For someone who frequently proclaims that she hates “to sound cheesy”, it is alarming how often I do. But sometimes, nothing lights up your day quite like a warm, welcoming smile. It was exactly what was needed to diffuse my frustration and moodiness after a long day of travelling, an airport transfer that failed to show and a two hour futile wait at Rio De Janeiro airport (none of which were related to the hotel I must add). I for one was not smiling upon arrival but it seemed the day had not taken its toll on the bubbly and sincerely friendly lady at concierge who checked us in.
Here at Porto Bay, they start as they mean to go on. Bubbly offers us some bubbles but after our day, we just need water – ice cold to drink and warm enough to shower in. She spots the frazzled look on our faces and extends her sympathy by offering us a superior room on the 18th floor. We are promised a view of Copacabana to our left, a view of the Christ Redeemer statue to our right.We arrive to mini chocolates on our bed – how did they know I needed chocolate?
Pumpkin calls me onto the balcony, captivated by the view. It was no empty promise. I forget what we were annoyed about. We bask in Rio’s dusky humidity and we are in a dilemma about which way to look. Pumpkin starts playing with his camera to see how he can capture the twinkling stars – we are Londoners living in smog and the only starlight we see at home comes in boxes, stacked on shelves in hardware stores so we decide to grab a bite and aim to head back early to spend the night gazing at them. We want to dine somewhere shamefully nearby, cheap and cheerful. We feel hungry and lazy. Once again, the hotel staff put forth some suggestions on the Copacabana, which do not disappoint. We are soon to learn how large portions are in Rio.
Porto Bay have turned this day around for me – I feel excited and happy to be here and my grumpy mood has lifted well above the Corcovado; for this I am thankful. Pumpkin is intrigued at their skill, making a mental note of their formula – he is all too aware of the challenge of dealing with my moods!
The following morning, breakfast is a feast. I have read good things about it and still, I am impressed. I am most taken by the array of brightly coloured, diverse tropical fruits. Today, I will be good and cleanse with the detox juice – it is green, which means it must be good for me (or so I tell myself). It is a nourishing fusion of spinach and ginger, fennel and apple. Despite all my reservations, it is not only palatable but actually hugely refreshing. I try pink guava and custard apple for the first time and experiment in the spongy coconut tapioca pudding.
The prime seats at breakfast are those with the panoramic window view of the beach – I will shuffle my way forwards over the next few days to grab these front row tickets. The waiting staff are warm-hearted, offering to take our photo, engaging in conversation (and fluent in English, which makes us feel less embarrassed about not knowing more than two words of Portuguese).
Room service is 24 hours but I won’t be needing it. I have found my late afternoon snack for the trip. The Churros stall is a stone’s throw away. The room is cosy and comfortable. I don’t normally like fixed-head showers but this one has sufficient pressure for me to look past this.
Shampoo, body lotion, a shower cap and a hair dryer are stocked. This is all I need. (My hair in the humidity is no picnic, believe me). But the robes and slippers are always nice. As the trip progresses, we start using the phrase “shall we go home first before we head out for dinner”. For me, this is always a sensitive test for a good hotel – whether or not you inadvertently start referring to it as home.I find the heat a little stifling and this calls for the rooftop pool – the crowd up there is large enough to give it an atmosphere, small enough to avoid feeling cramped.
At the pool bar, I order my virgin Caipirinha – a teetotaller needn’t miss out. My shins dangle in the warm pool water, notepad in hand ready to start blogging the old-fashioned way and the Copacabana in the distance. These are the rare moments in which you really feel in your bones what it means to unwind. On a clear day, you’ll see a nice sunset from here and guests come up for pre-dinner cocktails.
The hotel can call you a taxi to most tourist sites, which we do on the first day. It is a professional and comfortable car but we soon learn it works out more cost effective for us to hail one from the street. We tip the hotel staff but it becomes apparent from the glint of gratitude in their eyes that it was not expected and was clearly appreciated. I already know I will be sad to leave. Hotels populate the Copacabana densely like a property tycoon on a Monopoly board and it can be hit and miss knowing which one to go for. I hate pretence and there is none at Porto Bay. Only genuine hospitality, high quality service, fantastic breakfasts, great views and an undeniable location. They tell us off playfully for spending more time in Argentina than Brazil – we had that coming. They tell us we will have to return again and spend more time in Brazil next time. And you know what? We just might.