Our choice? The effortlessly trendy Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. We strolled along the waterfront watching the beach stalls, games of volleyball, locals and tourists out running, walking and cycling, and surfers waiting for their next wave.
Our plan for our first day was wonderfully simple - relax on one
of Rio's famous beaches. We stayed at the beachfront Sofitel Rio de
Janeiro Ipanema, in a popular area attracting a slightly more
fashionable crowd than the calmer waters of its more famous neighbour Copacabana. The hotel's loungers on the beach were serviced by one of the beach stalls, offering drinks ranging from fresh coconuts to cocktails.
On day two, the glorious sunshine of the previous day had been replaced by low clouds which clung to the peaks towering over the city, so we took the opportunity to visit the Catedral de São Sebastião, the pretty Santa Teresa area and Sambódromos, Rio Carnival's famous stage. As the cloud cleared we took the cable car to the peak of Sugar Loaf and were rewarded with fabulous views. However Christ the Redeemer remained shrouded, so we're already planning a return trip!
We then boarded Crystal Symphony for our cruise to Buenos Aires, which called at a fantastic mix of ports. I was particularly impressed that every effort was made to incorporate elements of the destination into the cruise experience. The entertainment was enhanced by local singers and a Latin dance quartet, menus featured regional dishes, some of the enrichment lectures focused on South America, and even local beer was on offer, all complementing Crystal's outstanding regular programme.
This was the first time I've sailed with Crystal since they introduced full open seating dining and the new dining venues, and I was hugely impressed. Enjoying the seared prime cuts and a cold caipirinha in Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse, whilst moored just off stylish Buzios, a gorgeous little town once sought out by the likes of Brigitte Bardot, was particularly special.
Every area of the ship felt new, and the Silk Bar and Kitchen, with its cool hanging seats and living walls, was our favourite hangout in the afternoon. In the evening Waterside, the main restaurant, had a fresh modern feel, and the specialist restaurants Prego and Umi Uma were as good as ever.
Our itinerary gave us time to explore Brazil's Ilhabela, literally the beautiful island, with a wonderful backdrop of tall forest-clad hills and golden sand beaches. An overnight in Punta del Este followed, the 'Saint Tropez of South America'. We walked to the famous La Mano, a sculpture depicting a hand partially emerging from the sand.
We explored Uruguay's capital Montevideo, wandering from square to square through flea markets and past hip coffee shops, and we felt we could easily have been in Madrid or Milan. Add a couple of days at sea and we had the perfect two week South American break.
Our final call was Buenos Aires, one of our favourite cities. Unfortunately all holidays must come to an end, and the cold reality of the UK was waiting. At least in our absence the evenings had gotten that little bit lighter, and now I'm writing this spring doesn't feel too far away!