< BRAZIL | RIO DE JANEIRO: Belmond Copacabana Palace
By the end of the 19th century, long before swimming and sunbathing became a popular pastime, Copacabana was small isolated fishing village located in the
southern zone of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Deriving its name from Quicha, an ancient language still spoken in Peru, Copacabana's name cames from the words “Copa Caguana”,
meaning "luminous place", or alternatively, "Copac Cahuana" - the "blue belvedere". Originally, the whole area was known as the Sacopenapã and it was renamed into Copacabana in
the mid-18th century after the small chapel dedicated to the Virgen de Copacabana was constructed on a rocky point at the southern end of the beach.
When the Real Grandeza tunnel (nowadays known as the Tùnel Velho - the old tunnel) was inaugurated on 6th of July 1892, Copacabana was officially incorporated to the city of Rio de Janeiro and the first important step to make the paradise beach more accessible was made. The first summer houses soon started to appear and in 1906, Mayor Pereira Passos began the construction of Atlantic Avenue. In 1920 the Copacabana district counted already 20.000 residents.
For the occasion of the Centennial Celebration of Brazilian independence in 1922, the idea of creating a new luxury hotel was brought by the Brazilian president, Epitácio Lindolfo da
Silva Pessoa. Pessoa decided to submit the project to Octávio Guinle, legendary hotelier and owner of the Hotel Palace in Rio and leaseholder of the Hotel Esplanada in São Paulo, the
most luxurious hotels in their respective cities. Visionary hotelier announced to his friends that he was not building a hotel for an event, but a monument which would be a source of
pride forever. French architect Joseph Gire was commissioned to design the building and it was inspired by the grandest hotels of the fashionable French Riviera, Carlton in Cannes
and Negresco in Nice.
Although intended to host visitors to the centennial celebration, Copacabana Palace was not completed in time and it officially opened on August 14, 1923, eleven months after the 1922 commemoration. Hotel boasted an auditorium, two restaurants and six salons. Generously proportioned rooms were furnished with the finest imported pieces: chandeliers from Czechoslovakia, furniture from Sweden, carpets from England, Baccart crystal, Limoges porcelain... Over one thousand employees were at the ready to serve the 230 apartments, a ratio unseen even in the Europe's greatest hotels, and to secure the best possible service for his hotel, Guinle brought some of the top professionals from Europe, among them almost the whole team of the gastronomic myth, chef Auguste Escoffier from the London's Savoy.
Being born in a city recognized throughout the world for its carnival, just a few months after its inauguration, in February 1924, Hotel started the tradition of holding its carnival ball - The Copa ball, held on Carnival Saturday. Together with the Municipal ball, the Copa ball became the most sought after event in Brazil. On the night of the ball, crowds would gather outside the hotel entrance eager to see the arriving celebrities and their dazzling costumes.
With RKO's musical "Flying Down to Rio", Hollywood discovered Copacabana and its palace hotel in 1933. Noted as the first screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the movie feature famous scene with chorus girls dancing on the wings of the airplane flying over Copacabana and in some scenes, directly above the Copacabana Palace Hotel. Although in reality the Malibu beach was used for all the outdoor scenes and the model of Hotel was built at the RKO studio, visits by the rich and famous to Rio multiplied. Among many other names, Hotel's Golden book during this period registered the signaures of Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Errol Flynn, Bing Crosby, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Walt Disney.
In 1938, the hotel inaugurated its Golden Room, Copacabana's first great show venue where some of the world's biggest names would perform over subsequent decades: Yves Montand, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Gilbert Bécaud, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Ray Charles... The truly public debut of the new music style, the bossa-nova, occurred in the same room, in 1961.
With the increasing popularity, the hotel was frequently obliged to turn guests away due to lack of space. In 1946, on the site formerly occupied by hotel's tennis courts, construction of a new wing started and two years later, the eleven-storey all-suite Annexe was opened. With its separate lobby and reception it became popular for its less formal atmosphere, especially among Brazilians.
In 1949, 500 seat, state-of-the-art Copacabana Theatre opened as the successor to the old Copacabana Theatre Casino. The new theatre soon became known for welcoming new Brazilian productions, in a market still heavily dominated by foreign acting companies and European playwrights.
Following the death of Octávio Guinle in 1968, his widow Dona Mariazinha Guinle took over the management of the Hotel, determined to continue her husband's legacy. However, with large number of modern international chain hotels built in the South Zone, competition in the field inceased dramatically. The gloomy clouds begin to hover over the Rio's grandest hotel and during the next two decades, various plans began to emerge, many of which involved the demolishion of this Brasil's gem.
In 1989, after more then sixty years of Guinle family management, Copacabana Palace got a new owner - Orient-Express Hotels, Trains & Cruises. The Hotel has undergone an extensive refurbishment program, which was designed to retain and enhance the hotel's position as one of South America's top hotels. By the end of 1991, the hotel's pool area which houses one of the city's largest and most attractive swimming pools was fully renovated.
From 1991 to 1995 some of the Tower Building and the Main Building accommodations were renovated and modernized and the sixth floor which houses seven Penthouse suites was added to the hotel. In September 2006 the Antique Casino was reopened after an extensive renovation and restoration programme giving three of the most beautiful Function Rooms in Rio de Janeiro.
Over the years the Copacabana Palace has maintained a leading role in Brasil’s hospitality scene and recorded the signatures of celebrities from all over the world in its Golden Book: Edward VIII, George VI, Baron Henri de Rotschild, H.R.H.Princess Alexandra, Princess Soraya Esfandiari, Princess Maria Beatrice de Savoia, Countness M. Isabella di Savoia Genova, Gina - Princess of Liechtenstein, Helen Shan - Princess of Nepal, Princess Margrit of the Netherlands, HRH Prince Wilhelm of Netherlands, HRH King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, T.R.H.Charles & Diana, TRH Juan Carlos & Sofia of Spain, King Harald V & Queen Sonja of Norway, Princess Victoria of Sweden, François Mitterand, Winnie & Nelson Mandela, Helmut Kohl, John Major, Li Peng, Roman Herzog, Vaclav Havel, Kofi Annan, Santos Dumont, Guglielmo Marconi, Captain Jacques Cousteau, Noel Coward, Igor Stravinsky, Arturo Toscanini, Zubin Mehta, Franco Zefirelli, Kiri Te Kanawa, The Platters, Chuck Berry, Mick Jagger, Iron Maiden, White Snake, Ozzy Osbourne, Duran Duran, Sting, George Michael, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, Jim Jarmush, Orson Welles, U2, Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz, The Police, Robbie Williams, John Wayne, Mary Pickford, Ann Miller, Ava Gardner, Liza Minelli, Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly, Anthony Quinn, Alain Delon, Gina Lollobrigida, Roger Moore, Robert de Niro, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Gere, Mickey Rourke, Jean Claude Van Dame, Patrick Swayze, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakinen, Pele, Enrico Coveri, Patrick Louis Vuiton, Hubert de Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Claudia Schiffer, Philip Starck and many more.