Staying at TripAdvisor‘s best-value hotel in Rio de Janeiro, Sofitel Rio de Janeiro Ipanema, was, well, jolly good fun. The gal was greeted and farewelled by jovial Guest Experience Director Leonel Leandro – see him in the photo above – and in between he was continually spotted wheeling baggage carts or helping a guest upgrade WiFi. The only time he seemed to be absent, indeed, was when a bride was having formal pictures taken in Caja Café, the lobby space that acts as seating space, art gallery, patisserie and food-to-go. For those wanting to cross avenida Vieira Souto to the beach opposite, the hotel offers free towels, sunbeds and the like but if you want edibles and potables, obviously you pay.
Showing its French heritage, Caja Café’s beach menu even suggests Veuve Clicquot Rosé, at R$680 a full bottle (750ml), to go with your Ipanema Beach sandwich, a mere Rs36 for a baguette filled with Parma ham, Gruyère and tomato. What a far cry such style is from the last time I came to this hotel, when it was Caesar Park, dowdy and drab and oh so old-fashioned. It is now owned by Accor, who asked Arquivo Contemporaneo design and furnishings right here in Ipanema to give it a new look. As a result the hotel has pieces by Sergio Rodrigues and his colleagues that you not only covet but can buy. Re-named a year ago, it is now so right for today. Opera Suite 2008, with its turquoise and white door signs, wood floor and gorgeous satin-smooth furniture, made me want to sing as I looked down at the beach. I just adored a swivel wood and leather chair by the three-metre table that doubles as a desk, and also the main table with six cane-backed dining chairs (see a video below).
Go to the top, 23rd, floor and then climb 23 stairs to the unforgettable eyrie of a glass-walled gym, with latest, and I mean latest, Technogym, and Sudoku, and looking down at the 23rd rooftop restaurant, 23 Ocean Lounge. This is brilliant. A rooftop pool, not exactly big enough for Olympiads but who cares, has seating all round, partly open-air, partly covered, and there is an adjacent internal room. The whole space feels Ipanema meets St Bart’s and St-Tropez, with male servers in floppy below-knee white shorts and shirts, and turquoise low-slung belts. I dined local, starting with an outstanding Sofitel De-Lite dish, heart of palm with roasted Amazon nuts and edamame, 95 calories total, and I drank local, Dal Pizzol 1878, Pinot Noir 2016.
Breakfast is a delight, in the colourful Galani international restaurant on the second floor – it has an adjacent buffet room which seemed to have everything but that Brazilian obsession, tapioca (a coconut mousse was popular with those around me). I was particularly impressed that the charming hostess brought me over satellited copies of both The New York Times and Le Monde to read, and yes, there were a lot of French staying here. Sadly I simply had no space to take the big floppy beach hat, marked C’est Magnifique, Ipanema – see it in the suite video, below. Perhaps they will keep it for my next visit. NOW SEE OPERA SUITE 2008