Forget the other wonders of the natural world, says the gal. If you want to see only one phenomenon unadulterated by homo sapiens, head for the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls (Foz do Iguaçu, in Portuguese). At this stage of the Iguazu River, a tributary of the Paraná, there are a staggering 275 falls, ranging in height from 197 feet to 269 feet. It is the sheer breadth of the falls, and the park on the Brazilian side, that make it all so breathtaking. And there is a luxury hotel right in the park, a mere 50 feet from one of the best views. Stay at Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, the only dwelling in the park, and after the day-visitors are bussed out, by 5.30 p.m, the park is all yours – until the first bus loads arrive tomorrow at 9.30 a.m.
It is the same effect as overnighting at another Belmond hotel, Sanctuary Lodge, right at the gates of Machu Picchu. Staying there, after everyone else has been transported back down to Aguas Calientes, you have the mountains and ruins to yourselves. So it is here, at Iguazu, although fortunately the size of the park, a UNESCO Heritage site, and the noise of the falls drowns out any chatter from tourists. The 193 rooms in this two-floor mission-type hotel – candy-floss pink with white ‘icing’, on the outside – are calming and peaceful, with lemon walls, coordinating floral drapes and polished wood floors. Junior Suite 1117 gives an upstairs view right across to the falls but this time I really liked end suite 1142, looking out into tree tops, and the enormous oval pool.
Oh that pool. There were swimmers before and during breakfast, served on a terrace at one end. Others swam on and off throughout the day, as if recovering from yet another hike in the park, or a helicopter flight over the falls, or a fascinating educational trip to the inside of what must be the world’s largest hydro energy plant, a joint venture with neighbouring Paraguay. I watched honeymooners just soaking up the sun as they lazed in the pool, while nearby an intrepid English Explorer was taking closeups of the birds of paradise bushes whose colours inspired the floral headboard cushions on the loungers. Then I made my way to the spa, a sensational experience where my face was lathered and masqued with passion fruit – as I dozed in and out of happy consciousness I dreamed I was turning into a pavlova.
And then dinner. Which other luxury hotel of this size offers three dining choices? There is casual on the terrace by the piano bar, listening to first-class music overseen by the hotel’s chef, Fabio Del Antonio, himself a near-professional flautist. There is Brazilian barbeque for carnivores. And there is fine dining at Itaipu, where Brazilians sit inside, for the air-conditioning, but foreigners reserve for one of the starched white tables on the front terrace, watching the sun go down over the Falls. And there we sat, nibbling brioche cooked in a small pan, and tasting lime-full ceviche, and grill with chimichurri sauce – I felt like buying one of the local SGII steak knives but would never have got it through as hand-baggage. As we drank a Catena Malbec we felt like the luckiest people in the world, to be here, right now. One night, by the way, is just not enough. Three nights is perfect, and not only because you have different dining venues to try.