Pool views of Sugarloaf Mountain
About 75 miles outside Rio de Janeiro, nestled between a soft beach and lush rainforest, Club Med Rio das Pedras completed an $8 million renovation this year. The 320 rooms, restaurants and convention center were all upgraded, and there’s a host of new group amenities.
At one end of the 74-acre property, the new adults-only pool area hosts group mixology lessons, where everyone learns how to make the national caipirinha rum drink. At the other end of the resort, the expanded watersports center offers group lessons revolving around waterskiing, wakeboarding, snorkeling, sailing and kayaking. All motorized watersports are included in the group rate, which is something rare in the all-inclusive universe.
When staying in one of the revamped deluxe rooms, you really do feel like you’re in a sun-soaked Brazilian home. French architect Marc Hertrich used classical tropical color schemes of teal and pink, unique feather lamps hanging on the wall and large sliding glass doors opening out to a short path leading straight to the ocean.
The guest rooms have flat screen TVs, mp4 players and fast WiFi ready. Chill out on the super soft beds below a giant ceiling fan that blows the cool breeze over you.
“I sought to create contemporary apartments, comfortable and colorful,” says Hertrich, who headed up the redesign. “I also wanted them to take into account the nature of the lush surroundings.”
Room furniture is designed to evoke local Brazilian culture. The headboards are lined with track lighting and were inspired by the pediments of 18th century baroque churches. The nightstands are made of native wood called Cumaru.
“We believe in a deep immersion destination experience,” says Patrick Mitchell, vp of U.S. sales. “Each Club Med is a bit different because they’re designed to make you feel like you are in a destination.”
From your room you can stroll along the beach to the main pool with a brilliant view of the verdant rainforest. That’s right next to the bar area and performance venue, where Club Med puts on colorful nightly themed parties.
The main restaurant was redesigned and expanded for 790 people. It’s designed with five unique areas of seating, each with a different theme, so it’s easy for planners to create a semi-private venue. Club Med also offers buyouts through its Rent a Village program.
Club Med just reopened its convention center after a $2.5 million renovation. The modern facility is 10,200-sf, divisible into six breakout rooms. Whether you want to have dinner in the Alps or a business meeting in the desert, the rooms can be transformed into a wide array of decor themes.
I definitely noticed that the staff at Club Med Rio went out of their way to make sure everyone in our group experienced Brazil the way each of us wanted to. The staff all seemed to speak at least three languages and they’re all multi-talented. At night someone might be teaching you a dance move or serving you a drink. The next day that same staff member is leading a class in archery or craft making. All the activities can be specialized as teambuilding events for groups.
My favorite activity was an archery event where five people at a time stand at their mark waiting for the instructor to yell “shoot.” You fire three arrows at the targets and everyone howls with encouragement when you hit the target. With the mountains as a backdrop and your friends rooting you on, it kind of feels like something out of Robin Hood.
There’s also a great kayaking adventure along a shallow river winding through the jungle around the resort, where you can hang out with Brazilian wildlife. We met a few tiny monkeys who walked up to us and took food from our hands.
For something a little less spirited, organize a 90-minute nature walk through the jungle with one of the resort’s naturalist guides. Our guide told us many different stories about the exotic trees, plants and birdlife. And then we stopped for a refreshing swim under a natural waterfall.
RIO DE JANEIRO
Words cannot describe the exhilaration while riding the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio, because this is easily one of most breathtaking urban landscapes in the world. Everyone in our group jumped at the chance to take in the 360-degree views up top.
Likewise the enthusiasm for a visit to the mountaintop base of the Christ the Redeemer statue. The largest Art Deco statue on the planet is mesmerizing up close, almost as much as the views.
Our favorite part of Rio was Ipanema Beach, one of the most upscale neighborhoods in the city. We visited the oldest cafe in Rio, the Confectionery Colombo, founded in 1894. It feels like you’ve been transported back in time when you walk downstairs into the classic bakery with some of the best key lime pie I’ve ever had. Upstairs, the elegant buffet restaurant features an eclectic range of cuisine from wonderful sushi to a perfect filet mignon. It looks straight out of an old Sinatra movie but the dress code is casual.
For fine dining events, Porcão in Ipanema is one of Rio’s top ranked restaurants. Service staff dressed in tuxedos bring swords of delicious churrasco (Portuguese barbecue) to the table prepared and seasoned in different ways. Then they shave off slices that you request, including my first ever chicken heart. There’s also a regular buffet table with salads, cold pasta dishes and fresh oysters.
Private dining rooms seat groups seat 50-250 pax. Porcão is the perfect place to kick off or end a program in Brazil.
The Angel Orensanz Foundation Center of the Arts is a museum and event space, located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The 3-story building was created as a synagogue in 1849, designed to resemble the Cathedral of Cologne with a tripartite facade of red stone brick that is framed by a pointed gable at the top. The building was designed by German architect Alexander Saeltzer.
The 7,000-sf main floor seats up to 300 pax for a seated meeting or 700 for a reception. The 3,500-sf balcony overlooks the main floor providing additional space for attendees to mingle. The facility includes WiFi, flatscreen TVs and live broadcast capabilities for totally modern events in a magical historic venue.
The building was a favorite space for fashion legend Alexander McQueen, who hosted fashion parties and trunk shoes at the venue until his death in 2010. Other famous events include the wedding of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in 1997.
Famed artist Angel Orensanz bought the building in 1986, renovating the facility into a gallery and studio, modeling the interior to look like the Sistine Chapel. The original dark wood alter, open-air facade and cathedral ceiling provides planners with an open canvas for creative gatherings.
The historic temple includes arch tall lancet windows and doorways. Its larger center door is crowned by triangular molding that is almost as high as the second floor. The tradition of the German Reform Movement of the mid-19th century is thoughtfully displayed on the blue ribbed ceilings and towers. It also has interior wooden vaults, and several tiers of balconies that lead to the museum and studio on the third level.
Island Lodge is located on a small private island 45 minutes from Stockholm in the Swedish archipelago, surrounded by thousands of other islands covered with native forest. There are seven high-tech geodesic dome tents overlooking the water, designed for corporate incentives for up to 14 pax. For planners seeking something way, way out of the ordinary, a couple nights here will have a powerfully calming effect on your group.
I knew this was going to be special because Island Lodge epitomizes the “glamping” and “digital detox” trends. As it turned out, this was one of the best group dinners of my life, best night’s sleep, and surprisingly, best hot tub.
Groups pull up by boat to a small dock in a little cove, leading to a safari-style camp restaurant at the end of the shore. It’s a couple minutes walk up an easy incline to the various camp tents, and as you’re walking your excitement builds in anticipation because you’re not quite sure what to expect.
The large domes turn out to be quite luxurious. They feature blond hardwood floors, animal skin rugs, fantastic beds with Mille Notti fine linens and wool pullovers, and a small wood burning stove. There are six orbital windows in each tent so you have great views of the woods around you.
It goes without saying the area smells fantastic with all of the pines trees surrounding you.