Comuna do Ibitipoca

near Lima Duarte, Minas Gerais, Brazil Book from Book from £249 per night

One of Brazil's most memorable experiences: a collection of restored houses dotted around a private nature reserve, inland from Rio
Parrots fly free in the rainforest, cool rivers run through green valleys and caves, and when the sun goes down, the sky is bright with stars. Few foreigners have yet discovered this 5,000ha – larger than the state park that borders it - private reserve and sustainability initiative nearly 3.5 hours north of Rio, where nature rules. The centrepiece of the community inhabiting this reserve is a 18th-century farmhouse of Fazenda do Engenho, one of Brazil’s finest examples of colonial architecture that has been sensitively restored to its elegant beauty. Now called Engenho Lodge, it houses eight suites, plus there's a handful of remote houses spread across the vast reserve. Wherever you choose to stay, you'll find unique bespoke design mixing local, rustic heritage and 21st-century amenities, and stables of Mangalarga horses.

Guided two-daily excursions on foot explore the reserve's natural wonders, caves, valleys and natural wonders, and afterwards you can sink into loungers or the hot water Jacuzzi by Engenho’s courtyard and unwind with a frosty caipirinha. The wonderful spa offers massages and well-being rituals using oils infused with local herbs and plants, plus there are daily yoga classes to balance your mind, too. And the service and welcome are second to none. A stunning place to eat (no less than four restaurants dot the reserve), escape and rejuvenate with a sense of adventure.

Highs

  • You are looked after like royalty: recent guests talk of surprise picnics in the forest, and owners who become your friends
  • A sensational location in Minas Gerais, surrounded by rainforests and the best of rural Brazil’s landscape
  • Fantastic food, drawing on local specialties; all meals are included, and you can dine where you like (there are four restaurants to choose from!
  • The suites are a great size, with rustic chic design and pampering extras (iPod docks, personalised Havaianas, L'Occitane Brasil toiletries). There are private houses, too; and they're perfect for groups
  • The whole project is a truly innovative endeavour to preserve local habitats and to empower local communities and culture

Lows

  • News of the community project has yet to get outside Brazil and you could be the only guests, especially if you stay midweek
  • It’s a four-hour drive from Rio, but in a country as gigantic as Brazil, that's not so bad (and you can helicopter in, if time is tight)
  • It’s expensive but it’s worth every penny
  • It’s an immersive experience within nature, so if you are not open to wildlife... well, you will have to be!

Best time to go

April - September is the best time to visit; winters are dry and cold while summers can be rainy. In winter (June - August) the temperature is between 15-20 celcius (5-10 degrees at night) but summer (December - Februray) temperatures lie between 25-35 celcius (15-20 degrees at night).

Our top tips

Look out for surprises hidden in the forest – including sculptures of renowned artists larger than a rainforest tree. Meeting the wildlife so close is also remarkable – they are free yet they come to you in all their cheeky, wild glory. Toucans interacting with you during your morning yoga class? Yes please!

Before hitting the hay, try a complementary sip of the sugarcane spirit liqueur. The owners are renowned local producers and their collection is vast. According to ‘local belief’, an after dinner shot enhances digestion and makes you sleep like a baby. We wonder how?

Great for...

Eco
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Romantic
Spa
  • Eco Lodge
  • 8 rooms and 4 houses/lofts
  • Four Restaurants On-Site
  • Kids over 8 only, unless booking whole houses
  • Open all year
  • Plunge Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
  • Yoga
Room: Gran Reserva Suite

Rooms

Engenho Lodge, has eight large suites, which are decorated uniquely, with a large dose of elegant rustic flair. They’re spilt into Engenho Suites, a bigger Reserva Suite, and the largest, the Gran Reserva Suite. Beds are made up with 100% Egyptian cotton linen. You also get comfortable armchairs, bathrooms with underfloor heating, copper showers and freestanding Victorian-style tubs. One of the suites has a stunning marble bath in the main bedroom hidden behind long green drapes. Some have views from their baths, towards the hills, the lake and the countryside beyond.

For an authentic taste of life in a rural community, opt for Humboldt Loft (sleeps three), set 9km away in the hamlet of Mogol. Constructed using traditional wattle and daub, it has an open-plan kitchen with kingsize bed, plus a balcony and rolltop bathtub with breathtaking views.

Carlinhos House is set away from the main lodge, with its own private stream and garden. It houses three suites (each with their own bathroom), a living room, a kitchen and an outdoor bathtub with incredible views.

Even further from Engenho Lodge is Areião House - ideal for groups seeking privacy among the mountains, sleeping six. Sitting proudly at 1,500m is Isgoné (sleeps two): where better to enjoy those 360-views than from an outdoor rolltop bathtub? We're yet to see these more remote houses for ourselves, but can't wait to stop by.

All rooms bring together local handicrafts and culture in wall hangings and wooden furniture with other treats like Bose Sounddocks, L’Occitane Brasil toiletries, personalised Havaianas flip-flops and bespoke ceramic water bottles – the mineral water coming from the pure water sources from the reserve.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Havaianas
  • Ipod dock
  • Phone
  • Plunge pool
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Exploring authentic Brazilian cuisine is a delight here - the food is delicious and there are four restaurants to choose from. Ingredients showcase the immense potential of Brazilian staples; fruits and vegetables are from the reserve and region. Meals can be served any location you wish. Lunch by the waterfall, with fruit juice cooling in the fresh-water stream nearby, was a highlight of our stay.

Lunch and dinner at Engenho Lodge's Restaurant make use of the restaurant’s wood-burning stove and include the likes of suckling pig, chicken in brown sauce, polenta with sausage and salads. There's a good wine list too – the hotel works exclusively with award-winning wines from Brazil and Chile, and staff can recommend food and wine matches if you ask.

Breakfast is a spread of warm corn bread, homemade cakes, platters of sliced fruits, and meats and cheeses. Juices are just squeezed; the coffee is freshly ground. Most produce comes from the reserve’s own orchards.

Odette's Health Bistro (800m from the Engenho Lodge) and Yucca (9km from the lodge) serve completely veggie menus. The former works with a nutritionist to create balanced, organic meals and the latter's Minerian dishes are created by Dona Odette on a wood stove.

Located near the village of Mogol, but very much part of the reserve, is Grotão's Farm, where Regina serves up meals (local meat optional) from a wood stove. The restaurant is also a distillery, producing organic cachaça.

Guests staying in any of the accommodations are welcome to reserve tables at all the restaurants in advance. For those staying in the lofts and houses with kitchens (and looking to cook something yourself), meals can be served mise en place on request.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Communal dining
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Walk, ride beautiful Mangalarga horses or borrow a bike: enjoy the views and experience the nature reserve in all its glory at your own pace

  • Or join in the guided tours. All are with local guides from the Ibitipoca reserve and are done on foot or horseback; there are 2 every day. We loved the Hawk Stone Tour, which takes in local villages, valleys and mountains, and stunning waterfalls

  • Other highlights include the Tree of Seven Knights, a huge and remarkable ancient hollow tree (included in many tours), and the Gruta das Andorinhas (Swallows’ Cave), which is 30m long and has views of a 6m high waterfall from inside it

  • Botanists can admire wild orchids, bot and bromeliads, as well as numerous native forest species including manacá da serra, ipe and kapok trees. There's heaps of wildlife to spot too, if you're lucky: Muriqui monkeys, wild boar, jaguars and ocelots, puma and wolves

  • Relax in the spa with views of the lake and mountains; there are a range of massages available. All treatments aim to bring you closer to nature - oils are make using herbs, plants and essences found in the reserve itself (even choosing a herbal tea from the garden)

  • Join a morning or afternoon yoga class - from yin-yoga to ashtanga. Finish with meditation

  • Spend the day at Engenho’s Waterfall, a spot with natural pools and white sands, comfortable sunbeds and excellent Brazilian caipirinhas from the bar

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Beach volleyball
  • Birdwatching
  • Cultural insight
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Horse riding
  • Live music
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Mountain biking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Waterfalls
  • Wildlife
  • Wine tasting
  • Yoga

Kids

Children aged eight and over are welcome. If you are booking all eight rooms at Engenho Lodge or any of the houses then guests can bring kids of any age. The reserve is a wonderful place for children to explore and learn about the environment, flora and fauna, as well as the farm.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Each suite can fit a rollaway bed; baby cots are available for guests booking Carlinhos House or all rooms in Engenho Lodge.

Kid Friendly: Engenho Suite

Location

Comuna do Ibitipoca is set in a forest reserve in the Mantiqueira Mountains near Lima Duarte, in southeast Minas Gerais. It's a 3.5-hour drive from Rio, and 1.5 hours from Juiz de Fora. Transportation should be arranged prior as the reserve doesn’t have yet its own shuttle service and the remote location lacks public transport.

By Air:
Most people will fly into Rio de Janeiro (250km) and drive here. There are also flights from São Paolo to Juiz de Fora, and an airstrip at the farm, which can be accessed by small plane; there are helipads at all points of accommodation. Please enquire for further details.

From the Airport
For independent travellers, we'd recommend hiring a car, please see our car rental recommendations. The 3.5-hour drive from Rio is marvellous - through the mountains of Petrópolis, a former royal colonial town, and through the coffee valleys of Rio and Minas Gerais States. The reserve has secure parking.

Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com

More on getting to Brazil and getting around

Airports:

  • Juiz de Fora 80.0 km JDF
  • Rio de Janeiro 250.0 km

Other:

  • Beach 300.0 km
  • Shops 2.0 km
  • Restaurant 2.0 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 1 independent review from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
10/10
Food
10/10
Service
10/10
Value
10/10
Overall

Everything was perfect!

10/10,

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Rates for Comuna do Ibitipoca

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