‘Are you sure this is it?’, says our taxi driver as we pull up to an unmarked white door at No 58 of Rua Sergio Porto, a private cobbled street in the exclusive area of Alto Gavea. The name of our temporary residence suddenly takes on a new resonance: when they called it ‘The House’, they meant that to be taken quite literally.
A path through a pretty tropical garden leads to the guesthouse in question, an exquisitely reworked colonial-style mansion that clings high to the side of one of Rio de Janeiro’s lush hills. This means big, world-class views from nearly all spaces in the house – over the Tijuca rainforest (the world’s largest urban forest), the lagoon and, the real prize, a picture-perfect silhouette on the horizon of Rio’s famous symbol, the Christ the Redeemer statue on top of the Corcovado mountain. So far, then, so completely unlike anyone’s house that we know.
Our jewel of a room – the Tiffany – is classily decorated in Tiffany & Co’s trademark pale turquoise, paired with crisp whites and bordered by a large terrace, lending it a fresh villa-like feel. But silver accents and swanky details – a retro mirrored bedside lamp, matching blue trim on the soft white sheets – add enough subtle luxe to rise to a special occasion. The thoroughly tasteful Tiffany bathroom, in blue, silver and slate, is enticing. So enticing, in fact, that it even managed to achieve the almost unachievable in convincing this seriously bathaholic Mrs Smith that a bath wasn’t so essential after all. Well, at least not if you have a shower head several times wider than your head and a huge circular shower chamber looking out over Tijuca and opening out on to your private terrace (not overlooked, I hasten to add). The ultimate ‘rainforest shower’, if you will. You’ll even come out smelling sweetly of Amazonian chestnut, thanks to the Brazilian Granado toiletries.
A hit from the fine house caipirinha (available 24 hours), combined with the thought of our comfy queensize bed and the total calm of our room, meant that it was hard to put off sleep in the name of jet-lag limitation.
‘I fell completely in love with Rio’, confides Jacques, the young French co-owner of La Maison, the next morning over breakfast. And, as we drank our freshly squeezed pineapple juice, gazing out into the clear skies of Rio, we had to admit that we were beginning to get his drift. Our host’s enthusiasm for his adopted city and also for the business of genuine hospitality – something that some hoteliers seem to like more in theory than in practice – runs throughout the La Maison experience. Jacques was more than happy to delve into his impressive knowledge of Rio to help tailor our time, guiding us towards lesser-known hot spots, as well as the essential Rio experiences (beaching in Ipanema, a trip up the Corcovado, a stroll around boho Santa Teresa).
In a city of such vivid colours, we are glad that La Maison manages to avoid the neutral shades many design hotels employ to achieve sleekness, instead splashing around colour with finesse. The upstairs lounge is all decadent pinks and purples, with large striped walls and low-slung grape-coloured velvet sofas. The modish downstairs salon-dining room makes minimalist white statements with the cool curvy dining chairs and stylish sofas, setting them against camouflage-green walls, glitzy chandeliers and carefully strewn objêts d’art.
Though we can think of nothing more agreeable than holing up in La Maison for the fully-fledged retreat experience – sips of caipirinha, dips in the pool and custom-cooked meals from the in-house chef – a ten-minute taxi ride will take you down the hill to the action of fashionable Leblon and Ipanema beaches. Don a high-style bikini, drink coco water from the nut, and take in the sights and sounds of one of the world’s finest city beaches. Think itsy-bitsy swimwear, futevolei (a Brazilian cross between beach volley and football), impromptu samba bands and beach vendors peddling anything you could possibly require, from ice-cold beers and grilled cheese, to jewellery and sundresses.
La Maison is the ultimate antidote to the soulless corporate hotel – and is a characterful rarity among the scores of bland high-rise hotels that line Rio’s sandy shores. With just five beautifully appointed rooms (all wildly different) and very few mod-cons (not all rooms have air-con or baths, and none have minibars, TVs or telephones), La Maison is the perfect hotel for people who don’t really like hotels – a tranquil, romantic getaway in a densely populated city of 5.5 million. You won’t find a gym, a business centre, reception desks, suited doormen or computer-charged room keys. But you will get an old-fashioned key to a few luxuries that are considerably harder to find: complete peace and quiet, natural beauty, highly personalised service and discerningly different decor. And the view, oh the view…