Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


When you look at the energy, creativity and countless temptations of Brazil, it’s easy to conclude that the country’s moment of glory is coming up fast. Eyes are already starting to turn to Brazil as it begins to gear up for the World Cup in 2014 and the next Olympics in 2016, while visitors are increasingly latching on to the natural beauty of the country and the buzz surrounding its big cities.

At the same time contemporary Brazilian architects like Marcio Kogan, Isay Weinfeld and Arthur Casas are busy making an international reputation for themselves, while furniture designers like the Campana Brothers and Carlos Motta are also treading the world stage. They build upon an extraordinary pedigree of Brazilian modernist design, especially from the 1950s and ‘60s, that includes figureheads such as Oscar Niemeyer, Lina Bo Bardi, Sergio Rodrigues and Joaquim Tenreiro. There is a solid sophistication and originality to Brazilian design and architecture that makes it alluring and enticing for a growing audience.

The sprawling metropolis of Sao Paulo has long established itself as Brazil’s greatest design and cultural hub, dotted with landmark buildings by Niemeyer and Lina Bo Bardi. While the sheer scale of the city can be daunting – with 20 million inhabitants, if you include the endless suburbs – the good news is that if you limit yourself to the Jardins district of the city then it all becomes more manageable. Here you find the leafier streets, the best restaurants and a concentration of the best fashion and design stores – stocking contemporary and vintage pieces. The Parque do Ibirapuera – Sao Paulo’s equivalent of Central Park – is also within easy reach.

Jardins cradles the best of the city’s luxury hotels: the Fasano, the Emiliano and also, close to the park, the Hotel Unique. These are all relatively recent additions to Sao Paulo and brought with them a sense of sophisticated elegance and first rate service seldom seen in the city before. It gave Sao Paulo a choice of hotels that could compare with the best of New York or London.

‘For a long time Sao Paulo existed in a business hotel limbo,’ says Daniel Motta of the Fasano. ‘They were hotels that had been around since the 1970s and were the only option. It was all very corporate and there was nothing in the luxury mould. We filled that niche in a neighbourhood that does have an innate charm – the streets are small, the buildings have character and it is very green.’

But the allure of Sao Paulo, like any metropolis, can start to wear a little thin after a time. For a taste of a very different kind of Brazil you might head to the coast. One prime option is the natural drama of the Serra do Mar mountains and the Costa Verde to the east of Sao Paulo, heading in the direction of Rio de Janeiro. The historic town of Paraty is a must see destination here, with a wonderful personality, tempting pousadas – or guest houses – and a touch of adventure. For a contrasting taste of town and country Brazilian style, Sao Paulo and Paraty offer a great combination.


The Fasano group started life in Sao Paulo over a hundred years ago with its first restaurant, opened by Vittorio Fasano, who had just arrived in Brazil from Italy. The company is still family owned and fresh generations have expanded with other restaurants and hotels, including the Hotel Fasano – Sao Paulo’s premier luxury hotel.

Nestled in the heart of the Jardins district, within easy walking distance of the city’s finest shopping streets, the Fasano is super sophisticated, elegant and refined with a great sense of character and excellent levels of service. The hotel was designed by leading Brazilian architects Isay Weinfeld and Marcio Kogan, both of whom are now working on new projects for the Fasano family.

The façade of the towering 60-room hotel might be in English brickwork and the hotel has many European flavours, yet the results are still somehow distinctly Brazilian. You enter the hotel and find yourself in a welcoming bar and lounge, rather than the reception zone, which is discreetly placed to the rear of the ground floor. Throughout the public areas – and the bedrooms and suites – the style is warm and masculine, with an emphasis on beautifully, crafted finishes and organic materials, such as timber, leather and stone. There are touches of 1930s Europe, but spliced with contemporary notes and an original, carefully cultivated aesthetic where the god is always in the detail.

My own bedroom was a delight, with its parquet floors, warm timber finishes and hessian coated walls, while the marble bathroom offered a wonderfully indulgent spa-style experience. The health club and pool is on the upper levels of the building and the pool is especially tempting, as you swim with a view of the epic skyline spread out before you.

The flagship Italian restaurant on the ground floor is simply called the ‘Fasano’ and remains one of the best gastronomic experiences in Brazil. The restaurant is housed in a dramatic atrium that comes alive in the evenings, while the Nonno Ruggero restaurant on the first floor has more of a trattoria feel and has the advantage of a terrace, which makes a great spot for breakfast on a sunny morning.

The Fasano group also has hotels in Rio, Boa Vista and Punta del Este in Uruguay with new projects also underway in Salvador and Trancoso. Its hotels have to be among the most tempting in South America. The Fasano family still seems to have much to offer, even after a hundred years. - + 55 11 3896 4000
The Leading Hotels of the World –


When it first opened its doors just over a decade ago, the Emiliano immediately raised the bar in Sao Paulo in terms of luxury hotel living. The hotel is always busy, like the city itself, catering for an international clientele drawn to Sao Paulo for both business and pleasure and making the most of the opportunities the thriving city seems to offer to global brands and businesses.

The hotel sits within the Jardins neighbourhood, which has the feel of a leafier part of Manhattan spliced with the more sophisticated quarters of Madrid or Lisbon. There’s a magazine kiosk on every corner and a security guard at every door – making this one of the safest and most appealing parts of Sao Paulo.

The Emiliano offers a perfect base for exploring the neighbourhood and the best that the city has to offer. The design is by Arthur Casas, who has turned the indoor garden and vertical green walls into a delightful signature touch. Here there are epic walls of verdant greenery in both the lobby and the restaurant, lending an organic quality to the public spaces and contrasting with the clean lines of the stone floors, banks of glass and mirrored walls.

The façade is also striking: a tower of glass topped by a crystal cube thrusting from the summit. From the top of the Emiliano – which houses a spa and fitness centre - the views are staggering, with the vast tapestry of the super city spreading out in every direction as far as the eye can see. There’s also a heliport on the roof; helicopters are one of the best ways to get around Sao Paulo quickly and they are a constant feature, buzzing among the skyscrapers.

The bedrooms are generous and enticing. Floor to ceiling windows make the most of the city skyline and bring in plenty of light, warming the finishes of the timber panelling and the natural tones and textures. In our suite a generous lounge, with a sink in fitted sofa,  was separated from the bedroom area by sliding timber doors and the bathroom was blessed with a clawfoot bath and a walk in shower.

There are rumours of a second Emiliano hotel in development, but no news yet on the location. For now, Sao Paulo is the only city blessed with this one of a kind hotel. - + 55 11 3068 4399
The Leading Hotels of the World –


It is a vast ark floating on the streetscape of São Paulo, complete with porthole windows and a curving bow and prow. The Hotel Unique, by Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake, lives up to its name with an unmissable design that some have also described as a vast slice of concrete watermelon, 25 metres high.

The hotel sits on the very edge of the Jardins district, a short taxi ride from the fashionable boutiques of the neighbourhood. But it is wonderfully situated for access to the Parque do Ibirapura, which was laid out by Roberto Burle Marx in the early 1950s and is home to Oscar Niemeyer’s Auditorio Ibirapuera, as well as two of the city’s major art museums and other exhibition spaces.

The site of the hotel itself could have become a shopping mall if the owner hadn’t decided that Sao Paulo had plenty of shops but not much in the way of five star hotels. The building has a James Bond flavour to it, with its eye-catching shape, its vast open reception area and deep atriums that look just perfect for dispatching the latest Bond villain. The roof top terrace, bar and pool are also quite extraordinary.

With interiors by Joao Armentano, the lobby has a monumental feel. The ground floor bar has the backdrop of a towering array of shelves reaching upwards in this triple height space, cradling an army of tempting bottles. Alongside sits an enticing library, one of the most beautifully crafted hotel libraries I have ever set eyes on and a brave visual statement in itself.

The bedrooms are accessed via atmospheric curving corridors, with mood lighting and piped music that gives them a futuristic, sci-fi feel. The rooms are also rather high tech, with vast sliding shutters over the porthole windows that retreat at the touch of a button. I loved the layout of my room, with a desk in one corner divided from the bedroom area by a half height screen with an integrated television.

Best of all was the folding, concertina-style internal window separating the bedroom from the bathroom alongside. You can choose to have this window open or closed, so opening up the space to the maximum or creating more intimate zones. For me, the idea of a bath with a direct view out over the city skyline through the porthole was a brilliant touch.

Breakfast – as well as lunch or dinner – up on the restaurant on the top floor was another delight, with views out over the Parque. A perfect way to start the day in Sao Paulo. - + 55 11 3055 4710
Design Hotels –


The contrast between the epic sprawl of Sao Paulo and the gentle romance of Paraty could hardly be greater. This is a perfect retreat when you tire of the pace in the big city – a small colonial backwater that feels almost lost in time. Paraty was a thriving port in the 18th and 19th centuries, where ships loaded up with gold, then coffee beans and sugar cane. But it was almost forgotten for much of the 20th century until tourism finally started taking hold in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The sojourn meant that Paraty remained preserved and unspoilt, especially the old town, with its cobbled streets, stone buildings and a patchwork of brightly coloured shutters and doorways. Now the town draws in visitors from both Sao Paulo and Rio, further up the coast. No cars area allowed in the historic quarter, lending it a real sense of calm.

We picked up our own hire car at Guaralhos Airport just outside Sao Paulo, so avoiding the nightmare traffic in the city itself, and took a four hour drive over the Tropic of Capricorn, over the mountains and through the rainforest of the Serra do Mar National Park (a drive best done in daylight hours) and then along the coast to Paraty itself.

Arriving at the Casa Turquesa was a delight. This boutique hotel of just nine bedrooms is located in the old town, just by the picturesque Capela de Santa Rita church, dating from the 1720s. The hotel sits on a cobbled street right by the sea and at high tide the ocean itself wanders lazily up the street and pedestrians use little wooden bridges to pass from one elevated pavement to another.

As you step inside, guests are issues with complimentary hotel Haviana flip flops – a custom dating back to a time when few wore shoes at all in Paraty. The design is a collaboration between owner Tete Etrusco and architect Renato Tavolaro, who converted an 18th century home into a beautifully conceived boutique hotel, which opened in 2008.

The design brilliantly combines old and new, with interiors that blend the turquoise colour theme with crisp whites and warm timber finishes, as well as vintage pieces and contemporary furniture. There is a romantic flavour to this homely retreat, full of perfectly done personal touches, down to bespoke Casa Turquesa napkins and breakfast plates. A plunge pool in the central courtyard is a welcome temptation after a hot day drinking in the sights.

The hotel purposefully has no restaurant, so guests can enjoy recommendations for the many good eateries that are just a short walk away. ‘I love to live in a place without cars and this bucolic atmosphere,’ says Etrusco. ‘Paraty is a place where the luxuriant greenery of the mountains meets the bay in perfect harmony.’ - + 55 24 3371 1037


For a real retreat, away from everything, then the Pousada Picinguaba is the perfect choice. Here, there are no phones, wi-fi or television. The idea is to recharge well away from the pace of the modern world and enjoy simple pleasures and soak in the scenery.

The hotel sits on the edge of a small fishing village called Praia de Picinguaba, a few miles off the main road between Ubatuba and Paraty on the Costa Verde. As you pull into the village, where the fishermen might be unloading the day’s catch, you are met by hotel staff who will escort you on the short walk up to the hotel itself.

The Pousada is owned by Frenchman Emmanuel Rengade, who gave up his job in London to run the hotel when he came across it some years ago. The village sits within the Serra do Mar National Park, so development is carefully controlled and the hotel fits in with a rustic, natural way of living. Everything is very informal and relaxed here and there is an elegant simplicity to the design, with ten bedrooms in the main hotel, including a honeymoon sweet, which has an integrated bath to one side of the bedroom. There is also a separate three-bedroomed villa a stone’s throw from the main hotel, with its own living room, kitchen and private courtyards at either end.

The design mixes new and old, with stone walls in crisp whites and touches of Yves Klein blue, while furniture and floors are in warm local woods. Bedrooms have private terraces with swinging hammocks overlooking the verdant gardens full of palms and rubber plants. A swimming pool overlooks the bay below the hotel, where a schooner and fishing boats bob up and down and the sound of the waves lapping the beach just carries up to the pousada and blends with the birdsong.

Dinner is served in the dining room to a set menu – local roasted fish and an array of tempting salads of all kinds when we visited – and the Argentinian wine also went down very well. Activities – apart from relaxing and using the beaches – include hiking, fishing expeditions and trips out on the schooner. In wet weather - and do try and avoid the rainy season around the turn of the year - then make the most of the hammocks or curl up by the fireplace in the lounge and watch an old movie. This is not a place for inbox watchers and phone freaks. For anyone else it is a great respite cure in a place of easy living and natural wonders. – + 55 12 3836 9105