We are on our way to Cantagalo, one of the many favelas in the heart of Rio, to meet Benjamin Cano, a Carioca with French roots who founded a boutique hotel on the edge of Cantagalo called Casa Mosquito.
“Isn’t this a bit of a weird place for a boutique hotel?” Maarten asks me as we head up a small hill.
“That’s the whole point,” I tell him. “It’s a boutique hotel with an ideological twist.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, the way I understood the story from Benjamin is that he bought the house together with his partner, Louis in 2010 with the plan of creating Casa Mosquito. But they had to renovate the whole thing from top to bottom and that’s when they had the idea to integrate the favela and its inhabitants into the project: they hired all the workmen and sourced all the construction material from the favela. And today all the hotel staff and the food are from the favela too. It’s a kind of social entrepreneurship.”
“So it’s like a kind of charity project?” Maarten asks.
“No no,” I say with a smile as we reach Casa Mosquito. “You’ll see for yourself.”
Inside, the hotel is a mixture of vintage chic and modern furnishings, with a series of airy terraces and courtyards linking the different rooms and suites to the dining and lounge area.
As we settle on the terrace and admire the view of the lights on Cantagalo in the early evening and Pão d’Açucar in the distance, Benjamin appears.
“Boa tarde! Bemvindos na Casa Mosquito! Voulez-vous boire quelque chose?”
As we sit down with our cafezinhos, Benjamin starts telling us enthusiastically about his ‘road to Rio’: how he instantly fell in love with it when he first came here and soon after sold everything he had in Paris to relocate.
“So what is it about Rio? Why is it so different?” I ask.
Benjamin ponders for a moment and then turns to me.
“It’s about human relationships. I haven’t experienced such warmth and sincerity anywhere else. I am conscious of it every day.”
“Anouk was telling me a bit about the Casa Mosquito concept, but I’m still intrigued to know why you chose this location in Rio for a boutique hotel,” says Maarten.
“We wanted to integrate the ‘real’ Rio, which also includes the favelas, into the atmosphere of our hotel,” says Benjamin. “The favelas embody the Carioca spirit, they are the guardians of Rio’s authenticity. I really believe that if the favelas ever disappeared, it would mean the true identity of Rio would be lost.”
“That’s a cool concept,” says Maarten, “showing and living a different side of Rio!”
“That’s right!” says Benjamin. “The favelas are the home of samba – there is so much joy there – people in the favelas still smile! Living so close to the favelas and having so many contacts there makes our life so much more fulfilling.”
“Wow,” says Maarten. “So you’re really here to stay!”
“Oh yeah,” says Benjamin with a big smile. “I wake up every day and think how lucky I am live and work in the most beautiful and inspiring place on earth!” He pauses and adds with a smile: “I’m not going anywhere… though we do have a plan to open up another boutique hotel in Bogota some day…”
© 2013 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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Tags: Meeting Benjamin Cano, Benjamin Cano, entrepreneur brazil, Carioca with French roots, Casa Mosquito, boutique hotel rio de janeiro, Casa Mosquito concept, hotel with Carioca spirit , guardians of Rio’s authenticity, ‘real’ Rio hotel, authentic hotel rio