Ooooh Rio de Janeiro… The very name conjures up images of the city’s sights, some of the most recognizable in the world – Christ the Redeemer with his arms open to Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana, Ipanema… After putting up with snow, sleet, and generally foul weather in New York, I was very much looking forward to heading south and taking up residence at Rio’s Fasano Hotel, an icon in it’s own right in a city full of them. In carioca slang, the Portuguese word for “beauty”, beleza, is used to mean “yes,” or “sure,” or “no problem.” How appropriate that in a city where beauty is everywhere you look, that very word is such an intrinsic part of the vocabulary! The Fasano perfectly encapsulates that very beauty and spirit that define Rio.
When you first arrive at the Fasano Rio, I know that I should say what strikes you is the phenomenal location right smack at the beginning of the world-famous Ipanema beach, or the sensuous dark wood paneling on the terraces that line the building. Instead, what first caught my attention was the fact that the bellboy noticed my name on my luggage tag as I was getting out of the car and radioed in “Senhor du Pont chegou!” Mr. du Pont has arrived indeed. By the time I made my way through the stunning Philippe Starck-designed lobby, the front desk already had my reservation pulled up. Attention to detail and efficiency will get my attention every time (especially in Brazil where it is frankly rather unexpected.)
The Fasano was in fact Philippe Starck’s first complete hotel project, although I was told that Rogerio Fasano himself had a very heavy hand in designing the hotel interiors. The upshot of the collaboration between these two force-majeures is a marvelous lobby that feels very modern but yet also seems to hark back to an earlier age. One half expects to see Jobim himself sipping a caipirinha in the corner and penning down his latest hit. The strikingly beautiful, polished piquiá tree stump that serves as a check-in desk is indicative of more design treats to come. Rogerio Fasano himself insisted that local materials be used as much as possible, giving the Fasano a distinctly Brazilian feel.
The Fasano is arguably the best-located hotel in Rio. Situated at the far western edge of Ipanema Beach, where Ipanema and Copacabana meet and only steps from Arpoador, you really can’t find a more central location in the Zona Sul. You’re in the middle of it all. If Copacabana’s quieter beaches are more your speed, they’re right there. If it’s Ipanema and the pretty people you want to play with, go! Posto 9, where all the boys strut their stuff, is only a five-minute stroll down the beach. The Copacabana Palace may be the local grand-dame of the hotel scene, but the Fasano definitely takes the cake when it comes to location.
We arrived rather early, but we were quickly offered a place to change and told that either space would be available by the pool, or that beach service would be arranged. Even having flown down in Business Class, I had rather had my fill of the general public for one day (Galeão airport is unfortunately still somewhat of a nightmare), so we opted to skip the beach and stay up by the pool. The pool at the Fasano is nothing short of brilliant. With the unadulterated view of Ipanema beach, the Morro dos Irmãos hills to the East, and the Cagarras Islands just off the coast, there’s no mistaking where you are. You are in Rio de Janeiro, and you can almost hear “the Girl from Ipanema” softly playing in the background. The pool at the Fasano is not only surrounded by deck chairs, but has towels folded up as pillows around the edge of the pool, should you wish to just lean your head back and take it all in while you float. So far, so very good.
Now, I love a good glass of bubbles as much as the next guy, and a bottle is even better. So what better way to celebrate our arrival than to order a bottle of bubbles? Hiccup número um… The poolside menu was decent, but nothing to write home (or to you) about. It had the usual munchies that one would expect in Rio – fried fish balls, empanadas, beef sautéed with onions – standard Brazilian bar fare. The same went for the poolside wine list – two local sparkling wines, and two champagnes. We ordered the rosé champagne (Veuve Cliquot – ok, but frankly supermarket champagne if I’m being honest.) We were brought standard, Brut instead. We pointed out the mistake, which was eventually corrected after some discussion amongst the staff, but it took some time. We did eventually get our rosé, but for what it was, it was grossly overpriced. Yes, I know we’re poolside at the Fasano, but we’re not at a club in New York, and $400 for supermarket champers is a little excessive, especially when the service isn’t up to par.
Champagne-hiccups aside, the pool at the Fasano is quintessential Rio – beautiful people, gorgeous views, sunshine, and killer caipirinhas. Once we switched from bubbles to caipirinhas, the service improved too. (I got the impression that people don’t order wine or bubbles by the pool much. Fair enough.) The head bartender at the pool was nothing short of a genius – he mixed cashew apple (caju) and lime in my caipirinha and it was magic in a glass! Sweet, sour, refreshing – the perfect poolside libation. Yet as nice as the pool and the caipirinhas were, my favorite part was being able to soak and stay cool while I watched the throngs on Ipanema beach. People watching at it’s very best! (All the watching, with none of the sand, children, or hawkers.)
If the pool doesn’t blow you away, the rooms definitely will. The rooms at the Fasano all open up to a sleek, dimly lit lobby area on each floor, a stark contrast to the garishly lit, long corridors you find in so many hotels. Once inside, you’re right at home. I was welcomed to my room by a perfect little piece of chocolate cake that said “welcome” on it. I know gays aren’t supposed to do carbs, but who doesn’t love chocolate cake?! In fact, every guest at the Fasano is welcomed with one of their signature mini-cakes – 70% cocoa, hazelnut cream, almonds praline, apricots, and a dash of Frangelico – basically Heaven on a plate. Doubletree, you and your cookies can go home now… And if that’s not enough, there was also a coconut waiting for me, complete with a hole cut in the top and a straw – the perfect way to rehydrate after drinking caipis all day by the pool!
The décor in the rooms is absolutely on par with the rest of the hotel. Philippe and Rogerio’s influences can be felt here, as everywhere. I absolutely loved the mirrors, which you find on every wall. Perfect for taking in your latest purchase from all angles, or perhaps taking that naughty selfie (hello ceiling mirror!)… There’s also a window between the bathroom and the room, so should you be staying with someone, they can put on a show while in the shower (if they don’t close the blinds…) The bed sits right smack in the middle of the room – if you don’t close your blinds at night, your view as you wake up in the morning will be of the Atlantic and the Cagarras Islands off in the distance. Perfection.
The next surprise that the Fasano had in store for us was Fasano al Mare, their phenomenal Italian restaurant. We indulged in the chef’s tasting menu and were not disappointed. Grilled Scampi with grainy mustard and greens, Seafood risotto, veal ravioli with parmesan cheese fondue, roasted leg of lamb with lentils, and to top it all off, the classic Fasano mille-feuille. Thank goodness the restaurant is in the lobby – it was all I could do to waddle back up to my room. So full but so happy!
Come breakfast the next morning, I was convinced that I only needed coffee, feeling that I wouldn’t need to eat for another week. The gorgeous buffet pulled me right on in though. A gorgeous selection of tropical fruits, chocolate cake, champagne, freshly-baked breads, and of course hot Brazilian and European options. (But let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to have chocolate cake and champagne for breakfast and then call it a day?)
After all the eating and drinking, it’s time to hit the spa. Part of the Rio experience is of course spending time on the beach (even though the pool at the Fasano is so very lush) and the spa is the perfect way to unwind after your day mingling with the sandy masses. The spa at the Fasano is as full-service as any you’ll find. Essentials like blow-outs, make-up, and mani-pedis are available in their beauty salon. If Yoga is your preferred method for unwinding, you can do that here too. Private, couples, and group yoga are all available. Saving the best for last, they have a full range of treatments – the massages range from shiatsu and reflexology to hot stone and ayurvedic. Theraputic baths are on the menu, ranging from a vino-therapy bath to the Cleopatra bath, which includes a sesame scrub followed by a honey-and-carrot moisturizing thermal blanket. If it’s not offered at the Fasano Spa, chances are you don’t need it. I indulged in a simple Swedish massage for an hour, followed by a royal jelly facial and felt completely rejuvenated!
All in all, I can’t imagine staying anywhere other than the Fasano in Rio. I’m a complete Brazilophile, and as much as I love the country, I would hesitate to ever call the place “calm.” That is not true of the Fasano, however – the place exudes calm and tranquility, engulfing guests with understated elegance and zen that is hard to find anywhere else. Fortunately, they have locations in Miami, Salvador, and São Paulo (to name a few), so even if you can’t make it down to Rio, you can still luxuriate in Rodrigo Fasano’s excellent taste in other cities. Boa viagem!
Fasano Rio de Janeiro
Avenue Vieira Souto
80 – Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22420-002