The Festival do Rio and RioMarket headquarters are based this year in the São Conrado area of Rio de Janeiro and many of the festival guests are staying at the iconic Hotel Gran Meliá Nacional Rio (photo) or the Royal Tulip Rio São Conrado.

São Conrado, which sits between Ipanema / Leblon and Barra da Tijuca, is home to the elegant, picturesque and exclusive Gávea Golf Club, , and the Fashion Mall with its popular selection of eclectic restaurants and cafes, as well as many stores featuring some of the top names from Rio de Janeiro’s vibrant fashion scene.

São Conrado is a residential area of extremes. On the one hand you have Brazil, and possibly Latin America’s largest shanty town (favela) Rocinha, which sits picture postcard pretty, clinging to the side of the mountain, then up the scale, and by a margin, the condominiums of high rise apartments and - in the trees above the golf course - some of Rio’s more spectacular houses.

São Conrado, Gávea Beach or Pepino, as the trendy part of the beach to the west is better known, is not only a beach but also the backdrop for the city’s hang gliders that fill the sky at times with their colourful kites. The centre for hang and para gliding in Rio is Pedra Bonita, the mountain that sits behind São Conrado from where the flyers can be seen circling down to land.

Since the Olympics in 2016, São Conrado is now linked to most of the rest of Rio, including Ipanema, Copacabana and Centro, and even Barra, by the city’s modern metro system. The station is just a five-minute walk from the hotels and many festival venues are close to metro stations.

Hotel Gran Meliá Nacional Rio – Strong Artistic & Film Links

São Conrado and the Hotel Gran Meliá Nacional Rio have a long history with art and culture. The hotel itself is a building that was designed by the great Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, and when it originally opened its doors to guests back in 1972 it was billed as the largest and most modern in South America.

Recognised as a national heritage site, Gran Meliá Nacional Rio houses examples of some of Brazil’s most treasured modern art. The entrance of the hotel, the wall behind the bar area features the “Painel de Carybé” created by Hector Bernabó (aka Carybé), a painter, sculptor, historian and journalist. The artwork includes 270 individually sculpted concrete slabs depicting classic carioca characters. It is worth taking the time to check out as it is all too easy to miss it.

Burle Marx’s gardens are also a legacy belonging to the hotel and feature 46 species of native Brazilian plants and classic paving stones, known as “calçado”, which have been imported from Portugal. Roberto Burle Marx was a Brazilian landscape architect whose designs of parks and gardens made him world famous. He often worked in partnership with Niemeyer including on the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, and São Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park

The hotel previously hosted FestRio, a film festival that in the 1980s preceded Festival do Rio. At the time the hotel boasted a 1,600 seater theatre that was home to the festival’s main screenings. An internationally competitive festival, the first festival in 1984 awarded the Golden Toucan to a Brazilian film, Eduardo Coutinho’s Cabra Marcado para Morrer, a film that went on to win the FIPRESCI prize at the following year’s Berlin Festival.

FestRio came to international attention after a film by a relatively new British director, Stephen Frears, won the Golden Toucan in 1986 for My Beautiful Laundrette (a film that appropriately is screening this year at Festival do Rio as part of British Queer Classics), and the following year the festival discovered German director Percy Adlon’s Out of Rosenhein (later renamed Bagdad Café), that won the Golden Toucan and went on to international acclaim winning 13 major awards and an Oscar nomination.

The hotel’s theatre, which was located directly across from the hotel’s main door and is still to be renovated, regularly hosted international stars including shows from the likes of Liza Minnelli, Shirley Bassey, Julio Iglesias, Roberta Flack, Ray Conniff, Burt Bacharach, and Mikail Baryshnikov. The theatre was also home to the city’s main jazz festival, Free Jazz, which at the time (1985-2001) was considered to be one of the world’s most important annual international jazz gatherings.

Artists to play and stay at the Nacional during the Free Jazz Festival included Chet Baker, George Benson, Art Blakey, Michael Brecker, Kenny Burrel, Larry Carlton, Ron Carter, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, Chick Corea, Gil Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Philip Glass, Stephane Grapelli, Joe Henderson, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Al Jarreau, Stanley Jordan, Kenny G, Albert King, B.B. King, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, John Mayall, Pat Metheny, Bobby McFerrin, Gerry Mulligan, Courtney Pine, Lee Ritenour, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, David Sanborn, Diane Schuur, Nina Simone, Jimmy Smith, Cecil Taylor, Toots Thielemans, McCoy Tyner, Sarah Vaughan, Grover Washington Jr., Joe Williams, The Count Basie Orchestra, The Manhattan Transfer, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Spyro Gyra, Take 6, U3 and the Yellow Jackets, as well as such unlikely “jazz” acts as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and James Brown.

Festival do Rio activities and events are also taking place at the neighbouring Royal Tulip Rio São Conrado.

In the 1980s the hotel was best known for being the host hotel for Brazil’s Formula One Grand Prix and its parties. São Paulo had hosted the first six Brazilian Grand Prix races until a new Rio circuit was built in Barra da Tijuca, close to Jacarepaguá, and opened in 1978. São Paulo then held the 1979 and 1980 races before losing the Grand Prix to Rio in 1981, the city hosting the race for nearly a decade, a period when Brazilian drivers such as Nelson Piquet, in a Williams, and Ayrton Senna, in a McLaren, were winning the drivers' championship. The Rio circuit was dismantled many years later and the area used to build the Olympic Village.

During the 2014 World Cup the hotel was chosen by the England team to be its base of operations. 

The Olympic Village is not the festival’s only Olympic connection as the Lagoon complex, where the main Première Brasil screenings are taking place, was an Olympic and Paralympic venue as it marked the end of the rowing and kayaking course, and is where the medals were presented.

The festival also has another Oscar Niemeyer connection with films being screened in Niteroi at the Niemeyer designed Contemporary Art Museum, MAC.