant room is done in purple, chocolate brown and gold, and the furniture was designed by Fernando Jaeger. Antiques and pieces brought from the family's travels are sprinkled throughout. Beautiful bronze branches are used as room dividers, and a white onix table with gold-leafed legs is the centerpiece of the décor.

Café Aquim
- Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva 1240 – loja B – Leblon, tel. (21) 2512-4670

And more Rio dining on this blog:

  1. Roberta Sudbrack: the best chef in Rio?
  2. Terzetto Café: great breakfast spot in Ipanema
  3. The best restaurants in Rio according to the experts
  4. Bráz, Carlota... São Paulo restaurants open Rio outposts
  5. Where to eat bacalhau (cod): the best Portuguese restaurants
  6. Le Pré-Catalan at the Sofitel: when hotel dining is done right
  7. Bráz, São Paulo's best pizzeria, opens outpost in Barra da Tijuca
  8. Livraria da Travessa, in Barra da Tijuca, has an outpost of Copa Café serving great burgers

Livraria da Travessa, in Rio: great bookstore in Barra da Tijuca

For those of you who choose to stay in Barra da Tijuca when you go to Rio, a good spot to visit is the Livraria da Travessa. It's located in the Barra shopping mall, but the good news is that you can take an independent elevator straight to the bookstore. It also has a café.

Livraria da Travessa: BarraShopping
Av. das Américas, 4.666
tel. (21) 2430-8100

Mon - Sat from 10 am to 11 pm
Sundays from noon to 10 pm

And more Rio dining on this blog:

  1. Roberta Sudbrack: the best chef in Rio?
  2. Terzetto Café: great breakfast spot in Ipanema
  3. The best restaurants in Rio according to the experts
  4. Bráz, Carlota... São Paulo restaurants open Rio outposts
  5. Where to eat bacalhau (cod): the best Portuguese restaurants
  6. Le Pré-Catalan at the Sofitel: when hotel dining is done right
  7. Bráz, São Paulo's best pizzeria, opens outpost in Barra da Tijuca

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