Paraty — a link to Brazil’s colonial heritage

By Deanna Palić

by Deanna Palic (Part one of two)

Nineteen years ago I was totally captivated by the locale in the film “Gabriela.” The movie starred one of Brazil’s hottest stars, Sonia Braga, and the esteemed Italian film idol Marcello Mastroianni. “Gabriela” was filmed in such an enchanting yet unidentifiable colonial seaside town that I felt compelled to wait until all the credits rolled and the town was identified. Paraty, sometimes spelled Parati, has remained on my “must see” list since 1984.

Good fortune came in the form of an invitation from the Rio Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to join a press tour in September 2003. I was able to depart the U.S. before the group’s scheduled arrival, and in late August my long-awaited visit to Paraty became a reality!

Jetting there

In 2002, Varig Brasil celebrated 75 years of service. The airline has daily direct service to Rio de Janeiro from Los Angeles, Miami and New York. I had the opportunity to sample their service in both business and economy class and, judging by today’s airline standards, Varig’s in-flight food and service were far above my expectations.

Varig is part of the Star Alliance mileage program. Travelers can fly United out of a multitude of cities in the U.S. and connect with Varig’s hubs in Los Angeles, Miami and New York for Brazil. Mileage will be calculated from the U.S. point of origin.

For reservations and information, call Varig at 800/468-2744.

A short stay in Rio

After clearing Customs in Rio, I exchanged a small amount of money into reals, the local currency. At the airport bank, which charged a commission, the exchange rate was US$1 (cash) = 2.80 reals. Travelers’ checks traded at a lower rate. Exchange rates higher than bank rates are offered at the many cambios, or exchange houses, throughout the city. Another option is using your ATM card.

A taxi into Copacabana cost approximately $17. Having very little luggage, I decided to try the REAL airport bus service into Copacabana for $2.15 and found the buses air-conditioned and comfortable. (When exiting to the street after your Customs inspection, turn right to the area marked “Special Bus.”) The REAL bus line has departures every 30 minutes. I was conveniently let off in front of the Copacabana Palace Hotel, where I had reservations for two nights.

More than a hotel, a symbol of Rio

Situated on some of the most expensive and sought-after real estate in Brazil, the 5-star Copacabana Palace Hotel faces Rio’s renowned Copacabana beach. The hotel has been granted historical landmark status.

The illumination of the Copacabana Palace at night is enhanced by fireworks on New Year’s Eve — Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of Copacabana Palace

First opened in 1923, the Copa, as it is fondly referred to, was built to meet a need for a truly world-class hotel on the beach. It was purchased by Orient-Express Hotels in 1989, and over the last decade extensive renovations have not only brought the hotel back to its former glory but created one of the finest hotels in South America.

Single/double rates start at $305. The breakfast buffet, served in the Pergula restaurant and included in the room price, is a superb display of culinary delights.

For reservations or additional information, visit www.copacabana or call The Leading Hotels of the World at 800/223-6800.

Appropriately, this Rio landmark, which on Sept. 1, 2003, celebrated its 80th anniversary, is the place to be seen in Rio de Janeiro. One floor above the lobby, there is a fascinating celebrity guest gallery featuring photos of royalty, film stars, music idols, sports figures, politicians and business leaders who have helped shape the world over the last eight decades.

With a view of the Copa’s magnificent swimming pool, the Cipriani, the hotel’s formal gastronomic flagship restaurant, presents the finest Northern Italian dining in Rio. Look for such dishes as risotto di zucca profumato al rosmarino and maccheroncini con pomodor melanzane e tonno, always prepared with only the freshest ingredients by Francesco Carli.

Chef Carli comes direct from the Orient-Express Hotel Cipriani & Palazzo Bendramini in Venice. The Cipriani is open both for lunch and dinner. Plan on a tab that will easily total more than $75 per person, including wine.

In the area

Enjoy a spectacular buffet breakfast and this tranquil scene each morning at the Pousada Urquijo. Photo: Palic

Outdoor handicraft fairs, a Saturday and Sunday afternoon event, provide a good sampling of Brazilian arts and crafts. Leaving the hotel’s main entrance, turn left and walk a few blocks along Avenida Atlantica. One of these fairs is just past the Ouro Verde Hotel, which on the second floor has a lovely restaurant overlooking the beach.

Adjacent to the Copacabana Palace, especially if you are very hungry, the Churrascaria Palace (Rua Rodlofo Dantas No. 16) is a good bet. For $11 per person, the rodizo includes selected barbecued meats and poultry that keep on coming until you say “Stop!” The fresh sushi is a real treat, owing to the fact that Brazil has the largest population of Japanese inhabitants outside of Japan.

Being in the mood to try something different, I joined business associates who drove me to a restaurant specializing in cuisine from the area of Minas Gerais. The Minas cuisine dates back to the slave era. Restaurante à Mineira (Avenida das Américas 16.631; tel. 2490-2195) offers a complete buffet dinner for $7 per person.

Side trip to Paraty

Arrangements for my 2-night getaway were professionally packaged by Paraty Tours (Av. Roberto Silveira No. 11, Paraty, Brasil 23970-000; phone [024] 3371-1327, fax 3371-2651, e-mail or visit

The Pousada Urquijo is a showcase for the owner’s mother’s paintings. Here is the pousada’s cozy lounge area. Photo: Palic

I was picked up at the hotel in Paraty Tours’ comfortable 15-passenger van for a 4-hour drive to Paraty, approximately 140 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro. The road snakes through lush mountain greenery and intermittently skirts the coast. We passed Angra dos Reis, a small port with an important fishing and shipbuilding industry; today it is also a popular resort.

From the main road, the approach to Paraty stops abruptly at the entrance to the historic town center. As vehicles are not permitted to enter, the van skirted the town’s perimeter to reach a spot closest to the Pousada Urquijo, a small bed-and-breakfast where I had a room reserved for two nights.

As charming as it is, the Pousada Urquijo is not for those with mobility problems. The staircase from the main floor to the small but quaint guest rooms is a narrow, spiral design and difficult to navigate.

Each guest room has a name: Sofia, Tula, Luz, Julian, Xu or Charles. I lucked out with Sofia, a top-floor, queen-bedded room with a balcony overlooking a distant marina. Single/double rates are $87 low season and $96 high season, including breakfast and tax. In order not to mar the pousada’s highly glossed wood floors, guests are assigned their own straw thongs for use around the inn and leave their own outdoor shoes in an open cabinet next to the reception desk.

For such a small establishment, I was completely awed by the ample breakfast buffet: yogurt, cheese, cereals, cold breakfast meats, fresh tropical fruits, juices, pastries and assorted breads, including the most mouthwatering pão de queijo (cheese bread) imaginable. The pleasant breakfast room, filled with family photos and artifacts, faces the swimming pool.

For additional information, visit the Pousada Urquijo website at

Next month: A closer look at Paraty’s historic legacy.