Arriving on time in Sao Paolo, we were whisked to Picinguaba, a 4-hour journey through verdant hills to the coast. Although I normally defer relaxation to the end of a vacation, we had no complaints about starting this one with what was virtually horizontal time here - a small and very charming boutique hotel on the outskirts of a fishing village. Though the rooms were simple, the views from the balconies were mesmerising, the pool and indoor sitting areas enticing, and the service and food top notch. All entirely justifiably excuses to do little, but there are walking trails, kayaks and boats for local island excursions if you feel the need to work up an appetite.
On, but not very far, to Casa Cairucu, an idyllic little house perched on the side of a hill and just a 15-minute boat ride from the beautiful 17th century port of Paraty. Another very chilled place where you keep an eye out for turtles and dolphins (without moving from the deck!), hike to local beaches, kayak, sail and swim. Although mainly self catering, a maid comes in the morning and will cook pre-ordered meals for you. The house has just three bedrooms and so is ideal for a family..
It was time though to be a bit more active and head for Ibitipoca, a spectacular journey through stunning scenery that gave us the feel for the real, untouched Brazil. Deep in the hills, and either a four hour drive or short helicopter ride from Rio, Ibitipoca was a place I had always wanted to visit but it still far exceeded my expectations. The house itself was built in 1715 and is equally steeped in history and nature. A reception committee of two macaws and a toucan set the tone, and it was all wonderfully relaxed (certainly no dressing for dinner), but at the same time everything you could want was provided for and the various hikes and horse rides were fabulous. Plenty of fresh water pools to swim in as well, including a particularly large one, kitted out with a bar and changing room, a short walk from the house.
We were allowed a brief interlude of peerless luxury and location at Brazil’s two Belmond hotels, the iconic Copacabana Palace in Rio and Das Cataratas on the edge of the Iguazu Falls, before heading across the border into Argentina and the Iberra Wetlands. Although neither as remote or as immersed in nature as some of the other wetland lodges, the accommodations and food at Puerto Valle again far exceeded expectations and it had the advantage of being just 40 minutes from the local airport. The lodge overlooks the Parana River, so is great for bird-watching, there are howler monkeys in the trees and you don’t have to foray very far afield to find capybara, caiman in their hundreds and other exotic wildlife. All rooms overlook the river and, with a quick flick of the remote control, you can open your drapes and watch the sun rise over the water river without moving from your bed. Other more exhausting activities include boat trips on the lagoon, kayaking, hikes and horse-riding.
I have been very lucky to have visited Brazil and Argentina several times. They have all been very different experiences, but all share one common ingredient. Each time I leave, I do so feeling that I have barely scratched the surface but with the satisfaction of knowing that I had all sorts of reasons to return."
Sara Willis, Brazil, July 2016