Top Brazilian Hotelier Goes International

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 estancias. 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.

The Fasano Las Piedras is an unconventional, sprawling resort with lobby, restaurant and bungalows spaced a considerable distance from each other along meandering paths. Inside the lobby, a series of drawing rooms lined in bookcases, vintage photographs and antiquities lead off from the one-room reception. Unlike the Fasano's Rio property, which the family joined mid-development by designer Phillipe Starck after the departure of Argentine hotelier Alan Faena, Las Piedras is all Fasano, with all the old-world Italian glamour of the original Sao Paulo property but with a country edge of worn leather sofas and industrial lamps among rafter ceilings and wide-plank wood floors.

The size of the property is best captured on the lawns surrounding the main lobby, facing a panorama of pampas that will eventually be home to a nine-hole Arnold Palmer golf course, polo field, horse staples and some 50 private villas (available for purchase). Guest rooms are a bit of a walk from the main lobby, unless you can get a ride in one of the electric carts roving the property. Rooms are contained within 32 freestanding, modernist bungalows of raw concrete designed by architect Isay Weinfeld, who's at work on the Fasanos' other new hotel, in Boa Vista outside Sao Paulo. It's a second joint development with JHSF.

While most North Americans come to Punta del Este for the beach experience, Brazilians consider it more of a country getaway. It's a 15-minute drive from the beach, and days can be spent along the free-form rock pool with outdoor bar or in a private lagoon with sand beach, where water skiing will have to suffice until the hotel's private beach club is unveiled. Getting to hot spots such as Jose Ignacio or La Barra, the closest village to the Fasano, is a slight inconvenience requiring a rental car or transportation arrangements through the hotel.

Dinners are enjoyed in the casual Las Piedras all-day restaurant or hilltop Fasano Restaurante occupying a promontory a short drive from the main reception. A mix of jagged, modern architecture and classic midcentury Italian design features vintage seating arrangements and a large glass-enclosed terrace with period patio furnishings and banquette seating positioned to catch the sunset. Despite its youth, the food is exceptional. The grilled octopus, homemade penne with white cod and classic veal chop with buttery gnocchi rivals the best in Punta del Este.

Most hotels here close from March to October. Fasano Las Piedras will remain open year-round, with room rates dropping to $600 to $850 per night and the formal eatery offering scaled-back service from April through October.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.

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