Travel Trends By Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla for OLTRE Magazine

OLTRE: After a major facelift, Rio’s legendary Copacabana Palace is back!

Copacabana Palace

Serenity on the terrace of an oceanview penthouse suite at Copacabana Palace

Copacabana Palace

She's as captivating as ever. As I stand on the balcony of Copacabana Palace, sipping a caipirinha and taking in the sweeping view of Rio's legendary beach, I'm struck anew by her beauty. I've been coming here for years, but this time feels different.

It's hard to believe this fairy-tale hotel was once just a dream in the mind of then-President Epitacio Pessoa. French architect Joseph Gire originally designed the property to commemorate Brazil's Independence Centenary. He modeled his vision from the Mediterranean style of Hotel Negresco in Nice and The Carlton in Cannes. The result: a stunning white palace with signature stucco facade and wrought-iron balconies. As she turns a century old this year, she still exudes an air of timeless elegance and glitz.

"The Copa," as the Brazilians fondly call it, has hosted some of the most glamorous people in the world, including Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Brigitte Bardot, Madonna, Princess Diana, Tom Cruise, the Rolling Stones and, now I'm made to feel, me.

Copacabana Palace

Interior courtyard and pool at Copacabana Palace

Copacabana Palace

Hotel lobby

Not content to rest on its laurels, the diva iconica has taken time to rebuild and refresh. Following a brief hiatus during the pandemic and then some, Belmond recently unveiled a stunning renovation overseen by architect Michel Jouannet, who was also responsible for face-lifting the Ritz Paris and Hotel de Crillon. I'm enamored with the Copa's pool, which features new tiling and marble surrounds and serves as an oasis to relax and soak up the sun when the beach, which is oh so close, feels just too hectic - or when I'm sensing another caipirinha might be in order.

The hotel's 239 rooms and suites have all been updated with new furniture and fixtures while remaining faithful to its elegant, traditional style. And then there's the spa, which has been expanded to boast a new sauna and steam room, and where an aptly called "Bossa Nova Indulgence" works miracles to erase all signs of jetlag and impart that vacation glow to my face.

Copacabana Palace

Pérgula restaurant

Copacabana Palace

Inside a penthouse oceanview suite

Never just a place to rest my head, The Copa to me has always been a destination for dining, sparing me the stress of having to make reservations and rush around the city. At Mee, the only Pan-Asian restaurant in Rio to be awarded a Michelin Star, we relish exquisite omakase and sake. At Cipriani, where Tuscan chef Nello Cassese holds court, Italian fare is osculated with a contemporary touch; and finally, not to be overshadowed, the poolside haven of Pergula lures with Brazilian fare and its famous Sunday brunch of traditional feijoada - a hearty stew of beans, meat, and vegetables with rice served like nowhere else in the city.

I watch the sun dipping beyond mountains that rise from the ocean like voluptuous hips and buttocks. The Atlantic, as it lazily turns from turquoise to cerulean. The sands, refusing to give up the bronzed bodies and blooming umbrellas. And I feel some profound saudade - that uniquely Brazilian feeling of nostalgia and longing. There couldn't be a better vantage point than The Copa, for it is a microcosm of Rio, fusing a gloried past with an ambitious future. It's a reminder that even as we move forward, we should never forget the beauty and history that came before us.

Copacabana Palace, A Belmond Hotel
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

239 rooms. Your advisor can secure Internova SELECT Hotels & Resorts perks, including a $100 spa credit and daily Brazilian breakfast for two. $$

This story originally appeared in OLTRE's Barefoot Issue. If you don't already have a subscription, contact your travel advisor.

Photography by Gabriel Tesserolli