Sofitel Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro $$$$
Concierge.com's insider take:
Once the pride of Copacabana, the former Rio Palace Hotel has had its ups and downs since Frank Sinatra headlined its opening-night party in 1979. After a decade in the doldrums, its fortunes changed when the Sofitel chain took it over in 1996, investing heavily to reposition the aging oceanfront property as Copa's premier hotel for tourists and business visitors alike. Bizarrely, city ordinances prohibit change to the building's dispiritingly dated exterior, whose gray-green facade dominates the southernmost stretch of Copacabana's beach. Within, however, Sofitel has introduced tasteful art and occasional design flourishes, while the 388 ample rooms, each with private balcony, are scented with lemon and verbena, washed in autumn tones, and decorated with handsome, well-made furniture. Glass paneling between shower and bedroom lets natural light flood the normally cryptlike bathrooms. Guests can maximize their UV quotient by shuttling between the hotel's two swimming pools, work out in the well-equipped health club, or cool off in the frothing surf, just yards away, where a Sofitel tent brings five-star service to the sands. It's a solid beachside luxury choice, less scene-y than the Fasano, less corporate than the Caesar Park. By night, much-feted French chef Roland Villard prepares lobster, sea bass, and Amazonian tambaqui fish, served to a sophisticated public in the sensuously silk-draped in-house restaurant, Le Pré Catelan.