São Paulo, Brazil

Photo: Hotel Emiliano
Photo: Hotel Emiliano

São Paulo is a bit intimidating. It’s the largest city in not only Brazil, but the entire Southern Hemisphere. It’s sprawling, full of smog, and not known for its beauty. So you relegated it as a layover city and never left the airport en route to Rio de Janeiro, Trancoso, and Tiradentes. But, lately, you’ve been starting to reconsider that decision. New hotels and award-winning restaurants are making you think the city could be a destination instead of a transfer point. It’s time to explore São Paulo.

You decide to make Jardins your home base. The upscale neighborhood is known as an oasis amidst the crammed city. Its residential streets are lined with trees. Museums sit on the edge of green parks. Rua Oscar Freire, the Fifth Avenue of São Paulo, is home to expensive boutiques and art galleries. While two hotels are cool spots in which to hang out.

Your first option is the Emiliano Hotel right on Rua Oscar Freire. It’s set in a high-rise, glass-and-marble tower with a helipad on the roof. The glass-encased lobby features giant sculptures and a Champagne Bar that serves caviar. But the hotel is far from overwhelming. The attentive staff whisks you up to your room—there are fewer than 60 of them in the hotel—to help you unpack your suitcase, take wrinkled items to be pressed, find out your preferred varietal of wine, and book your complimentary 15-minute massage at Spa Santapele.

Photo: Hotel Unique
Photo: Hotel Unique

The room is a calm haven. Neutral tones and an Eames chair fill the bedroom. Its king-size bed has Egyptian cotton sheets and Hungarian goose-down pillows. While the marble bathroom features a pressure massage shower and a Japanese toilet. As you’re playing with its buttons, there’s a knock on the door. It’s a delivery of a bottle of Malbec and a confirmation for brunch at Emiliano Restaurant, with a table near its 16-foot vertical garden, tomorrow morning. But first, you have an appointment at the spa, where you’ll stick around to relax in one of the wooden hot tubs after your massage, and dinner at D.O.M., one of the best restaurants in the whole world. You already feel like a king.

The second hotel is all about art and design. Even from afar, you can tell that Hotel Unique will live up to its name. Locals call the building “the watermelon” for its striking, half-moon shape. Up close, it almost looks like the hull of a ship, complete with its weathered copper facade and circular windows. Inside, you find a stone-and-wood lobby, a library full of design books, and a bar with a glass ceiling and a 60-foot wall of alcohol bottles. You sip Champagne as you check in and find a beach vibe in your all-white room, save for its gorgeous Brazilian hardwood floor. That vibe extends to the roof, where you discover Skye Restaurant & Bar, a long pool, and a great view of the city.

Hotel Unique is just a few blocks from Ibirapuera Park. In São Paulo’s version of Central Park, you’ll find running trails, bike paths (borrow a bike from the hotel), and even capoeira lessons. You’re quickly realizing that São Paulo isn’t the monster you thought it was.

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