Ipanema, 4pm, Saturday. We’re dressed like crazy Cariocas in Havaiana'd multi-coloured get-ups, stepping out of an icy-cold minibus into the thick tropical sea air. Greeted by the beaming smiles of two tanned doormen, our heavy bags vanish before our very eyes. Having just arrived at Fasano from a low-key yoga retreat in the Atlantic rainforest of Ihle Grande two hours down the coast, we’re detecting a distinct whiff of wealth. Contrast is a common theme in Brazil.
Bossanova-chic lobby negotiated, we’re breezing through billowing Philippe Starck curtains only to be welcomed by a crew of busy young Brazilians clad in latté-coloured suits. Glancing across the iconic beach scene along Ipanema, I get butterflies. Just then a beautiful Brazilian girl floats past in a coral-pink shirt; no doubt she's headed towards the elevator and the spectacular rooftop pool above.
Checked-in, we make for our First Ocean View Room on the fourth floor. En route, we’re distracted by a candy-pink designer armchair attached with an elastic band to a giant bouncing ball. From here on, Mr Smith requires coaxing off it every time we leave our room. Our first impression of room 405 is its compactness – but the view of the Atlantic Ocean from both bed and glass shower-cabinet soon compensates for its size. Sliding open the balcony window, we sink into two 1950s-style Brazilian hardwood chairs and admire the parade of volleyball players, surfers, joggers, bladers, cyclists along Brazil’s world-famous beach. Rio, we’ve arrived and we love you already.
Despite the post-beach rush hour for guest appointments, I squeeze in a complimentary 15-minute reflexology session in the hotel’s diminutive spa. Before I know it, eyes are shut and I am practicing my yoga meditation to what sounds, worryingly, like pan-pipe music. But who cares when you have the lovely Andréa busy kneading your feet with hot stones.
Back up in our room, strategically placed tear-shaped mirrors catch my eye. They’ve obviously been positioned for couples to check out their tans from all angles. Obligingly, these Smiths plan to make the most of them during their stay. Showering, I spot a sun-kissed Mr Smith on the balcony in the misty-pink twilight, mesmerised by the waves below, the dramatic silhouette of the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) mountains and the flickering streetlights of the favelas. These hillside shacks make for a bizarre contrast to our luxurious digs that have hosted so many of the world’s rich and famous (Madonna and Testino, if you must twist my arm for the indiscretion), who come to work and play in Brazil’s party capital.
Suppertime approaching, we consider the stunning crystal-glassed bar and white-clothed tables of the Fasano Al Mare. Sadly, ‘fashionable’ translates, to us, as ‘pricey’. Rio’s most expensive restaurants, worth it though it is for the food, service, and environment, I earmark it for when I'm back here with an unlimited budget. Freshly dressed, we head downstairs in our complimentary flip-flops care of Oscar Metsavhat, the owner of Brazil’s fashion chain, Osklen. (It turns out they’re also handy for insect-swatting – sorry to lower the tone, but even in a designer den such as this, the occasional bug is only to be expected in tropical Rio.)
Side-stepping a moody bouncer at Baretto Londra, the hotel’s ground-floor bar, we sneak a peek into this celebrated drinkery. A dark wood-panelled study-like room with leather chairs and low tables, it is a stylish tribute to the hotel owner’s favourite city, London. Bottles of premium vodka sit chilling on ice at each table in preparation for the 8pm Saturday night opening when Rio’s models and international jetset descend here to rev up. As for us, we head for hip Leblon, a 10-minute drive away, for dinner with well-heeled locals at Zuka.
Back in our boudoir, the light drone of taxis racing outside does little to impair our deep sleep under deliciously silky 300-threadcount Egyptian cotton. Early Sunday, we wake to the shouts of a coconut delivery truck loading up the beach kiosks. This colourful main drag is pedestrianised on weekends and next comes the orchestra of samba drum beats and a friendly barrage of Brazilians demonstrating down Avenida Vieira Souto.
Platters of fresh tropical fruit and passionfruit the size of golden delicious apples make breakfast downstairs in the Al Mare Restaurant one of our daily highlights. Our favourite table is a white-cushioned bench outside on the narrow, decked terrace, where each day Mr Smith tussles the beautiful white linen placemats wondering where we can buy them. I ponder asking our server, but end up feeling too shy. While senior staff in the Fasano Rio speak excellent English, a little is lost in translation when it comes to those more junior. Having ordered a watermelon juice, I get an equally delicious orange juice; a poached egg request leads only to a bewildered smile. Luckily the English speaking maître d’ is usually on hand to translate sign language; and despite the occasional language barrier, Brazilian charm goes a long way. Our hostess Varena, a young actress with silky black hair in a 1950s bun, giant black eyelashes and a film-star smile, will remain in our memories as our very own 'Girl from Ipanema'.
For the rest of the morning we test out the Fasano’s beachbeds, in its private parasol-studded swathe of sand in front of the hotel. Cossetted by yet more highly trained staff, we lie back and think of anything but England, while helicopters intermittently pound the sky above. Afternoon sees us retiring to the spectacular infinity pool on the eighth floor where yet another troop of willing attendants is ready to greet us. Between dunks in the shallow end, cold freshwater showers overlooking Christ the Redeemer, and nips in the steam room, we rehydrate on limitless fresh coconut water. Around us, guests order cachaça-laden caipirinhas and chunky club sandwiches.
Fasano’s view of Corcovado: surely one of the most spectacular vistas in the world. But be warned as you reach for your camera. Such a glamorous perch of course attracts wealthy men and beautiful young women. The relevance of this? Let’s just say, when we innocently post a picture of Mr Smith on Facebook in the rooftop pool on our romantic escape, it ignites a string of enquiries… ‘What exactly is happening on the sunbed behind you?’ Friends, this is Rio. The passion is contagious.