Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, Iguazu Falls, Brazil

A 203-room hotel surrounded by 700,000 acres of national park, in prime position next to one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders, Iguazu Falls. It's private and exclusive, the caipirinhas are potent and the red meat is deliciously succulent.

The Belmond is the only hotel within the Brazilian side of the national park. And while all other visitors enter via tour buses between the hours of 9am and 5pm, guests of the hotel can walk from the lobby to the falls in under 30 seconds. It honestly feels like you’ve got the world’s biggest water feature in your own back garden, especially at dawn and dusk. The property is surrounded by soggy, emerald rainforest, teeming with subtropical flora and fauna, including armadillos, wild dogs and tapirs, plus more than 400 species of bird. Foz do Iguaçu Airport is just a 20 minute drive – most of which is through the national park.

The same classic, colonial charm that Belmond properties boast elsewhere on this continent is wonderfully upheld in the Brazilian subtropics. The hotel has an irrefutable grandeur, with floral Azulejo tiles and Iberian ceramics making the place feel like a 19th-century Portuguese palace. In fact, the hotel was only built in 1959, but this doesn’t show. The Don Pedro Room, named after the first colonial ruler of Brazil, is adorned with proud portraits of “The Liberator” – alongside a large red velvet snooker table, dark wood beams and windows looking out towards the falls. The hotel is peaceful and classy throughout, but I must confess, I’m not sold on the pink paint job.
Nearly all staff members speak at least Portuguese, Spanish and English, and the concierge and reception staff are particularly helpful for arranging tours and excursions beyond the park. The Macuco Safari takes two hours and from a small boat you’ll get so close the falls that you’ll be drenched on your return. Remember to take a towel and a dry bag for gadgets. Bikes can be hired to explore the park, there’s a delightful pool surrounded by palm trees, and the gym is small but well equipped. At the spa, the Essence of the Amazon massage is particularly good - applying Amazonian essential oils to an overture of tropical birdsong.

Standard double rooms aren’t huge, but there’s a tactile, colonial texture to the space, with solid dark wood headboards, chunky skirting and hefty armchairs - the antithesis to modern prefab hotel furnishings. Large paintings of Amazonian parrot species and orchids are on the walls and polished wooden floor tiles make rooms feel cool, even when you open the windows and welcome in the subtropical humidity. Bathrooms have tubs with showers, and the marble basins and floor tiles feel particularly grand. There are 19 rooms with falls views, but the garden view rooms are delightful, too – looking out over the pool and palms.

As high quality buffets go, Ipe Restaurant is certainly in the higher echelons of informal hotel dining, with lunches and dinners consisting of fresh salads, soups, pasta dishes and barbecued meats. The mango and Gorgonzola salad, in particular, is a deliciously sweet, creamy and tangy dish. Wash it down with one of the hotel’s signature Devil’s Throat cocktails, made from cachaça, Campari, lime juice, cranberry juice and a drop of pepper syrup.

The hotel’s second restaurant, Itaipu, is significantly more formal - à la carte, with a dress code, but if you’re lucky to bag one of the outside tables you’ll have dazzling sunset views of the falls. The beef tenderloin served with risotto is outstanding. Breakfast is a high-end spread of hot and cold meats, mueslis and granolas, fresh fruit and juices.

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