This elegant little guesthouse is so successfully tucked away in Rio's affluent Gavea neighbourhood that taxi drivers might struggle to find it. Once there, though, that seclusion will be welcome. The hillside La Maison is around 10 minutes' drive west from the beaches and shops of Leblon and Ipanema and further still from the hectic whirl of Copacabana. Its balconies and terraces look out across Gavea, the greenery of Tijuca (the largest urban forest in the world) and, off in the distance, the statue of Christ the Redeemer.
The five rooms represent different corners of the globe. I stayed in the black and white Copacabana suite (Brazil), where a long green stalk on a single potted white flower was the only flash of colour amid neat bed linen (white, with black trim), white woodwork and cupboards, and black and white vintage photos of Rio on black and white striped walls. It was luxurious, but simple and uncluttered, as are the other rooms: Recamier (Europe), Shanghai (China), Tiffany (New York) and a very pretty green and pink Ganesha (India).
Each room has an iHome centre, but no TV and no mini bar. There is Wi-Fi but the connection is hit and miss. With a maximum of 12 guests, the outdoor pool is never crowded.
Served in a cool, airy poolside room with lots of glass and mirrors, breakfast starts with a selection of exotic fruits, fresh juice, tea or coffee. That's followed by a little tray of mini breads and pastries, served in a selection of neat little trays, pots and bowls, all in white. In short: a breakfast in keeping with the stylish surroundings.
La Maison is owned by French brothers Jacques and François Dussol. Jacques manages the property with his wife Aruza, while François was responsible for designing the interiors. Jacques, who's lived in Rio for eight years, was a little distracted during my stay after the recent arrival of his baby daughter and some maintenance work that was taking place, but he and Aruza were always happy to help out by offering location information, maps and helping to organise tours. The brothers also own another Rio property, the upmarket guesthouse La Suite (lasuiterio.com) in Joatinga, run by François.
You're likely to spend a lot of your time either on the beaches of Leblon and Ipanema, or poolside at the hotel. If you are travelling with children, Gavea's Planetarium (00 55 21 2274 0046; planetariodorio.com.br) is a good way to spend a few hours. A five-minute drive east takes you to the neat corridors of amazingly tall palm trees in the 200-year-old Botanical Gardens (00 55 21 3874 1808; jbrj.gov.br), beneath the precipitous slopes of Tijuca National Park, crowned with Christ the Redeemer. As with most parts of the city, rich and poor live side by side: next to upmarket Gavea is Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio. Favela tours provoke mixed feelings: an educational trip for visitors that benefits the local community, or turning the lives of poor people into a human safari? Jacques tries to avoid the latter by booking small-scale tours for guests with Paolo, a former resident of Rocinha (75 reais, written BRL75, about £27).
The pit stop
Guimas (00 55 21 2259 7996; restauranteguimas.com.br) at Rua Jose Roberto Macedo Soares 5 is a small bistro that's a quick taxi ride away. It's popular with locals, especially bohemian types. There are several Brazilian dishes on the menu, including picadinho, a Carioca speciality with meat, rice, farofa and poached eggs. A meal costs about BRL39 (£14) per person.
The bottom line
La Maison pitches itself as an intimate alternative to the big, impersonal Rio beachfront hotels. In terms of location, there are more pleasant areas to stay than the suburbs and shop-filled streets of Gavea. But when you're not at the beach, you're most likely to be back at the house, feeling comfortable and classy inside these stylish walls.
Families are welcome, but La Maison feels more like a romantic getaway for couples: it's almost criminal to come alone.
La Maison Rio, Rua Sergio Porto 58, Gavea, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (00 55 21 3205 3585; lamaisonario.com). B&B starts at BRL385 (£140) double. A transfer from the airport can be arranged for BRL120 (£44).