PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay ( TheStreet) -- Judging from the 15 or so G6s and handful of 737 business jets parked at its airport, you'd think you were in Aspen or St. Maarten. But in the past few years, Punta del Este has become the most glittery of wintertime destinations, especially for Brazilians arriving with their fortified reals to gobble up real estate. This year that includes Fasano La Piedras, a joint venture between Brazilian developer JHSF and Fasano Hotels and Resorts that has produced a dramatic hotel with private residences over nearly 1,000 acres.
The name Fasano may be unknown to most Americans, but in Brazil the family's name is the top luxury hotel brand. The family has been part of Sao Paulo since its patriarch emigrated from Milan in 1902 and opened a series of Italian restaurants that attracted international guests from Marlene Dietrich to Fidel Castro and Prince Charles. Almost a century later, under Rogerio Fasano, the family moved its restaurant business to Sao Paulo's Jardin District, where in 2003 it also opened its first hotel -- Hotel Fasano Sao Paulo -- and later the Fasano Rio de Janeiro.
|The bungalow room at sunset at Fasano Las Piedras in Punta del Este.
Anyone who's been to the Uruguayan hot spot knows that the best bits of Punta del Este aren't actually in the city, but just outside near the beach towns of La Barra, Manantiales and Jose Ignacio. It's in La Barra that the paved beach highway gives way to winding, gravel roads into the Maldonado countryside of private farms and rambling
. Fasano gravitas makes itself known first at a gatehouse along a circular driveway, where a security staff of dapper locals in V-neck sweaters and pressed khakis try on their most serious guard act in a place where security rarely goes further than shutting the front door (but not locking it).
The hotel is heavily staffed as the Fasanos works out various kinks. The opening was only Dec. 26.
The actual hotel comes after a series of twists, turns and hills leading past a succession of cubist concrete and glass structures and along a circular driveway to a one-story, U-shaped reception that looks like a rustic private home. A line-up of valet attendants works the easily clogged four-car driveway of hideous subcompact rental cars almost everyone drives (and complains about the cost of -- upward of $1,200 a week) during Punta high season. For most of the year it's not a problem, but for 30 days starting New Year's, prices double and celebrities such as Shakira descend with hefty expectations that are only slowly becoming satiated with the likes of this truly exquisite five-star luxury retreat.