Four days in the Serra Gaúcha, an area which once welcomed European immigrants, and currently cultivates the traditions of its past settlers with culinary excursions
Those visiting the Serra Gaúcha in southern Brazil will wonder if they’re actually in the sunbathed nation known for its beaches. There, caipirinhas give way to the wines of Bento Gonçalves; Italian songs substitute the samba music; and fondue by the fireplace is a major activity. A region of heavy Italian and German immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s now a cultural melting pot with attractions for the whole family in Gramado and Canela, with mountain landscapes and rural life in Vale dos Vinhedos.
Day 1 - Classic sightseeing
9 a.m. - Around the city center
Perfectly groomed flower beds, Bavarian-style structures and windowsill flowerpots. You might think you’re in Europe, but this is the city center of Gramado in southern Brazil. Avenida Borges de Medeiros has stores that sell leather items and chocolates. Rua Coberta is lined with restaurants. And right in front is the Palácio, home to the Gramado Film Festival - one of the biggest in the country, right next door to Paróquia São Pedro.
2 p.m. - Around the world
Some 40 years ago, Otto Höppner built a dollhouse and a miniature railroad on request from his grandchildren. This was the seed that created the theme park Mini Mundo. Today, it features replicated landscapes 24 times smaller than life-size. It has tiny castles, museums and churches. Even the Beatles are there, just as they appeared on the Abbey Road cover.
4 p.m. - Pedal boats and mate tea
On sunny days, tourists and locals embark on swan-shaped paddle boats on Lago Negro, whose name comes from its dark water. It’s surrounded by a paved walkway with arched lampposts. On the grass, couples and groups of friends stretch out blankets and unfold beach chairs to socialize and enjoy picnics fueled by wine and chimarrão, the Gaúcho-style mate tea.
7 p.m. - Swiss accent
The most famous dish in this city settled by Italians and Germans is... Swiss. The fondue at the restaurant Belle du Valais has three courses. First, a blend of melted Emmental and Gruyère cheese is brought to your table steaming hot. Next, grilled meats are served with 14 different sauces. And the feast comes to an end with fruits to be dipped in chocolate. Choose from among the 200 wine options and bring your appetite.
Day 2 - The Gramado of yesterday and today
10 a.m. - Mad about cars
Sports car fanatics can see – and even drive – some iconic rides at Super Carros. The collection of over 20 hot rods includes five generations of Ferraris, a Lamborghini Galardo Spyder and a Nissan GTR. There’s also a 3D movie theater and simulators.
1:30 p.m. - Italian style
The authentic Gramado is located in the rural area, with wood houses and stone basements. The four-hour tour known as Raízes Coloniais [literally “Colonial Roots”] takes visitors to one such structure owned by 87-year-old Elisabetha Ferrari. At the last stop, tourists are given a feast of homemade bread, cheese and artisanal jam.
7:30 p.m. - Dance and acrobatics
In the theater extravaganza known as Korvatunturi, the story is set in a magic forest inhabited by imaginary beings that protect a great enchanted tree. In this distant land, a human learns to live in joy and simplicity. Music, dance and circus performances are part of this show that leaves kids hypnotized.
Day 3 - Bento Gonçalves
9 a.m. - Stone on stone
A can’t-miss visit, some 3.7 miles [6 km] from Bento Gonçalves, is the stone house that’s home to Cantina Strapazzon. Josiele’s Italian great-great-grandparents began stocking their food and wine there back in 1880. For kids, the best place is the Parque da Ovelha, which offers sheep milking and herding presentations. Foodies will enjoy the cheese, yogurt and desserts made with sheep milk.
12 p.m. - Wine tour
Vale dos Vinhedos is the biggest enotourism destination in Brazil. Start with lunch at Casa Valduga, which has all-you-can-eat pasta and an elaborate wine list. Afterwards, you can take a guided tour of the winery. For 90 minutes, visitors get to see the cellars of reds, and sparkling wines (home to 2.5 million bottles!) and casks, with tasting sessions. A short drive from there, Vinícola Miolo offers the experience of an outdoor bar on weekends, with picnics atop.
4 p.m. - Back to the past
Immerse yourself in the colonial past on a ride on the steam locomotive. The 14-mile [23 km] trip through Bento Gonçalves, Garibaldi and Carlos Barbosa features live performances of Italian and Gaúcho music and dance. Wine, grape juice and sparkling wine tasting sessions are part of the two-hour journey.
Day 4 - Nature in Canela
9 a.m. - Natural beauty
A 10-minute drive from the Canela city center along a country road takes you to Cascata do Caracol, a waterfall that can be observed from two angles. Head for the aerial cable cars at Parques da Serra at 9 a.m. – there, you can enjoy the frontal view. And prepare yourself to be dazzled as the cable car dips toward the amazing 430-foot [131 m] waterfall. The wonder is just as great (or greater!) at Parque do Caracol, less than 0.6 miles or [1 km] away. At the lateral overlook, the sound from the waterfall is louder and your selfies will look spectacular.
2 p.m. - This is Germany
The life and customs of a family of German descent are depicted at Castelinho do Caracol, a two-story house that dates from 1915. Built out of araucaria wood and assembled through a system of slots, it maintains the same original furniture, kitchenware, clothing and utensils. The only new chairs are in the two tearooms, where they serve the house specialty: apfelstrudel.
4 p.m. - Tunnel back in time
Located on the way from Canela to Gramado, this park has a large locomotive as part of its facade. Mundo a Vapor features the miniature machines that metalworker Omar Urbani has been crafting since the 1950s. It has replicas of a steel mill, pottery factory, saw mill and stationery store – that actually work!
LATAM has direct flights to Porto Alegre from: São Paulo, Brasília, Curitiba and 2 other destinations.
Special thanks to: Brocker Turismo, Hotel Villa Bella.