24-hour room service: Hotel Unique Sao Paulo, Brazil

The biggest city in South America is rarely visited by tourists. But the rumours of heavy industry, pollution, traffic gridlock and obliterated colonial heritage are patently untrue. Sao Paulo has a crime rate that is barely a third of Rio's, and has numerous distinctive accommodation options, including the Hotel Unique. Keane, 50 Cent and President Lula da Silva himself are among guests to have slept in this bizarre building, which looks like a cross between a giant watermelon slice and a levitating Noah's Ark. The acclaimed Brazilian designer Ruy Ohtake claimed that he intended it to look like neither upon its completion five years ago.

Either way, the 100m-long by 25m-high inverted arch, with its 95 rooms, has become one of the most distinctive landmarks in Sao Paulo, and its Skye restaurant on the top floor, overseen by adopted Brazilian (though originally French) chef Emmanuel Bassoleil, has won many plaudits for its innovative menu, which includes a huge sushi and sashimi collection plus interesting Latin fusion twists, such as manioc (similar to cassava) gnocchi and shrimp in winter squash. It does, however, all come at prices only very slightly under what you would expect to pay for such quality in London or New York.



LOCATION

Hotel Unique, Avenida Brigadeiro Luis Antonio 4700, Jardins Paulista, Sao Paulo, Brazil (00 55 11 3055 4710; www.hotelunique.com.br).

The hotel is in the fashionable neighbourhood of Jardins, which is swamped with Brazilian designer stores, and home to the D-Edge nightclub, recently voted one of the best in the world by DJ magazine for its low-pretence, high-party atmosphere and incredible sound system. The best view of the area is from the oblong red-tiled, heated swimming pool located on the roof of the Unique. It comes alive at night with the fashionistas of the city, and during the day, a dip here gives you an astonishing 360-degree panorama of the city's skyscrapers all jostling for position.

Time from international airport:

A 40-minute drive, approximately, from Guarulhos airport.



COMFORTABLE?

The sepulchral echoes within the vast reception were instantly rendered warmer by the offer of a complimentary glass of champagne as I checked in. Excessively beautiful Prada-clad staff slink demurely around the curved corridors that, with dark-blue light coming only from the floors, give one the feeling of gliding through a fish tank. My room was one grade up from the most basic, and was reasonably compact and almost completely white, with a large porthole window over which a wooden screen would glide at night via remote control from the bedside. Attention has been paid to ergonomic detail, with both the pine desk and huge mirror being movable on their axes. The bathroom contains a shower with a head the size of a dustbin lid, and the bath, complete with inflatable opaque pillow filled with luminous green feathers (it looks better than it sounds), also turns into a powerful Jacuzzi, once you master the controls at the end of the tub.

Freebies: A superb range of toiletries, including facial scrubs and shower gel (very rare in South American hotels). A small, exquisitely prepared cake or pastry was delivered to my room in the early evenings, and there is a discreet box filled with condoms and chewing gum on the bedside table.

Keeping in touch: There are free internet terminals in the beautiful library space in the lobby, and high-speed internet connection for a laptop in all of the rooms. An 18in plasma-screen Panasonic TV shows a huge variety of international channels, and there is a vast bedside menu of DVDs that can be rented for 15 reals (£3.80) each a day. There is also a charger for MP3 players.



THE BOTTOM LINE

Standard rooms start at US$333 (£167) per night. The room I stayed in (de-luxe room-type B) costs $433 (£216) per night. The Rodeo Drive Suite is a credit-card scorching $932 (£466) a night; all excluding breakfast.

I'm not paying that: the Pousada Dona Zilah (00 55 11 3062 1444; www.zilah.com) is the only pousada (a small, family-run lodge) in the Jardins neighbourhood, and has double rooms starting at 136 reals (£38) per night, including breakfast.

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