Posts from the ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’ Category

Paraty, Brazil transformed into Breaking Dawn’s Isla Esme

Esme, Schesme! Call it whatever you like, but Bella Swan and Edward Cullen’s honeymoon took place in Paraty, Brazil, a quaint colonial town about three hours southwest of Rio.

Of course, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (along with Stephanie Meyer) did due diligence in the vibrant capital city (a few scenes were filmed in Rio’s Lapa district, a hotbed for samba and forro bars and they spent a night or two at Copacabana Palace), but it’s the old cobblestoned, colonial town of Paraty that plays “body double” for Isla Esme.

Probably a good thing, since Brazilian Twihards swarmed the young stars from the moment they arrived on a private chartered jet at Rio de Janeiro’s Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport.

Paraty (pronounced Par-ach-ie, like the sandals) is off-the-beaten path and charmingly subdued. In fact, its cobblestone streets (at least in the Historic Central District) have sworn off cars, letting them in on Wednesdays only for deliveries. Allowed vehicles are bikes and horse-drawn carriages.

Stewart and Pattinson spent much of their time on boats, frolicking in Pedra Branca and Andorinhas waterfalls and jetting to the 300 beaches of Paraty’s Bay of Ilha Grande.

Dotted with tropical islands, this picturesque bay was once the port from which gold from Minas Gerais, one of the world’s richest gold mines, was transported. Pirates, hiding in the many coves, plundered the ships and drank cachaca, a sugar cane liquor produced by more than 250 local distilleries. The 720-mile Gold Trail starting in Paraty and leading through the Bocaina mountains and one of the last stands of Atlantic rainforest is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After Brazil gained its independence from Portugal and gold production slowed down, Paraty was all but forgotten. The population declined from 16,000 to around 600. Today, it has been revived as a popular vacation spot for Brazilians who come to enjoy the pristine architecture, the low-key beaches and hikes through the rainforest.

As for Stewart and Pattinson, they enjoyed being “vampire newlyweds” in 17th century paradise.

The other Beverly Hills

Punta del Este, Uruguay, often called the Riviera of South America, attracts so many vacationing A-listers that there’s now a Hollywood bus tour.

Stops include the hotel where George Bush stayed (it’s also a popular spot for international summits), the beach where Naomi Campbell was caught sunbathing nude, the bar where Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack drank martinis and the chic just-down-the-road village of La Barra where Ralph Lauren paid $12,000 a day to rent a villa. Oh, yeah, and did I mention there’s a section of town called Beverly Hills.

With 20 miles of beaches, three casinos, all-night discos, a popular yacht harbor (others prefer to fly into the helipad) and Calle 20 where designer-brand stores are as ubiquitous as pizza joints, this ultra-chic peninsula at the mouth of the Rio del la Plata has long been an exclusive getaway for well-heeled South Americans.

But then in the 60’s, the Rat Pack showed up, high-rise hotels and international attention followed and this once-sleepy fishing village became the “it” spot for such luminaries as Robert DeNiro, Princess Di and Fergie, Pablo Neruda and Leonard DiCaprio. Even happily-married Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon have been known to slip away to this glittery Latin American outpost for a bit of sunbathing, shopping and snogging.

When not partying hearty, Punta del Este’s holiday crowd amuses itself shark-fishing, surfing and oogling the 200,000 southern fur seals on nearby Isla de Lobos.

Another popular spot is Casapueblo, a whale-watching promontory outside of town where Uruguayan painter, sculptor, musician and all-around artistic treasure Carlo Paez Vilaro built a home and studio. It’s open to the public with a museum, hotel and a fascinating homage to what Vilaro calls “his personal war against the right angle.”

Also unique in Punte del Este are street signs sponsored by Visa, official parades of bikini-wearing models and restaurants serving seaweed omelettes.

But the most glamorous of all, if you can score it, is an invitation to power-boat racer Laith Pharaon’s annual end-of-the year bash. Held at Estancia El Noor, a rustic 280-acre property near La Barra, the party draws film stars, fashionistas, the world’s best DJ’s and other party people

Starting December 23 and continuing through Easter, Punta Del Este features 25 hours a day of shameless, shallow and tremendous fun.

Breakfast with the giraffes

Surrounded by 140 acres of indigenous bush, the Giraffe Manor, a small exclusive hotel just outside Nairobi, has a resident herd of giraffe who have a tendency to stick their long necks into everything. The butler, in fact, kicks off happy hour each night by offering nuts to Daisy, a 20-foot endangered Rothschild giraffe, and her clan.

In 1974, Jock Leslie Melville and his American wife Betty, concerned about the rare Rothschild giraffes whose natural habitat in western Kenya was disappearing, bought the 15-acre manor (they later added 105 additional acres), moved in Daisy and a partner and started the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife.

After Jock died in 1984, Betty opened the giraffe reserve and its faux Scottish hunting lodge to the public. Giraffe Manor has six bedrooms, one furnished with the furniture of writer Karen Blixen, the dining room is lit by candles only and meals are made with organic fruits and vegetables. Outside, with views of Mount Kilimanjaro to the south, warthogs strut their stuff next to the giraffes. Guests have included Johnny Carson, Walter Cronkite, Brooke Shields, Stephen Sondheim and Sir Mick Jagger.

Stick your neck into their website at

Vamizi Does It

The Zoological Society of London (along with the Mozambique government, a bunch of marine biologists and a cotton gin entrepreneur) recently opened a small ecoresort in the Quirimbas Islands, just off Mozambique’s north coast. The goal is to preserve the island’s diversity (marine biologist Isabel Silva says there are more species of coral here than in the Great Barrier Reef) and to support the local community whose fisherman monitor the green and hawksbill turtles, dugongs and humpback whales. In return, the lodge buys their fish and funds the local school and health clinic.

The resort has twelve thatched wooden bungalows perched on stilts. There’s no television or air-conditioning (cell phones do work), but to make up for it, guests enjoy sunken marble showers, expansive verandas and hand-carved Mozambican furniture and screens. Nelson Mandela and Leonardo DiCaprio are among the lodge’s guests who have hiked out to the island’s old Portuguese lighthouse, past yellow-bellied sunbirds, Samango monkeys and huge Friar butterflies.

Vamizi Island Lodge, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, 00 258 272 21299,