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Casa & Mar: A Wellness Hotel in Rio de Janeiro

wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroA house and the sea. Such a simple concept, and yet that’s what makes it so elusive. What is it about the ocean, about nature, that draws us to ourselves? I had a chance to reflect on this while visiting Rio de Janeiro’s only wellness hotel, Casa & Mar.wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroCM25Set up on the cliffs outside of a small beach town north of Rio called Maricá, Casa & Mar is the perfect location to explore wellness – in every sense of the word. With sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean from every room, this ideally situated hotel is a natural gateway to healing and health.wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroSpeaking of healing and health, as I learned from Anna Bjurstam, Vice President at Six Senses Spas, during her presentation at ILTM in Cannes, “Wellness Tourism” is 25% of the global tourism market with a value of over $639 billion dollars. Just this past year showed a 14% increase in wellness travel bookings! As Anna pointed out, “wellness gateways”, a term she uses to define an experience, a person, or even a location, are a person’s first experience with health and wellness, and are often discovered on a vacation or retreat. Maybe I had just entered a wellness gateway here…

 

So why are people spending more time seeking wellness vacations? I found my answer at Casa & Mar. From the moment you enter the gates, there is a garden greeting you with fragrant flowers and fauna, including my favorite Brazilian fruit, maracujá! Walking down the path to the reception, I was welcomed by the owner of Casa & Mar, Alex Reznik. Greeting me with a guava smoothie, he told me more about the history of Casa & Mar.CM30“I had been looking for a place to build a health and wellness hotel; I searched all over the world. And I found this beautiful enclave!” Sharing more about his own health history and philosophy on fitness, Alex started my tour with a visit to the hotel’s impressive gym. With every angle overlooking the sea, I knew it would be an easy feat to stay on the treadmill and squeeze in a workout with such an incredible view! As we headed back towards the reception, I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of the glimmering pool below. I already felt better!CasaMar1What could be better than a dip in this gorgeous pool? Sitting at the pool’s edge and peering out over the vast ocean. In fact, as I gazed out over the natural beauty, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by poet Khalil Gibran: “In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans; in one aspect of You are found all the aspects of existence.”ALEX01-yourshadowOf course, another key element of wellness is taking care of your body, both inside and out. As part of my visit to Casa & Mar, I had an evaluation of my posture by Dr. Alex Kalinin, trained in osteopathy, as well as a private sunrise session with yoga instructor, Julia Glazkova. Painfully reminded of my sedentary lifestyle back home, I knew that sitting for hours in my office chair was definitely not a key to wellness! With a spa menu that includes shiatsu, lymphatic drainage, and sports massages, just to name a few, it was hard to choose. But you must not leave Casa & Mar without trying their Signature Hammam experience. Tailored to fit your physical needs, the hammam experience uses essential oils from Brazil, clay, steam, scrubs, and of course a therapeutic massage to leave you feeling in total bliss!IMG_5441Bliss was just this. A meditative massage with the soundtrack of the sea below. I felt completely transformed! Back in my suite, I sank into my bed feeling both relaxed and rejuvenated. As the gently lapping waves lulled me to a sweet sleep, my freshly massaged limbs melted into the cool sheets, and my mind into a dreamlike state.EEAF1C30-44A5-4944-BB2A-98C776F94A0BIMG_6368IMG_6478CM5How to lure me from my dreamy suite? With the seductive aroma of freshly grilled shrimp and bananas coming from the café below! During my delectable lunch, I learned more about Mr. Reznik’s plans for future wellness-themed events around yoga, healthy cuisine, and homeopathy. Joined by guest chef, Karen Slater, who was visiting Casa & Mar to infuse the menu with some of her unique creations, we all chatted about the evolving trends in travel.CM15CM19CM18Biting into the succulent shrimps, I listened to Karen share some of her ideas for the new menu. Having owned and operated two cafes in New York, with a focus on organic, vegetarian, and vegan food, Karen highlighted the addition of grilled eggplant and sweet potatoes, and what already sounded like my new favorite – pineapple cake!wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroWith a full belly and a happy heart, Alex and I walked up to his neighboring hotel, Pousada Colonial, where he maintains a garden that fuels much of the hotel menu. Star fruit, aloe vera, papaya, grapes, mint, and so many more glorious finds in that garden! I knew Karen would be thrilled to use these local ingredients in her new menu – I’ll have to sample some of her inventive recipes on my next visit…CM6IMG_6449CM3Back at Casa & Mar, I ventured down to the rocks to get a closer view of this natural landscape that locks in the hotel from all angles. Once there, I was completely transported to another realm. There is nothing like communing with nature. As I listened to the roar of the rhythmic waves, a flood of gratitude rushed over me. Maybe this is why wellness travel is trending. To push people back to the simplicity of nature, away from our electronic lives. To open our hearts to gratitude and wonder. The longer I sat in this sacred space, the further my seaside meditation led me down a reflective path.CM24wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroCM26CM10As I thought about the name of the hotel, Casa & Mar, I flash-backed to a psychology class where I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. With basic needs of shelter, food, and health met, only then do we move on to fully appreciate and experience love, strength, and self-actualization. Health – the important element that I was reminded of here at Casa & Mar. Reminded through the food, touch, conversations, yoga, nature, and meditation that I experienced during my visit. I felt complete.CM20CM21CM7wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroBack on the patio of my suite, I remembered a quote from one of the other presenters at ILTM Cannes: “The greatest wealth is health”. As I breathed in the balmy breeze, I knew exactly what that meant. Rich in every sense of the word, I was healthy, happy, and whole. COLINAL_VISTA01

Contact me to book your visit to Rio’s Casa & Mar!

 

Credits:

Photography: Bitlab Media

Makeup: Alicia Ramirez

Wardrobe: Lenny Niemeyer & VIX by Paula Hermanny

 

 

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Bienal São Paulo: A Brazilian Art Immersion

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This Brazilian Art Immersion starts in São Paulo at the Bienal, the second oldest biennial after Venice and continues at Inhotim, a work of art that spans over 5,000 acres and houses a multitude of exhibits that will transform you.

Far beyond an “art trip”, this unique experience will provide you with exposure to art directors, collectors, curators and artists, above all, exclusive access that would not be possible without the fine-tuned itinerary compiled by two Brazil travel experts.

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Inhotim Museum

Meet Your Travel Experts

bienal-sao-pauloAbout Flavia Liz: Considered an Urban Legend by Condé Nast Traveller U.K.’s “The Experts” series, Flavia Liz Di Paolo is an expert on São Paulo in the luxury segment, and offers unique work as a personal guide, catering to clients from all over the world in six languages. Her experiential tourism has garnered coverage in Delta magazine, Italian Vogue, Fortune, Travel Weekly, and plenty of Brazilian publications. With her MBA in Luxury Hotel Management, Flavia Liz is well-versed in places that very few have access, while also being a pioneer in graffiti and favela tours, which will soon be highlighted in a short documentary produced by Sant’anna Miranda Films. www.flavializ.com

bienal-sao-pauloAbout Sarah:  Having lived, worked, and traveled throughout Brazil for the past 17 years, Sarah Taylor has the unique advantage of understanding Brazil from a foreigner’s perspective and using that to help her clients have the trip of their dreams. At her firm, All Set Concierge, she provides travel services to individuals who want a unique experience. As a member of the luxury network, Virtuoso, she curates travel excursions that fit your personality and travel dreams. Her adventures throughout Brazil’s magnificent destinations can be seen here https://allsetconcierge.com/blog/

São Paulo – Brazil’s Urban Gem

About the 2018 Bienal: Considered one of the most important contemporary art events in the world, the São Paulo Bienal’s title for this year is Affective Affinities – inspired by the novel Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and by the thesis “On the Affective Nature of Forms in The Work of Art” by Brazilian critic Mário Pedrosa. The 33rd Bienal, curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, shifts the conventional model of contemporary art projects and promotes the individual experience of the visitor with the works, instead of a predetermined curatorial narrative. The artists selected for the 33rd Bienal represent important aspects of art in the 1990s, a transformational moment for Latin America. “This was the first Latin American generation to create art free from the oppression of totalitarian regimes of the previous decades.” explains Pérez-Barreiro.

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The Bienal São Paulo Pavillion

Meet your Bienal guide: João Correia is an art advisor and art historian, who graduated from the Open University in London, where he also studied at the Sandler Institute and Sotheby’s Institute. As a speaker, he has presented at Yale University, University of São Paulo, and Itau Unibanco Private Bank. In addition to presenting his art expertise, João has collaborated with publications such as BBC, NBC, and CBN. He lives and works in São Paulo where he runs the art advisory company, Collezionista.

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Hotel Unique’s lobby

Your Tailored Itinerary Starts in São Paulo

Day 1 (September 13): Welcome cocktail reception and dinner at Hotel Unique. Unique is a top-ranked luxury hotel in São Paulo, the #1 hotel in South America by Conde Nast Traveller in 2016. Its inventive design, drawing on architectural greats like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, leaves you in awe.

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Galeria Millan

Day 2 (September 14): Breakfast at Unique followed by departure to Bienal. Your guides, João and Flavia Liz, will walk you through the highlights of this groundbreaking install of art from around the world. Included in the day’s programming is a lunch at Dalva e Dito, one of São Paulo’s Michelin star restaurants that features traditional Brazilian cuisine with an inventive twist. Conclude with an evening tour of Galeria Millan, which represents Brazilian Tunga, the first contemporary artist in the world to have a show at the Louvre. Galeria Millan recently participated in the Pacific Standard Time LA art event sponsored by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, with past participation at Documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale.

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Dalva e Dito Restaurant

Day 3 (September 15): Continue your art immersion of São Paulo as Flavia Liz guides you on an exclusive tour of the city’s art and architectural highlights. We’ll break for lunch at Tuju, which was just awarded its second Michelin star, and is the restaurant creation of chef Ivan Ralston, who worked at two of Spain’s Michelin starred gems, El Celler de Can Rocca and Mugaritz. Our day concludes with a visit to Galeria Nara Roesler, one of the most important galleries in São Paulo, with branches in New York and Rio de Janeiro, representing seminal Brazilian artists who emerged in the 1950s, as well as current artists that dialogue with their foundation.

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Galleria Nara Roesler

Day 4 (September 16): Back to the Bienal for a closer look at the 12 individual projects selected by Gabriel Pérez Barreiro. Included in today’s events is a cocktail reception and dinner at Bossa Restaurant in the lively Jardins neighborhood. With accolades from GQ, Harpers Bazaar, and numerous Brazilian publications, Bossa is top ranked in São Paulo for dishes that are tasteful both in presentation and to the palate. The evening closes at Galeria Vermelho, designed by Brazilian Pritzker prize winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha, with over 10,000 square feet dedicated to art production by both emerging and established artists.

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Galeria Vermelho

Day 5 (September 17): Museum day at your leisure! Participants will be given a list to choose from the city’s best including: Estação Pinacoteca, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Museu de Arte Moderna, Museu Afro Brasil, and Instituto Tomie Ohtake. After your museum visit, participants will be driven to a gallery event with Flavia Liz for a private tour of Galeria Luciana Brito. This beautiful gallery was designed by esteemed Brazilian architect Rino Levi with gardens by famed landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Our dining adventures continue at Michelin star restaurant, Maní, where we’ll witness the culinary masterpieces of Helena Rizzo, awarded the World’s Best Female Chef. Her creative contemporary cuisine puts her São Paulo restaurant in the top 50 in Latin America.

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Maní Restaurant

Day 6 (September 18): Our final day in São Paulo allows for an exclusive tour of one of São Paulo’s private collections that will prepare you for Inhotim. After this private tour, Flavia Liz will guide us to some of the city’s finest art houses including: Apto 61, a beautiful house specializing in modern Brazilian design, and Passado Composto Século XX, a modern antique shop with the best in Brazilian design. In the evening, we’ll toast a farewell to São Paulo for a closing reception at Unique Hotel including cocktails and dinner.

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The rooftop lounge at Hotel Unique

And Continues at Inhotim…

Day 7 (September 19): Check out and departure to Belo Horizonte. Once in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Brazil’s farming state, Minas Gerais, we’ll settle in to the city’s best hotel, Ouro Minas, for a welcome dinner. It’s luxurious but with the character of the Minas Gerais countryside and will be our resting point while we explore this state’s artistic gem, Museo Inhotim.

Day 8 (September 20): After a ride through the Brazilian countryside, we’ll arrive at an artistic masterpiece set over 5,000 acres. This museum, known to locals simply as “Inhotim”, is like none other in the world, and is a must see for art lovers and enthusiasts. A lunch at the museum’s restaurant, Tamborim, featuring local Minas cuisine is included, as well as private transportation and a guide throughout the museum. We’ll ride back to BH for a night of well needed rest after a long day at Inhotim.

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Adriana Varejão Pavilion at Inhotim

Day 9 (September 21): Because Inhotim is so expansive, one day is not enough! We’ll finish our tour of this outdoor museum – lunch included of course – with plenty of time to see all of the exhibits that you missed on day one. On our ride back to BH, we’ll stop at the city’s best spot for all things pão de queijo, the cheese bread that’s famous all over Brazil and will leave your taste buds wanting to book another trip to South America.

Day 10 (September 22): Departure to Belo Horizonte airport, where we will depart back to São Paulo for transfers back home or to your next Brazilian destination.

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Where art and nature intersect – Inhotim!

Reserve Your Space on the Bienal São Paulo Trip!

The Brazil Art Immersion Package price: $5,289.00, with 50% deposit due by June 29, 2018. Space is limited to 12 travelers. To reserve a space, fill out this form to begin the reservation process.

Important points:

  • Please plan to arrive in São Paulo on September 13th. All Set Concierge can help you arrange flights to/from Brazil. Your flight within Brazil to/from Belo Horizonte(with 1 piece of checked luggage) is included in the package price.
  • You will need a tourist visa to travel to/from Brazil. If you don’t already have one, All Set Concierge can refer you to a trusted agency or you can secure a tourist visa at your local Brazilian consulate.
  • Private ground transportation within Brazil is included in the package price. Transportation to/from your departure city airport is not included.
  • Daily breakfast is included, as well as all meals listed. Travelers are welcome to purchase additional meals & other incidentals on their own accounts.
  • Travel insurance is not included. If you’re interested in rates, All Set Concierge can provide a quote.

For a full list of terms & conditions, click here.

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The Library Lounge at Hotel Unique

See you in September!

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Go Green! The World’s Largest Renewable Energy Plant

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Itaipu observation deck across from the dam – wow!

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Sounds easy, right? Many companies give lip service to the words eco-friendly, sustainability, and social responsibility, but the team at Itaipu Binacional is living it. On my press trip to Iguazu Falls, I was able to go behind the scenes at the world’s largest generator of renewable clean energy and witness firsthand some of their earth-friendly initiatives.

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About to head into the world’s largest green energy plant! I feel small!

As my guide Edivaldo drove me around the plant in our electric vehicle(charged by the dam of course!), he shared the story of Itaipu. “Itaipu Binacional started at the junction of the Iguaçu River and the Paraná river, with construction beginning in 1974 in response to rising oil prices and the search for renewable energy sources. A few years later, the concreting of the dam began at a pace of one 10-story building per hour.” That’s a lot of manpower! Finished in late 1983 with its initial electricity generation by mid-1984, Itaipu is still going strong. In fact, just during December 2017 the dam produced 9.2 million MWh of hydraulic energy – enough to power Brazil for six days or the city of São Paulo for three and a half months. Wow!

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Power up! But first, let me take a selfie!

Since its start, Itaipu has been a leader in ecofriendly practices. And it has the awards to prove it! In 2015, the United Nations gave Itaipu the “Water for Life” award for their “Cultivando Água Boa”(Cultivating Good Water) program which beat out 40 similar initiatives from all around the world.

Additionally, in 2010 the British magazine The New Economy, responsible for the Clean Technology and New Energy awards, recognized Itaipu as a “leader in developing renewable energy sources”. And it doesn’t stop at green energy! In 2006, Itaipu was awarded the first Pro Gender Equality Seal by the United Nations Development Fund for Women for its equal employment and labor practices. Awesome!

Whether it’s water conservation, education outreach, animal protection, or gender equality, Itaipu has been winning awards since its start. Walking along the dam’s edge, Edivaldo told me about one of their local farming programs to help low-income communities. “Itaipu has donated over 70,000 acres of soil for crops and safe farming practices, including equipment and tanks.” The result of Itaipu’s efforts? The sustaining of over 34,000 families that have benefited from this land, as well as the proliferation of food from Itaipu’s donation of chickens, goats, and hogs, ensuring everyone has enough to eat.

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At the edge of Rio Paraná

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” -Maimonides, Spanish philosopher

This quote couldn’t be truer than with the work at Itaipu. Besides just feeding the local communities through the farming program mentioned above, Itaipu has a structured intern program for low-income youth. Known as the “Leading a Working Life” program, this work experience gives 15-17 year olds a chance to learn about the power plant’s initiatives and continue their education in technical fields that will lead to job placements upon graduation.

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Ground control to Senhor Tom…

Standing above Latin America’s largest generator is easy. Taking in the vast views of Brazil, Paraguay and far off Argentina will hold you in awe. Going inside is where the wonder and a bit of hesitation take over! As Edivaldo led me inside these sixty-something storied turbines, my knees did get a little weak as I heard the whirring of electric energy all around me.

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One foot away from Paraguay!
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Deep inside Brazil’s largest energy source OMG!
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Are we going up there?!?!
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My renewable smile at Itaipu

Driving over to our catamaran for the sunset tour, my crew and I talked about what we could do to help with our own conservation and recycling efforts back home. A conversation about recycled water bottles prompted Edivaldo to talk about Itaipu’s outreach with local trash pickers in Iguaçu Falls. “Itaipu helps the pickers that work in dangerous conditions by donating equipment, uniforms, carts, and scales as they remove recyclable material from the streets. The company website states, ‘They are genuine environmental agents helping protect nature [and] they substantially decrease the amount of recyclable materials dumped in the environment’.” It’s true! This successful community program is now moving to other cities in Brazil like São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

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Sunset cruise over Itaipu Dam

Cruising along the gorgeous river, I was mesmerized by two of nature’s energy sources – the sun and water. I thought about all the families using this energy to power televisions, refrigerators, and of course smartphones all across Brazil and Paraguay. Wrapping up my tour back at Itaipu headquarters, I thanked Edivaldo for the amazing visit and enlightening education about some truly inventive initiatives around social responsibility and green tourism. Taking care of our natural energy sources will be something that we will all be dealing with in the years to come.

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Obrigada, Itaipu Binacional!

Let me help you plan your trip to Brazil!

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Coffee Culture: The History of Fazenda Tozan

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High above the fields at Fazenda Tozan

Novelas and coffee: two things that make up the fabric of many Brazilian evenings. So in 2008, when a novela aired to commemorate the centennial of Japanese immigration to Brazil, it was another case of “art imitates life”. The novela, Haru e Natsu, told the story of a Japanese family that came to Brazil in the early 1900s to work on the coffee plantations that were in need of labor to replace the work force since slavery ended just a few years earlier.

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Former slave quarters, or “senzalas” in Portuguese, at Fazenda Tozan

Much of that novela was filmed at Fazenda Tozan, where I toured the farm, heard a bit of Brazilian history, and had one of the best cups of coffee I have ever tasted. Fazenda Tozan was founded in 1798 by a Portuguese family headed by Floriano de Camargo Peneado, and at that time, only produced sugar cane with the help of African slaves. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s when coffee made its way to the region of São Paulo state, “with an ideal climate and soil conditions” as my guide pointed out, that Fazenda Tozan jumped in on the coffee craze weaving its way through Brazil.

Fazenda Tozan wasn’t always known by this name. Its original Portuguese owners called it “Ponte Alta”, meaning high bridge, but after being in the family for a few generations, it was eventually sold to a Japanese family in 1927. The Iwasaki family, also the founders of Mitsubishi, renamed the coffee plantation Tozan, meaning “east mountain” in Japanese. A bit of a misnomer, as there are no mountains nearby Fazenda Tozan, the name survived the discrimination and detention of Japanese immigrants during World War II. After being abandoned during this tumultuous time in Brazil’s history, the Iwasaki reinvigorated the farm with new life in its later years.

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Family house at Fazenda Tozan

Listening to my guide talk about this tragic time in Brazil’s history, it reminded me of the similar situation suffered by Japanese in the United States. Walking through the fields, I thought of the contributions of immigrants here in Brazil, and around the world. With the upcoming harvest, the labor of generations past were planted firmly in this soil as my guide told me about the manual harvesting process. “We still use a manual process here at Tozan which begins by placing a cloth beneath the coffee trees to avoid the coffee cherries coming into contact with the ground. It can be damaging to the quality of the coffee.”

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Yellow coffee cherries ready for picking!

Back at the main house, my guide walked me through the process of making coffee, explaining the different colors and what they meant, as well as the cleaning process in the reception tank. But the highlight was watching one of their longtime farmers, Raimundo, do a live demo of the coffee harvesting process. His enthusiasm invigorated me the way this popular morning elixir jolts people out of bed every morning!

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Truly the only way to drink coffee!

Nothing prepared me for finally sipping on this delicious coffee at Fazenda Tozan. I had a new appreciation for the world’s most popular drink! Each sip delivered rich notes and a depth unmatched by most coffee I’ve had in my lifetime. Savoring the house special, I had a flashback of my visit to Ceja Vineyards in Sonoma, California where my tastebuds had a similar epiphany. Learning all about chardonnay and pinot noir from the inspiring Ceja women was a true gastronomic adventure!

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As I sat in the window looking out at the farm, I laughed as I thought of the droves of Americans lined up at Starbucks to guzzle down their diluted coffee drinks. What a treat to be able to enjoy something right at the source that had been harvested with such pride! Driving back to São Paulo, I thought of the many lives that helped keep this farm alive – African slaves, Japanese immigrants, and Brazilian farmers. Learning about the history of this drink made me even more grateful to have had this experience at Fazenda Tozan.

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A chapel at the edge of Fazenda Tozan

Start planning your trip to Brazil today!

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Seaside Splendor: Rio’s Copacabana Palace

belmond-copacabana-palaceOh Rio! The pulsating city that wraps you with sultry beaches and jutting mountains from behind. Where to rest when you want the finest in this glistening city? The crown jewel of this iconic skyline – Copacabana Palace. belmond-copacabana-palacebelmond-copacabana-palacePalatial surroundings usher you into this timeless hideaway that has been Rio’s superstar hotel since 1923. I stepped out of my taxi and was greeted by the friendliest staff, who were surprised at my Portuguese! One of the many things that I love about the Belmond hotel staff is that they instantly make you feel like you’ve known them forever, almost like old friends. It’s a comfortable luxury, not a stuffy or pretentious air, that they’ve somehow all mastered!

Settling into my suite was a dream! Sounds of bossa nova lured me towards a balcony that looked out over Brazil’s most famous beach. Peeking at my welcome gift, I was distracted by the spa menu when I saw “Jet Lag Treatment”. This sounded like exactly what I needed! I pulled myself away from my beautiful beachside room, only to be greeted at the spa – another place I might find hard to leave! My therapist magically massaged every flight delay, emotional support peacock, and security line right out of my tired body. Every hotel needs this spa service!

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Fully soothed and relaxed, I made my way to the aquamarine pool below. I loved every detail at Copacabana Palace – the wooden sculptures, a private dining nook under a tree, and of course, the warm service from the Belmond staff. Enjoying the most delicious ceviche ever, I talked with a nearby guest about my dining options for later, thrilled to learn about the Michelin-starred Mee right across the pool. Or maybe Cipriani, which fuses Northern Italian cuisine with local ingredients. Decisions, decisions! Mulling over my next meal, I gazed at birds drifting overhead and fell into a deep sleep.

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Why would I want to leave? Well with an invite to Veste Rio, a semiannual fashion conference that highlights the biggest names in Rio de Janeiro, the decision was almost made for me. Brands like Lenny Niemeyer and Osklen lure conference goers with the latest from their collections. Fashion is not normally the first thing you think of when you hear Rio de Janeiro, but trust me. This is the place to get your swimwear and everything for your summer fête. These people know how to create designs that will have you looking stunning in even the most sweltering heat – it’s what they do.where-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeirowhere-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeiro

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One step closer to Cristo in Gaoli’s silks

My invite to Veste Rio, a gift from my friends at Gaoli Rio, was just a tease of the latest in Brazilian fashion. Gaoli is my favorite boutique that houses many of my beloved brands from all over Brazil. I always make a stop here when shopping for my personal stylist clients. One visit and you’re set with everything you need for your seaside adventures! Flowing gowns and featherweight caftans are their specialty, with accompanying bikinis to match, of course.where-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeiro

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Glittering like the stars in Gaoli Beach Couture

A lucky discovery at Veste Rio was Mundo Isla, a local jewelry company that had the most eye-catching display. Each piece looked like a fisherman’s treasure as they dangled from driftwood tangled in nets. Besides this seaside-inspired show of their jewels, I was entranced by the calming blues and pearly whites that reminded me of the waves of Rio’s nearby beaches.

The next day, I paid a visit to their showroom and met the two founders of Mundo Isla, Ana Jacob and Luiza Bellizzi. I felt an instant connection with these two creative ladies who shared their story over an afternoon of coffee and confections. “When I met Ana, I instantly fell in love with her style; her home was a mixture of ethnic elements that made the place so unique, and we connected because of this shared vibe. After talking to Ana about Mundo Isla, I quit my job and took a course in jewelry making so that I could learn her craft and join her unique brand,” Luiza divulged with a smile.

IslacolarIt’s definitely unique. Walking through their gallery, I felt as though the little girl inside me who used to gather seashells on the shore was eager and excited by each piece. “Our ideal muse is someone who isn’t worried about being trendy, but quite the opposite. A woman who is unique, and looking for a non-traditional style that encourages a casual elegance,” Ana shared as she showed me some of their recent collection.

As Ana continued to tell their story, it sounded like Mundo Isla had been birthed long before these two women met. “I had been designing jewelry since I was in college, drawing on my architecture degree as many designers do, like Antonio Bernardo and Lenny Niemeyer, and sold my jewelry at fairs here and abroad. Luiza had more experience in marketing and so we complemented each other. But coincidentally, I had planned a vacation to Greece for May 2015, the same year we launched Mundo Isla, so I did some research once I was there and later used the Greek jewelry as a source of inspiration, since they heavily use silver for their jewelry. Their style is exactly the same that both Luiza and I like – a stripped down style. I even got to know an atelier of an artist who also uses Brazilian stones. That trip was fundamental to our success!”

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Seaside splendor at Copacabana Palace

Ah, yes! The magic inspiration of travel! I left their boutique rejuvenated and inspired. On the drive back to Copacabana Palace, I was reminded of their seaside muse as I looked out to Rio’s picturesque shoreline. That’s one of the best things about this hotel – you’re steps from the beautiful beach, but are instantly transported to another world once you step foot inside Belmond’s seaside splendor.

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“Meet me at Copacabana Palace…”

Nightfall crept over the shore, and I stepped onto my balcony and watched a glorious sunset as I waited for my friends to arrive for a drink at the most famed meeting place in Rio – Copacabana Palace.

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Gaoli’s summer gowns – always perfect for a dinner at Copacabana Palace!

Are you ready to go to Rio? Let me plan your trip!

Article credits

Wardrobe: Gaoli Beach Couture

Makeup: Chanel

Photographer: J.J. Soto

Interview translation: Thamara Valença and Jazon Santos

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Birds of Paradise: Brazil’s Iguaçu Falls

The old real estate adage, “location, location, location” couldn’t have been truer for my picture perfect vacation to Brazil’s Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. The only resort with an enviable address inside Iguaçu Falls National Park, the Belmond is the ideal place to absorb the essence of this natural wonder.

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The Belmond from a helicopter – don’t look down!

In this breathtaking oasis, no filters are needed. The bluest sky greets you from above, while your body takes in the freshest air that carries healing ions pouring over from the falls. Standing on the steps of the Belmond lobby, I couldn’t believe how close I was to this marvelous display of nature! Did I even need to check-in to my room, or could I just stay here and stare at this wondrous sight?

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Private dining nook at Belmond Iguaçu – wow!

Eager to relax from my urban adventures in São Paulo, I made my way up to my suite, which I was thrilled to discover had a view of Iguaçu Falls! Enveloped in the most soothing shade of salmon, I sank back into my bed and enjoyed a rejuvenating nap.

Waking from a restful slumber, I was delighted to find my welcome gift from the Belmond staff – a pair of Havaianas in their signature vintage blue. It was like a cue to relax – and I loved the idea of ditching my heels, makeup, and hair curlers for a few days! I slipped on my new sandals and walked over to the pool, loving that everyone at the resort had on the same Havaianas! Wrapping my body in the soothing water set at the perfect temperature, I floated around to the soundtrack of beautiful birds serenading me from afar.

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Belmond, take me away!

I’m not normally a morning person, but there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to enjoy a private visit up close with the falls. This is one of the best things about the Belmond; you have access to the falls before and after the park has opened to the public, allowing you to avoid the throngs of crowds that flood the scene.

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Serenity at dawn in front of Iguaçu Falls

I woke up well before sunrise because I wanted to get a few shots of the landscape uncluttered and bathed in that perfect light. But what I experienced was much more transformative than a solo photo excursion. Alone and undisturbed for a couple of hours, I cried, laughed, and allowed my soul to heal in the powerful embrace of the falls. This natural hug squeezed every ounce of gratitude that I had inside me as I shouted “thank you” to the sky. Thank you for this opportunity, thank you for everyone who made the trip possible, and thank you for a moment of peace.

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My healing didn’t end at the falls. In fact, this was just the beginning. My hosts from the Iguaçu Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged for me to participate in a tribal ceremony with the Tupi-Guarani Indians, a local indigenous tribe that welcomes visitors to take part in their intimate rituals. Walking through the dark rainforest with my guide, I was met by the warmth of a fire and the soft pulse of a drum, flashing back to when I had last seen a bonfire at my father’s funeral weekend just a few months before.

A powerful healing energy came over me as we all circled around the fire for what seemed like hours. Eventually sitting down to enjoy a traditional meal, the leader and shaman spoke about some of their guiding principles, with words that felt like they were crafted just for me. Grateful that I was able to understand his Portuguese without the assistance of my guide, I focused on every word, not wanting to forget a moment of this incredible experience. Back at my hotel, I journaled about all that had happened in an effort to process this unique encounter. Since no photography was allowed, I depended on the vibrant images in my mind to help me make sense of this once in a lifetime experience.

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One of the guards at Iguaçu’s Bird Park

If you must leave this tropical oasis that is the Belmond, then plan a trip to the Parque das Aves, a bird park that sits right outside the Iguaçu National Park. Parque das Aves is a pioneer of animal conservation, partnering with other organizations that support biodiversity conservation both in Brazil and throughout the world. This family-friendly attraction, which is also the largest bird park in Latin America, offers a behind the scenes tour where you can feed the birds and get up close with nature. I was getting excited as I heard the birds calling from inside!

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Luckily my guide Alex, who was the key to understanding every aspect of Iguaçu, joined me at Parque das Aves. You absolutely cannot go to Iguaçu without him! He is a walking encyclopedia of every biological, botanical, and spiritual aspect of the falls. At every turn, Alex provided insight to each species, the flora and fauna around me, and a sincere awareness of these endangered and vulnerable animals and birds.

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Are you my mommy?

The highlight of that morning was feeding the baby rescues. I giggled as they splashed milk all over me and nipped at my hands, eager to connect with their new visitor. After my private backstage tour was over, I begged to go through the park again – I didn’t want to leave!

On this next round, I spent quite a bit of time at the butterfly aviary witnessing one just coming out of its cocoon. Such a magical moment! With over 800 species of butterflies in this Atlantic Forest, I was mesmerized at the rainbow of colors and patterns. As I watched the Caligo brasiliensis butterflies munch on bananas, Alex shared with me how these butterflies use their owl-like appearance to avoid predators.

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I think he thought I was his twin with my bright yellow shirt!

Walking through the rest of the park, Alex highlighted the conservation efforts at Parque das Aves, specifically the toucans. “They’re not technically endangered, but do get injured a lot because of hunting accidents. The natural breeding that happens here ensures a safety population of this magnificent bird.” He also told me that their eyes can change direction, noting them as a “portal of positive energy”.

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PicadinhoBack at the Belmond, I enjoyed a late lunch of the most artfully prepared picadinho de filé, a dish that my tummy had fond memories of from São Paulo. I pored over videos of my new bird buddies from the morning – truly an unforgettable experience! Walking through the grounds at the resort, I noticed a tree that had a pink lichen – a botanical sign of high air quality based on Alex’s lesson of lichen, fungus, algae, and some of the 2,000 plant species that are here in Iguaçu. I excitedly took in another breath of this healing space. As I collapsed into a hammock, I drifted off to sleep with the lull of sweet birds chirping what sounded like, “Sarah, don’t leave…”

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Do you want to visit this natural oasis? Then fill out the form below!

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Uniquely Urban: A Weekend in São Paulo

Having lived, worked, and vacationed in Brazil for many years, it’s kind of shocking that I hadn’t really explored its largest city. São Paulo was always just a layover on the way to the gorgeous beaches of the northeast or the sexy city of Rio. But with an itinerary carefully crafted by my colleagues at the São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was in for a surprise. Hotel Unique_Lobby

Walking into my hotel, I was immediately struck by the unique design of the lobby and quickly understood how it earned its name. Hotel Unique is the architectural gem by Ruy Ohtake, one of Brazil’s architect legends. Drawing inspiration from Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and of course, his mother, famed Brazilian artist, Tomie Ohtake, Ruy’s lunar shaped luxury hotel is a sight to behold. Unique_Skye_Pool

Sitting down to check-in, I noticed the Conde Nast 2016 awards for “Best South American Hotel” and Hotel Unique’s enviable position at #8 on the list of “Top 50 Hotels in the World”. Sipping on a glass of welcome champagne, I was curious to learn how this hotel had earned its accolades.

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Eager to rest, I drew a bath in my suite, all the while intrigued by the edgy design. The contrast of curves and corners set against a backdrop of soothing white decor had me entranced.

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But why the awards? There are many hotels that boast cutting-edge design and invest in their interiors, but what makes Hotel Unique stand out is their service. Every one of my requests, odd as they were, was met with a warm smile that made me feel like I was at an old friend’s home. Read any of the TripAdvisor reviews, and it’s no wonder Hotel Unique is ranked as their top São Paulo recommendation. And it’s also worth mentioning that I was greeted with a glass of champagne wherever I went – it was as if they had a secret champagne nymph following me around the hotel!

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In a city as large as São Paulo, it’s sometimes hard to uncover hidden gems. But with the help of my expert guide, Flazia Liz Di Paolo, every corner beckons with glittering finds. Two of her unique fashion recs: Japonique Boutique and Léia Sgro Jewelry.

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My favorite COMAS dress made from men’s shirts!

Japonique is trendy, but tastefully curated. I picked up a pair of Melissa shoes for a client, browsed through chic room decor, but my favorite discovery was the COMAS clothing line. Lucky enough to meet with the director of COMAS, she shared some of their eco-friendly design philosophy with me. “It’s upcycling. We take men’s shirts and rework them into wearable designs for women.” Emphasis on wearable. Luckily I bought my sustainable, yet stylish items early in my trip and wore them all over Brazil(see below!), since they hardly wrinkle, and looked great with wedges, tennis shoes, and the ubiquitous Havaianas.

Flavia Liz’s other hidden gem? The handmade jewelry of Léia Sgro. Walking into Léia’s studio, there’s a definite shift in your energy. Calming and centering, her delicate pieces float on branches hung throughout her gallery, coaxing you to take a second look. My favorites – a pendant and earring set made from the skeleton leaves in her garden.

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Léia’s talents don’t end with jewelry making. She is also one of only three people outside of Japan trained and skilled at the art of Chabako. Léia explained that a chabako is a box once used to store kimonos, as well as tea implements, made popular in the Sen no Rikyu era for use in outdoor tea ceremonies. With her special touch, they make the perfect addition to any room.

As Léia showed me some of her upcoming pieces, which will be shown in Rome in 2018, she talked about how her designs are inspired by her travels and nature, “especially the forms I see in nature”, she smiled. With her degree from Tokyo’s Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry and international stints in London, Vienna, Boston, Madrid, and Rome, Léia has plenty of inspiration to infuse her modern designs.

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One of Leia’s custom crafted chabakos

As we drove to our next stop, Flavia Liz shared some of the history of Japanese culture here in São Paulo. “With a large influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900’s, São Paulo is now home to over 1.5 million people of Japanese descent. And its influence is seen in the art, gastronomy, design, and culture throughout this huge metropolis.”

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Tomie Ohtake Institute’s striking façade

A near perfect example of this influence is the Instituto Tomie Ohtake. Mother to famed architects, Ruy and Ricardo, Tomie Ohtake was part of that Japanese immigration wave and reinvented herself as an artist at age 40. The embodiment of the phrase, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been”, Tomie went on to hold over 120 solo exhibitions in Brazil, and around the world in Milan, Miami, Tokyo, New York, and Havana.

Her institute hosts debates, research, and of course exhibitions that promote an understanding of national and international contemporary art, architecture, and design. Luckily, I was able to see the shocking and socially engaging exhibit of Yoko Ono, The Sky Is Still Blue, You Know. Known for her provocative and political art, Yoko’s works held true to her artistic signature of engaging with the spectators and seducing us to participate in the exhibit. museums-in-sao-paulo

As I walked through the exhibit, some of it was joyful and fun, like writing my wishes on the large tree in foyer, while others like the video of Yoko’s infamous and iconic 1964 Carnegie Hall performance, which allowed spectators to snip strips of her clothing, had me puzzled and pondering present-day power struggles.

But that is what great art is supposed to do, and it’s no wonder that Instituto Tomie Ohtake has staged shows of Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Josef Albers, all previously unheard of in Brazil. Tomie’s eponymous design landmark is definitely a must-see while in São Paulo.

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Next stop? A dining adventure at Ícone GastroRock in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo. Two tips for a visit to Ícone GastroRock: make reservations and come open-minded. With a tasting menu that changes weekly, you’ll want to book your seat at the table well in advance where you can watch the mastery of Chefs Roberto Satoru and Alexandre Ortigoso up close.

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The brainchild of Chef Roberto and Chef Alexandre, Ícone GastroRock’s menu fuses the ever-present Japanese influence into artfully prepared plates – all ready for that perfect Instagram shot! Roberto was a gastronomy pioneer here in São Paulo, opening one of the first temakerias and launching a food trend across the city, while Alexandre brings his own gastronomy chops with a strong background in all things ale and spirits.

I’m glad that I came hungry! My first dish was a colorful array of vegetables placed atop a hummus made with red lentils, but it soon disappeared and was promptly followed by the most sumptuous seared scallop set atop a bed of seaweed salad – OMG! Next on the list – a beautiful arranged tuna tartare with Asian pear, quail egg, and a delicate ponzu sauce. My favorite(and not pictured because I gobbled it down!) was a braised lamb paired with the most divine burrata I have ever tasted. I forgot how strong the Italian influence was in Brazilian cuisine until I tasted this dish – perfection!

Back in the comforts of Hotel Unique, I marveled at the contemporary design by João Armentano and sunk into one of the chairs off the lobby’s extensive library, adjacent to their secret indoor pool. Intrigued by the vast collection, I was debating whether to stay here and get lost in a book, or head up to the rooftop marvel that is Skye Restaurant & Bar.

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“I can read on the plane”, I thought, and with that I headed up to the panoramic views of São Paulo that awaited at the top of Hotel Unique. After my bartender tested my Portuguese, he crafted a cocktail that was the perfect accompaniment to this sweeping view. Quickly perusing the menu, I decided to have lunch here the following day so that I could enjoy the creations of award-winning Chef Emmanuel Bassoleil, consistently ranked among the world’s best. Sipping on my drink, I was already looking forward to my next stay at one of the world’s best hotels, right here in São Paulo.

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Contact me to visit São Paulo’s top luxury hotel!

 

 

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Brazil’s Gold Mine: A Visit to Minas Gerais

 

 

Long before Google had every inch of the globe mapped and scaled online, I was assigned to an exchange program in a small Brazilian town called “Ouro Branco”.

Eager to learn more about my future destination, I entered this foreign city into the search box, only to discover the name translated to “white gold”, and that it was a few hours from Minas Gerais’ state capital, Belo Horizonte. As with all things destined, the mountainside town of Ouro Branco became my anchor for discovering more of Minas.

Brazil’s inland state is just that, a hidden gem. A quick plane ride from its more popular neighbors, Rio and São Paulo, Minas Gerais is a vast countryside full of historical towns, hidden waterfalls and hiking trails, and the best cuisine in all of Brazil – the general consensus among Brazilians.

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The most expansive of Minas’ hidden gems is Museo Inhotim. To call it a museum is an understatement. This 5,000 acre masterpiece is a design lover’s dream, a nature lover’s paradise, and of course, an art lover’s epiphany. Sitting about an hour outside of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s sixth largest city, Inhotim is a full sensory experience. Lush, green trees envelop you from the moment you walk in, wrapping you in a cocoon of natural wonders.

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My knowledgeable guide Marcelo Martins led the way, pointing out the natural furniture by famed Brazilian designer Hugo França. These striking pieces from repurposed wood sat amongst the 500 different botanical species at Inhotim. My favorite tree, paxiuba, is known as “the palm that walks”, moving 3 centimeters a year to follow the sun. Stopping at our first exhibit, he asked “What do you see here?” as I gazed up at a large set of chairs and tables surrounded by a manicured garden. Apprehensive about my answer, I wondered if Marcelo would allow me to advance to the next exhibit based on the quality of my response.

 

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Chris Burden’s Beam Drop

 

Luckily, my answer was suffice and our next stop was the Sonic Pavilion. An ambitious and complex work by Doug Aitken, the pavilion holds a deep well over 600 feet, equipped with microphones that send the wailing frequencies of the earth’s cry up into the room. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt the pain and voice of Mother Earth crying out, reverberating through my body and soul.

 

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Doug Aitken’s Sonic Pavilion

 

There’s not much to say when you leave an experience like that. I walked along in silence with Marcelo until we reached our next stop when he said, “The earth was extra loud today. She must have known you were coming.” This prompted our discussion of meditation, as I told Marcelo that I’m glad I had a daily practice which truly prepared me for Inhotim. The spiritual and physical work that I’d been doing allowed me to fully absorb every somatic stroke of this magnificent place.

 

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Mathew Barney’s From Mud, A Blade

 

Speaking of preparation, nothing truly prepared me for the next exhibit by Mathew Barney. Weaving the conflict of Ogum, god of iron, war, and technology with Ossanha, the god of plants and nature, Barney’s massive work draws inspiration from Bahian Candomble to highlight the tension between our natural and man-made worlds. In a word, this was disturbing. Which is exactly what great art is supposed to do, right?

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Heading to lunch, Marcelo shared the history of Inhotim and its gardens, “Roberto Burle Marx visited this place, and being a close friend to Bernardo Paz, the museum’s founder, he advised Bernardo on what plant species to use, the colors, and even the layout.”

 

Over a delicious lunch of fresh fish and endless salads and local fruits, Marcelo reminisced on his early days at Inhotim. “When I first started working here, I thought 2 days was enough time for a visit, but now I recommend 4 days. You really want time to experience Inhotim. To really absorb it.”

During our decadent meal, Yara Castanheira, who heads the education department at Inhotim, joined us. “Here at Inhotim, we connect art and nature. We blur those boundaries.” And it’s evident at every turn. Exhibits are hidden behind towering trees, obscured by winding vines and orchids, and discovered at the end of trails overflowing with the flora and fauna that is unique to Brazil.

 

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“Our collections, all with a theme, provide a new perspective. But we’re mediating and guiding – not giving answers.” During my visit, Inhotim’s theme was gender and water, chosen in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainability. “We’re looking at contemporary challenges, and through researching this theme, we discovered that in places where there was enough water for the community, the women were also having that basic need of education met. Without water in the community, women and girls have to collect it and forgo the chance at an education. It’s a powerful discovery.”

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Thinking about how grateful I was to have an education, we talked about Inhotim’s international partnerships with schools around the world. “In such an expansive place you can feel small. But yet each of us has a big impact. With the foreboding climate change and global warming, you think about the impact of your trash and plastic on our environment.” Yara’s words never rang truer as I thought about the political debates on global warming back home in the States.

 

Leaving lunch, Marcelo took me to an unexpected artwork – a pool. If you know me, or follow my Instagram, you know that I love a good pool party! In the balmy weather, I was tempted to dive right in, held back by the absence of a bikini. I’ll remember to pack it next time! Like every work at Inhotim, Jorge Macchi’s Piscina encourages the viewer to particpate with the art. Macchi’s work is a large scale recreation of his paper drawing, which fused an address book and a swimming pool, two items that are rarely seen together. Sitting there with my feet dangling above black granite letters, I wished that I could come back for another day at Inhotim. One day was definitely not enough!

 

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My tour through Inhotim unfortunately came to an end, but as Marcelo carefully orchestrated every turn, we ended at the symphonic “Forty Part Motet” – a surround-sound exhibit blasting a choral work that was written for Queen Elizabeth I’s birthday in 1575. Talk about a grand finale! I didn’t know what else to do besides stop and take it all in, letting my body harmonize with the chorus.

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You know a place is good when you eat there twice in 24 hours. Because you want to. This is obviously the case at Pão de Queijaria, an ideally situated gastropub in Belo Horizonte where I ate the night before I left for Inhotim. And when I returned! Quickly gaining fame in a city full of foodies after its opening in January 2014, Pão de Queijaria won coveted “Best Of” awards from Veja Magazine, all hanging on their wall among funky artwork.

 

At first bite, you’ll think that “white gold” I mentioned earlier refers to the toasted puffs of bread, or maybe it’s the creamy canastra cheese that accompanies your pão de queijo. Either way, your tastebuds will be thanking you. Sitting down with Lucas, one of Pão de Queijaria’s founders, I learned a bit more about this precious canastra and its importance in their menu. “We source from local farms here in Minas, where we know the cows by name. And the aging process is very particular – producing only the best cheese – usually over the course of 20 to 30 days. We like to call it our ‘black label’,” he said with a wink.

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And the quality is evident in every bite. Tearing me away from my sandwich, a perfectly marinated short rib garnished with fresh tomato, Lucas showed me a bit of their “behind the scenes” operations, and wow was it fragrant! Seeing what goes into this craft of making something seemingly simple as cheese bread made me appreciate it even more. This snack that I first learned of during my days in Ouro Branco had a new elevated status thanks to Lucas’ insight.

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Drawing inspiration from star Chef Jaime Solares, who owns a nearby restaurant, Lucas and his partner Mario have asked Chef Jaime to give an unofficial nod of approval to their menu. “We just changed our menu, adding the short rib you just had, a fried chicken sandwich, and we made some changes to the hamburger, calling it Hamburger 2.0”. I’m just glad that they left the polenta bites and caprese sandwich on the menu – two of my faves. But now I have another reason to come back!

Sitting there with my friends, we were already deciding what to eat on our next visit. I told them that I would definitely be back – I had to follow Marcelo’s advice and do three more days at Inhotim!

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Contact me to book your visit to Minas Gerais, Brazil!

 

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How Brazil Does Winter: A Visit to Campos do Jordão

I’m sure the title fooled you. Trust me – when my colleagues in São Paulo showed me the itinerary for my recent VIP trip, I was a bit confused when I saw the words “fondue, wine, fur, chocolate, and winter festival” sprinkled throughout my schedule. It’s not the usual word association one has when you hear “Brazil”.

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Set 111 miles outside of the sprawling metropolis that is São Paulo, Campos do Jordão is a lovely weekend getaway perfect for couples, honeymooners, or really anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

By the time I visited Campos do Jordão, I had already seen quite a few highlights of Latin America’s economic epicenter: Fashion Week, private art tours, and a preview of their newest luxury hotel, all organized by the team at São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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But the train ride up the hill to Campos do Jordão is half the fun. Starting in the quaint town of Pindamonhangaba, our group enjoyed a relaxing tour through the countryside. I marveled at the stretches of rice fields and farmland, spotted with cows, horses, and other livestock, thinking back to my train ride on the British Pullman outside of London earlier this year.

Climbing the mountains, I learned that this railway was the only one in the world that goes to such a high altitude without any cables or extra machinery. Normally trains like this chug along at a 3% incline. Not this one! We were going at 11% according to the conductor. Besides Iguaçu Falls and the Amazon, I think that Brazil needs to add another natural wonder to its list!

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High up where the air cooled and the humidity subsided, we stopped at the depot for a welcome snack of homemade grape juice and the most divine cod-fish fritters, knIMG_2892own as bolinho de bacalhau. On our way through sprawling hills, I learned more about Brazil’s ecosystem and some of its unique fauna and flora, all visible from my train window. I felt like I was in the Sound of Music and could almost hear the refrain “The hills are alive…”

Speaking of music, Campos do Jordão is the host of an orchestral showcase known as “Festival de Inverno” which takes place every July. This winter music festival, the biggest classical music festival in Latin America, has found the perfect home in this beautiful town.

Before you even enter the Cláudio Santoro Auditorium, the dedicated place for this magnificent display of opus upon classical opus is the Felícia Leirner Museum. With striking art sprawled across green hills, I stopped to take it all in. The clean, crisp air, the stark white statues standing tall with the trees, and small strips of poetry by Vinicius de Moraes clinging to a nearby bush. A perfect respite!

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My knowledgeable guide told me a bit about this talented artist, and I became even more impressed with the history of this place. Felícia emigrated to Brazil from Poland in the late 1920s and began to study sculpture in her mid-forties under the tutelage of renowned sculptor, Victor Brecheret. Her late start in her art career reminded me of a quote that my life coach once told me when I changed careers: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Always timely advice!

Here my hosts from Campos do Jordão Visitors Bureau welcomed me and guided me to the next portion of my tour. Wishing that I could return in July to hear music played in this serene setting, our group headed to dinner at Ludwig, the most picturesque restaurant to enjoy a post-symphony meal.

An enchanting place, Ludwig is the award-winning culinary enterprise of Fausto and Zezé, a warm and lively couple who welcomed me like family. Sipping on the most delicious wine and enjoying a cheese plate that included housemade jam and local cheeses, Fausto and Zezé shared their love story, which led to a round table of everyone divulging dating stories, divorce woes, and everything in between! All of this before our first course!

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Looking out over their green garden, also used as the occasional event space, I told Fausto that I had seen the opera Faust with my dad many years ago – my first opera – which led to some tearful reminiscing. But there’s nothing like gourmet food to put a smile on my face, and my Instagram-worthy plate was just the thing!

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When Zezé originally asked me to choose my dish, I told her “I eat everything!”. She smiled and said, “Okay, we’ll give you the local specialty” and came back with a handful of nuts called pinhão, which would be ground to make a puree accompaniment for my truta, a fish local to the Campos do Jordão region. My mouth was already watering, but seeing it presented – wow!

The perfect place to retire at the end of a long journey – Campos do Jordão’s Grande Hotel. Nestled in greenery along the hills, you’ll want to take advantage of the trails around this luxury property that lives up to its name. There are beginner level trails to enjoy throughout the day, as well as tennis courts, a pool, a spa and pretty much every amenity you could imagine – even an in room foot spa with a robust menu of soaps and creams that were a soothing way to end a long day.

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As I sat on my terrace looking out at the full moon, tired toes soaking, I read more about Felícia Leirner and her sculptures. Awarded the Best Sculptor Award at the 1963 São Paulo Bienal, Felícia’s work was featured in Paris, the Tate in London, and of course, in nearby São Paulo. But it was her personal life which intrigued me even more. She situated herself here in Campos do Jordão after the early death of her husband, creating an impressive portfolio of works. Her story reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite artists, and how she retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico after the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. I wondered, would I suffer the same fate and retire to some beautiful countryside and create meaningful art? But I’d have to get married first! First things first…

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If you follow my Instagram, you know I’m a bit of a chef groupie, so a breakfast meeting and tour with Chef Mauro was all the motivation I needed to get out of bed early the next morning. Chef Mauro is what you’d call a prodigy. He leads a team of kitchen staff, most of whom are twice his age, to produce an award-winning menu at Grande Hotel’s premier restaurant, Araucária. Leading me through the kitchen, Chef Mauro explained the techniques used at Grande Hotel since this was a training facility for hospitality professionals. It definitely showed! Every detail of my bountiful breakfast was perfect, but it was the service with a friendly demeanor from every staff member that really made this place a luxury property.

The best place to walk off this yummy brunch was through Campos do Jordão’s downtown shopping district. My favorite place, which I didn’t even expect to find in Brazil, was Puro Cacau, a boutique that specializes in furs, with a license from the Brazilian government to ensure no harm was done to the animals. The perfect place to wear these beauties? Right across the street at the new Ice Bar, which provides gloves and other special features so you can enjoy your drinks literally “on ice”. Continuing along, we saw chocolate shops, souvenir boutiqes, and plenty of German bars. I learned that Campos do Jordão is also a vacation destination for one of Brazil’s most celebrated holidays, Oktoberfest. With a strong German influence in Brazil, this holiday rivals Carnaval as Brazil’s biggest party.

A fan of classical music, I was already trying to figure out when I could come back for this annual Festival de Inverno. With my 2017 already full of travel, I guess I’d have to put it on the list for 2018!

To book your visit to Campos do Jordão, contact me today!

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Brazil’s History: Plate by Plate

When I took my trip to Iguaçu Falls earlier this year, I expected to see magnificent waterfalls, exotic wildlife, and endless lush forests. Who wouldn’t in this glorious part of Brazil that is considered one of the natural wonders of the world? What I didn’t expect to witness was a culinary tour of Brazil’s history, produced by the talented chef, Fabio Tavera.

“Why don’t we give value to simple things? We think, ‘oh this is from the south, the Amazon, it’s from immigrants’ – Casa do Chef is a response to all of this. We have great food here in Brazil and we need to break it down so people can understand. Understand what’s in our food, understand our people, understand our society.”

 

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Chef Fabio’s intro was merely a hint of what was to come. Having lived, worked, and traveled in Brazil over the past 15 years, I thought I knew a thing or two about Brazilian cuisine. All of that changed as Chef Fabio took the “stage” at his rustic and inviting culinary school called Casa do Chef. “After 16 years working in kitchens, now I am having the opportunity to present Brazilian food in a broader way, relating the historical and anthropological approaches, garnishing this experience with music, which is also my passion. Casa do Chef has been my dream for years.”

And I felt like I had just fallen into a epicurean dream! While my tastebuds were teased with the first dish from the Tupi, Chef Fabio walked us through the dish, dissecting this fish in a history lesson peppered with culinary facts. “The Tupi didn’t use salt at all; you won’t find it in Amazon cuisine. They used peppers and chiles as a preservation mode for meat and fish, and their curing technique is different. Their ritual of smoking is the fusion of the four elements – earth, water, air, and fire.”

 

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Watching Chef Fabio prepare the plates for our first course, I listened intently as he continued to describe the features of this prehistoric fish, pirarucu. “The pirarucu is the biggest scaled fresh water fish in the world. Because the fish scales are so huge, the only way to catch it is in the river during dry season when it gets stuck because of these strong scales. But that’s what makes the meat so good!”

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Dressing the fish with pineapple, roasted peanuts, and honey, Chef Fabio continued – his knowledge the perfect hybrid of TV favorites, History Channel and Food Network! “The Guarani Indians domesticated the pineapple and peanut, here in this area of South America. And when the Portuguese arrived, they noticed that the bees made honey from flowers. At this time in Europe, honey was of very poor quality, so this was one of the first Brazilian exports.”

Chef Fabio recommended starting with a bite of the jambu, an herb from Amazon forest, that has a strong aroma and gets the tongue numb, perfect to eat with this fish that’s been seasoned with fresh chiles – no spices or salt! Enjoying the balanced, smoky flavor, I marveled at how delicious this “sodium-free” dish was – and made a note to integrate some of these healthy techniques when I returned home. Chatting with Chef Fabio as he plated our next course, he shared that Japanese cuisine was one of his favorites because of the beautiful presentation and lightness of flavors. As you read on, you’ll see that same artful influence evident in all of Chef Fabio’s Instagram-worthy presentations.

When I thought it couldn’t get any better, Chef Fabio walked us through his side-by-side comparison of moqueca, one of my favorites! Having been to Bahia, Brazil’s Northeast state known for its gorgeous beaches, I was already aware of the strong African influence in its culture, music, and food.

 

“This mixing of the trade routes with the Portuguese is really evident in what most people know today as moqueca baiana; the mango, lime, and coconut came from India. The cilantro from the Middle East, onions and garlic from the Orient. But what moqueca looked like 600 years ago is here on the left. Fish, urucum, oil from the native Brazilian coconut – babaçu, chili, and of course, no salt.”

Having sampled both, my tastebuds weren’t sure which way to go! I loved the caramelized, simple flavor of the native technique, but I also found the familiarity of the cilantro mingled with the coconut milk delicious. Luckily, I didn’t have to choose!

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Listening to Chef Fabio describe the fusion of foods from all over the world, I thought about the similarities between Brazilian and U.S. culinary history. Both countries had a strong Native Indian food culture that was often aligned with spiritual practices of the tribe. After the arrival of European settlers, much of that history was drastically changed, with many indigineous techniques lost. I felt really grateful to see Chef Fabio reviving some of those techniques here in his cooking school.

 

Next up on the Casa do Chef tasting menu – Carne de Sol, which Chef Fabio said was the perfect dish to highlight the Indian, Portuguese, and African influences. But as he explained, carne de sol is actually a misnomer! Finding out that I spoke Portuguese, Chef Fabio carried on in his native tongue, saying that it’s more of a “de lua, de noite, do vento” because of the aging process. And the description of his homemade clarified butter – well, I’m sure you can imagine how my stomach responded.

“Normally, manteiga de garrafa, or clarified butter, is done the French way – skimming the solids and the clarified butter remains. But this way – a heavy cream is reduced until it’s almost caramalized and solids remain, ending up more like a cheese.” My stomach screamed – “yes, please!”

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Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Chef Fabio walked us through the rest of this colonial dish. “We use the ancient method of soaking the abóbora, or pumpkin, in limestone for 10 minutes and then cook it in molasses. This is the African influence with the sugar cane grinders and the use of molasses.” The finishing touch? A hollandaise sauce, using that same delicious manteiga de garrafa…OMG!

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And finally, Chef Fabio’s presentation of feijoada. This is one dish that most tourists have tried on their trips to Brazil, and is what most consider Brazil’s national dish. “This food we call ‘Brazilian’ is new, developed in the last 100 years – at most! Through recipes and ingredients, my idea is to demystify feijoada, and enhance some things that we never thought we could.”

Chef Fabio’s history lesson on feijoada was as much a surprise for my Brazilian colleagues as it was for me. “Meat was rare for everyone in those times. The invented story of feijoada being a ‘marginal dish’ with scraps and leftovers that was fed to the slaves is false. All parts of the slaughtered meats were preserved because there was no refrigeration as we have today. So everyone ate the same thing. This notion that the diet of a slave and the main lord was different is a bit of a myth, with the exception of sugar, which was very expensive.”

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After snapping some shots of this tantalizing plate, I finally enjoyed this Brazilian classic, with Chef Fabio’s special touch. “You know feijoada has a Portuguese influence too, but theirs is with white beans; ours with black beans. Here it’s not deconstructed, just presented differently for more texture. And since the concepts have changed in this invented dish, I invented mine”, he said with a sly wink. Savoring each bite, I thought about how American cuisine is also a melding of immigrant influences, and the bevy of restaurants that are in my Los Angeles neighborhood: Mexican, German, Korean, Armenian, Peruvian. A true melting pot!

Nibbling on the most picturesque sampler of Brazilian dessert classics, I looked up to hear Chef Fabio emerge from the kitchen, serenading us with a flute performance. A true Renaissance man! Historian, musician, and talented chef – how lucky I was to have had this enlightening epicurean adventure through Brazil.

To book your visit to Foz do Iguaçu and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity at Casa do Chef, contact me today!

 

 

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