Three times in my life I literally left my mouth open. The first was in front of the TV screen during the football world cup of 1986, at Maradona’s second goal against England in the “mano de Dios” quarter-final. The second happened at the third last page of Robert Harris’ Conclave: a petrifying shotgun that leads you to think of the very meaning of human history. The third, so far the last, was at about five o’clock in the afternoon of the first of latest February, when, coming out of a boulevard of shops near the Museu Històrico do Exército, I suddenly faced Copacabana Beach.
I had landed in Rio de Janeiro that morning, after a night flight from Malpensa and a short transfer from Sao Paulo. The thermal excursion between southern summer and northern winter was 35 degrees. But the reduced jet lag – just three hours – and above all the dry climate (Rio is just above the tropic of Capricorn) had minimized the backlash. So I was in full strength to dedicate my Brazilian debut to the great, beautiful beaches of the city, covering an area of 100 square kilometres.
To explain what I felt before that unbelievable, exaggerated and dazzling wonder, that only by a convention we must call beach, but which we’d better define paradise on earth, in both the natural and human sense, mixed up as it is with sounds, scents and architectural grandeur, I’ll tell you the sort of sand walkway I had planned to go through, which proved to be the best preview – a psychological preparation I’d say – to witnessing such an absolute.
I was staying at the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro, a stunning five-star hotel in Barra da Tijuca, the city’s Olympic district, which emerged for the 2016 Games and culminates in an immense ocean drive (Avenida Lúcio Costa) recalling some Florida avenues. We’re in America, not for nothing.
Among the many features of the hotel, which I will describe later in the article, there’s of course a private beach that got to be my first destination just after unpacking the luggage. Well, here I realized right away that I had to forget the European beach model – nothing to share with it, good though it is. Rio’s beaches are huge creeks embracing you from one end to the other of endless gulfs, offering finest sand, so fine that, if not for its intense yellow colour, it would almost recall talcum powder. You get things as far as you can see: curious hills diving into the bay, skyscrapers and high palaces shielding everywhere, an incredible ethnic blend as a reminder that borders and barriers just divide what by nature would be united.
At the centre of the creek on which the metropolis lays, several other beaches follow. Leblon’s one, in the homonymous fashion district, rich in nightlife, is among the favourite destinations of young people. It stretches parallel to the main road and seamlessly flows into Ipanema, immortalized by Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim with the garota (girl) described in the most famous bossa nova song of all time.
Brazil is full of beautiful women, it’s not necessary to go to Ipanema to get stunned. The feeling, though, is that here the coisa mais linda / mais cheia de graça isn’t ela menina, que vem e que passa / num doce balanço, a caminho do mar, but rather the caminho do mar itself, the endless walkthrough of wandering waves, rubbing of hawaiianas, beach football matches, sleepy stands winking at the sea. A triumph of life that – I couldn’t understand for what ballistic prodigy – explodes subtly, with no sickening dins, with no out-of-place extraversions.
Is such a respectful attitude aroused by Copacabana’s proximity? I don’t know, it remains that front of that creek I was knocked for a loop and I took several minutes to stand up again.
The first thing you see coming from Ipanema is the Sugarloaf Mountain, the most famous hill on the earth, topping a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean as a host into the holy wine. Then you see the buildings on the backdrop, white as the cliffs of Dover, ordered as a troop in honour. Then, on the left, you get high and half-circle deployed houses, hotels and offices counteracting the quiet ocean of the bay. In the middle, beyond the main avenue, a perfect sand crescent connects the Sugarloaf to the opposite promontory.
I entered this masterpiece of natural and urban balance, I sat down on the beach and began thinking if there is a better place for a wow trip in this world. I answered to myself that yes, it is a matter of opinion, but for how I felt at that moment no, no better place is available.
Let us thus forego emotions and dive into numbers for a moment. According to Icca, Rio de Janeiro has been in the 1st place in America’s ranking, for eight years, as a destination for international meetings. 28,000 hotel rooms with an estimated increase of 4,000 over the next few years make the choice even more viable. The hotel sector has maintained a rate of occupation of 68% over recent years. New investments are constantly being made in this sector, with hotels ranging from the most famous international chains to excellent national hotels. These are concentrated mainly in the south zone, Barra and the downtown area, catering for all possible professional and personal tastes, with infrastructure up to international standards. Many of these hotels have excellent convention centres, with facilities for handling events with up to 2,200 participants.
So even numbers support the feelings.
The Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro is a synthesis and emblem of the outstanding level reached by this city both in leisure and in the Mice. It has 436 rooms, including 43 suites, the luxurious Penthouse of over 300 sqm with pool and a Presidential suite. Designed by Yabu Pushelberg, as the rest of the hotel, the rooms reflect the city’s warmth and colours, thanks to the use of local stones; they have private balconies overlooking either the ocean or the enchanting Marapendi lagoon, which shows up out of the top-floor Executive club as well, with its business or VIP reception desk.
Three elegant design restaurants – but as you may have understood, the hotel is all about design – offer a variety of dining options: Cantô Gastrô & Lounge, with classical and local Brazilian cuisine, Japanese Shiso and Tano Cucina Italiana, by Leandro Minelli. There is also the big Atiaia Spa with nine private rooms (six suites and three doubles), and finally over 2,000 square feet of event space, including two ballrooms, nine meeting rooms and breathtaking outdoor areas such as 930 square metres of terrace.
Not far away is Riocentro, Rio’s largest congress centre and, thanks to the massive investment of the management company (the French GL Events, which has spent about $ 150 million in refurbishing and requalification), the most complete and advanced convention centre in the country. And there’s more: due to its vast surface area of 92,000 square metres, it is the largest congress centre in the Americas as a whole!
It features a five-star hotel – the Grand Mercure, managed by Accor, with 306 rooms, two restaurants, a swimming pool, spa and fitness centre as well as 550 square meters of business space – and six pavilions, the last of which was used during the last Olympics for the boxing competition and is now used as an amphitheatre with a capacity of 10,000 people.
I just can’t remember a congress centre as actually flexible as this one. Pavilion 1, for example, is an auditorium with a television studio rented by Globosat for its sitcoms, and is also used by other companies and associations (Smart Fit and the Brazilian Volleyball Association). Nor have I ever seen something bigger and best equipped for the Mice: a 7,000-seat car park, a heliport, and a 350-person restaurant. And just think: of the six pavilions, the smallest measures as many as 9,400 square metres.
Rio de Janeiro is therefore much more than a city: it is a life-giving, creative, tireless, generous engine. This I thought while looking at it from the top of the Corcovado – and it seemed to me so exaggerated and surreal as to make me forget that no less than Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven wonders of the world, was standing right behind me.
I took this picture, to which I trust the conclusion of a story – and of a memory – that words would just waver.