Is there a better party out there than Carnival in Rio? Believed to be the biggest Carnival in the world with over 2 million people shaking it in the streets in the days leading up to Lent, it’s a spectacular – and slightly overwhelming – event. The city’s first records of Carnival date back to 1723, and the first masquerade ball came on the scene in 1840s. However, it wasn’t until the Copacabana Palace opened its doors that the city’s celebration assumed its most glamorous and extravagant expression with the Copa’s first carnival ball in 1924.
The Ball has drawn international style icons, politicians and celebrities to rub shoulders with Rio’s elite for almost 100 years. Memorable guests include Brigitte Bardot, Orsen Wells, Rita Hayworth, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Christian Louboutin to name a few, and today the Ball still presides as the grand dame of Carnival events. This year’s theme, “Dolce Carnival”, celebrated Italy, a country known and loved for its “beauty, heritage, food and wine, (…and) strong women” transforming the hotel’s Golden Ballroom into a Venice landmark – St. Mark’s Square. (Conveniently, St. Mark’s Square is just a stone’s throw from The Copa’s sister property – Hotel Cipriani our favorite spot in Venice!)
David and I have had the honor of experiencing Belmond properties around the world and they have been the base for some of our most treasured travel memories. From staying on the top of Machu Picchu at their Sanctuary Lodge, to taking the trip journey of a lifetime aboard the Venice-Simplon Orient Express Train from Venice to London, Belmond’s collection invites you into some of the most spectacular experiences around the world. And their Carnival Ball may just top them all.
It was a true pinch me moment when we were invited to attend and we took the opportunity to give you an insider’s perspective on this legendary party. I hope that everything I’m sharing on Instagram and here aren’t seen as boasting – we really try to use these opportunities to give you, my readers, an insider’s look at something rare and special – whether it’s to feed your curiosity or help you plan a trip of your own. When we were preparing to ride the Orient Express, I was surprised at how little information was available online outside of Belmond’s website, and wanted to use our trip to provide a full, image-rich portrait of the experience.
One of the things I love most about these pictures from Dolce Carnival is the outrageous colors splashed across every scene, which is true to the dazzling experience of moving through the halls of the ball. Every guest walks the red carpet as they enter the event, past a throng of photographers and onlookers pressed against the velvet ropes, then up the stairs to be greeted by a chorus of gondoliers in red and white striped shirts, ultimately ushered into the party by a parade of Venetian masks and period costume.
Stepping into the main hall is like entering a lemon grove, an effect created by the thousands of real lemons clustered on the ceiling overhead. As guests fan out into other rooms to grab an Aperol Spritz at the bar, dine on frutti di mare in the dining hall, or take to the dance floor alongside an 11-piece band, it’s clear the event draws the who’s-who of Rio. And yet you feel zero pretension, only mirth, mischief and revelry as guests greet old friends with a kiss and then go out of their way to compliment a stranger’s gown. In the bathroom, I joined two other women in helping a third right her elaborate headdress that was slipping, and another offered me a band-aid when she saw me adjusting my heels, all conversations slipping between Portuguese, English, Italian, and the occasional charades.
The party started at 10 pm. Luckily we had just flown in from San Francisco that morning and jet lag worked to our advantage. Free-flowing Chivas Regal and a beautiful spread of Italian delicacies kept guests energized throughout the night. At 1:30 am, the queen of this year’s ball, actress Deborah Secco, entered with a dramatic dance tribute to well-loved Italian actress Sophia Loren before receiving her crown. Partygoers followed her lead and rushed back to the dance floor, joined by samba dancers in their elaborate attire. We fell in with a group of expats, and danced from room to room throughout the night. Outside the hotel’s walls the party continued in the streets, as all of Rio imbibed the most effervescent night of the year.
David and I love any excuse to dress up and I was excited to borrow this stunning red dress from one of my favorite New York based designers – Mestiza. Since discovering their collection last year, I’ve turned to them time and time again for evening wear, as seen here in a blue and white gown for a dinner party in Suffolk, England and in a goldenrod gown for a wedding in Palm Springs and cannot get enough of their affordable couture collection. (Full blog post on them coming soon – I’m such a fan!) I picked up my matching headpiece at the costume atelier Belmond had welcomed into their lobby for the event, and while I’ll have little occasion to wear it back home, it will always be a vibrant reminder of one sparkling night in Rio.
A huge thank you to Belmond for including us in the event of the year. We love you guys!