Winter Getaway Splurge: Buzios, Brazil

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It's one of South America's most famous beach towns, the sleepy fishing village of Buzios.

Buzios is located two hours by car from Rio de Janeiro. With a population of 25,000, the town comes to life like a Brazilian Hamptons, with seaside eateries, bass-booming nightclubs and a sexy beach scene that thrives during January and February's high season.

The town gained its glittery reputation as a mainstay of the rich and famous following an influx of French travelers that followed the pilgrimage of Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s. The visit is marked with a bronze statue sitting on a seafront bench that memorializes the actress like a Buzios version of Eva Peron. Surprisingly, it's one of the only tacky things about this city, which has managed to stay free of chain hotels, American retailers and virtually any reminder of the Western world.

How to get there: Add Buzios to a Rio de Janiero trip. You'll drive along a rural two-lane highway traveled by far more pedestrians than actual cars. An odd sight to the American eye, locals use the highway shoulder and center divider as a sort of urban thoroughfare to grocery stores, bus stops and the occasional pharmacy that dot the highway. Just when you thought you couldn't pass one more gasohol-guzzling, pint-sized VW, you'll arrive in a residential neighborhood at the entrance of Buzios.

Where to stay: You'll need to carefully choose a pousada, the charming tropical-style hotels that sometimes feel like a Brazilian interpretation of "Friday the 13th" movies. Luckily there's Casa Brancas, a 32-room hacienda-style pousada overlooking the tranquil waters of Buzios Bay. Guests enter a stone-floored lounge with built-in bookcases and local photography among oversized furnishings and local antiques. Underneath the lobby is a newly added spa offering massages, European facials and yoga classes.

Casas Brancas features a sprawling terrace overlooking the sea with sun loungers, restaurant and rectangular lap pool -- each surprisingly private despite close proximity to one another. Walking the hotel grounds, a meticulous staff carries out daily rituals like linen changes and toilet scrubbing while strewing wildflowers freshly picked from the hotel grounds. While finicky guests complain about the efficiency of room air-conditioning and limited amenities, others choose to focus on the extraordinary setting and views yet spoiled by mass tourism.

Buzios by day: It's the hottest beach club in town and, not coincidentally, where all the super-sculpted surfer babes and dudes hang. Located just outside of town on Geriba Beach, Fish Bone is a frill-free beach shack offering an outdoor bar with sandy floor and nosh menu of barbecue specialties that include the occasional roasted pig. It's located on one of the best surfing breaks in town, not to mention a residential area of villas favored by Calvin Klein and other fashion elite.

Fish Bone isn't much to look at, with its plastic lounge chairs and picnic-style tables. A long bar of well-worn pine is attended by a friendly bartender who tries to keep one eye on the televised game above. Afternoons are a lively après-beach scene of still-tanning 20-somethings and tourists coddling their hefty beers and pitchers of wine. Evenings feature dance parties and luau-like festivities that run till the wee hours of the morning.

Where to eat: Its location couldn't be more ideal. Satyricon occupies an open-air terrace bungalow overlooking the fishing pier at the edge of the main village. Made famous by its legendary sister-restaurant in Rio's tony Leblon neighborhood, this seafood franchise is one of the most famous in Brazil. It features not-so-eager reservationists and a wall of cookbooks that make Ina Garten look like an underachiever.

From afar, the space looks fussier than it is. Inside, however, guests dripping in white linen with fresh tans and plenty of exposed flesh occupy a sleek dining room glowing in candlelight and conversation. Dinner begins with a selection of seafood crudo followed by homemade pastas and a main-course medley of scampi and market-fresh fish baked in rock salt coupled with endless bottles of South American white wines and rose.

Buzios by night: Two nightlife titans currently rule the night. Privilege, the oldest of the two, is larger than most Buzios hotels. It's promoted by a cult of trance addicts that roam the streets of town in Carnival-theme attire, passing out leaflets for free admission. The seafront club is divided between a warehouse-style dance hall and upstairs VIP area accessible by anyone in a cute club outfit or willing to part with 5 Brazilian reais. The crowd includes dressed-up surfers and their waif girlfriends as well as wannabe models looking to be discovered.

The other hotspot is Pacha, the Spanish-embassy of electronic dance that rules the night from Ibiza to Buenos Aires. It's the newest nightclub in town and the preferred address of dressed-up TV actors and Latin celebs. Atop one of the city's prettiest seaside coves, the indoor-outdoor club isn't just for dancing. It's also home to a beach-theme restaurant popular with cliquey locals that prefer a protein diet before hitting the dance floor. The action doesn't get started till 2 a.m., as deafening trance music starts to boom across the bay from this strobe-light-and-fog heaven.

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