The thrill of Brazil By Pamela Price

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The Kurotel Gramado is run by the Silveira family. They have created a spa with a complete healthcare clinic, designed to "awaken clients to the joy of living."

Special to The Malibu Times

Gramado, Brazil-After looking at a movie poster from the 1950s, advertising the film, “The Thrill of Brazil,” starring Evelyn Keyes, Keenen Wynn and Veloz and Yolanda, with Ann Miller thrusting her leg forward with a big red ribbon, the thought occurred to me I had 90,000 miles ready to expire on my American Airlines Advantage account.

I always wanted to visit Brazil, and this was the time to make it happen. Within an hour I confirmed a roundtrip ticket to Sao Paulo, a week’s stay at the Kurotel Gramado and three nights at the inimitable Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro.

The first destination, the Kurotel Gramado in the mountains of southern Brazil, was more like a Bavarian village in Germany. Located about one hour and 40 minutes by car from Porto Alegre’s Salgado Filho International Airport, the relaxing drive to the resort revealed more than what I had anticipated.

On both sides of the main street, at least a half-dozen chocolate shops bursting with truffles, hot fudge sundaes and nut-encrusted bars gazed back at me. I was on my way to a spa, where this would be considered contraband. At one shop, called Lugano, a display of chocolate cell phones tempted tourists. At another, 3-foot chocolate elves lured chocolate lovers to peruse counters filled with chocolate goodies. Add to this, leather shops, boutiques featuring well-known designers, several fabulous furniture and shoe showrooms and a plethora of restaurants, from simple to simply elegant. All of this was within walking distance of the Kurotel, built in the European colonial style, surrounded by gardens and walking paths and honeycombed with treatment rooms, a spacious gym, indoor swimming pool for exercise and a dining room, with views as delightful as the spa cuisine.

The Kurotel is owned by the Silveira family, the spa is the creation of Neusa and Luis Carlos Silveira. In their family book, “Kurotel Longevity Center and Spa,” their children, all actively involved in the Kurotel, wrote about their parents vision to “put into practice” the dream they had in common to create a spa that was a complete healthcare clinic, with a beauty clinic, fitness spa-inspired cuisine among other components, all designed to “awaken clients to the joy of living.”

Opened in 1982, the Kurotel is rooted in preventive medicine and they make the process of taking control of your health an enjoyable journey. The Silveira’s daughters, Evelise, a physician, Rochele, general administration, Barbara, clinical administration, and Marila, a physician, blend together to make the Kurotel one of a kind.

The Aesthetics Department recognized the importance of chocolate as much as I did-I will long savor their chocolate-inspired treatment, which started with a warm Jacuzzi-style bath, scented with chocolate, followed by a massage with lotions infused with chocolate. I bought a few bars of Kurotel’s private labeled chocolate soap in their boutique as a reminder of this delicious treatment.

Leaving the Kurotel was bittersweet. I stopped at Prawer, a chocolate factory specializing in factory tours where visitors see handmade delights from thin strawberry and orange-flavored dinner mints to cocoa-covered almonds. It turned out the founder, Jayme Prawer, had been a successful dentist prior to establishing his successful chocolate enterprise.

The flight between Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro took a few hours with a change of planes in Sao Paulo (where, a spa friend told me, there are more than 5,000 pizza restaurants).

Arriving at the legendary 108-room, 118-suite Copacabana Palace was spectacular, as the sun was setting over a nearly deserted beach. August is the off-peak season and the crowds I had anticipated did not materialize.

Philip Carruthers, the general manager, told us about the hotel’s renovation and urged us to view the photo gallery on the second floor. An array of entertainers stayed here at one time or another, from Linda Crystal to Mick Jagger, and it’s all recorded in a marvelous book sold in the hotel’s Orient Express boutique. An unexpected service was a tape library of Academy Award winners, curated by James B. Sherwood, chairman of Orient- Express Hotels, starting with the first, “Wings,” in 1927/28.

The exchange rate of around three reals to one dollar made for some startling bargains, especially for shoes, leather fashions and dining. Dinner at Marius Crustaceos, about 10 minutes from the hotel, where Brazilian seafood takes on epic proportions in the way of lobster, crab, salmon and anything else swimming around these waters, was around $50 for two. Shoe-wise, an exquisite pair of white leather hand-tooled shoes with a matching purse, $50.

The facts:

Kurotel Gramado: reservas@kurotel.com.br, or Spa Trek 800.272.3480; e-mail: info@spares.com

Prawer: www.prawer.com.br

Copacabana Palace, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, info@lhw.com; www.lhw.com; 800.223.6800

Varig Brasilian Airlines: 800.468.2744; www.varigbrasil.com . The flight between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo departs daily and is 11 hours, 40 minutes long. The current fare is $921.40 roundtrip. Contact Varig Travel Vacations for package deals at 877.687.1000; www.varigtravelvacations.com.

Recent find on Web: Rio de Janeiro vacation, four nights Rio and one night Iguasseo Falls-$1,219 per person (air and land).

Marius Restaurants: www.marius.com.br.

Recommended Reading: “The Brazilians,” Joseph A. Page, www.perseusbooksgroup.com . “The Brazilian People-The Formation and Meaning of Brazil,” Darcy Ribeiro, www.upf.com.

Pam Price is the author of “100 Best Spas of the World” published by the Globe-Pequot (www.globepequot.com); radiotrav2002@aol.com