If the attractive mountain town of Nova Friburgo causes you to conjure up images of Julie Andrews crooning “Edelweiss,” you’re not delirious, but merely in one of Brazil’s oldest and only Swiss colonies. Although it’s hard to imagine, in the early 1800s, Switzerland was so (temporarily) poor that 100 Swiss families up and left their hometown of Fribourg to settle in these mountainous climes.
This explains the prevalence of wooden chalets and chocolate shops and the profusion of restaurants serving cheese fondue and raclette. What it doesn’t explain is that Nova Friburgo is the Brazilian capital of lingerie.
In the downtown bairros of Olaria and Ponte da Saudade (near the bus station) are dozens of fine lingerie manufacturers that export nationally and throughout the world, and where discriminating shoppers can pick up some fancy panties, slips, or bustiers for a song.
In the summertime, Cariocas descend upon Friburgo in hordes, and who can blame them? The climate is cool, the pretty architecture is framed by a blaze of brightly colored flowers in permanent bloom, and the surrounding woods are filled with hiking trails and cooling waterfalls.
To survey the surrounding countryside, take a ride from the center of town on a cable car that ascends 1,450 meters (4,750 feet) up to Morro da Cruz (Praça dos Suspiros, tel. 22/2522-4834, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$20). You can also take a steep but gratifying 6-kilometer (3.5-mile) hike up to the 2,310-meter (7,579-foot) summit of Pico da Caledônia; the top provides equally breathtaking views and also serves as a launching pad for hang gliders.
Getting to Nova Friburgo
There is regular bus service with Viação 1001 (tel. 0300/313-1001, www.autoviacao1001.com.br, 5 a.m.–9 p.m. daily) from Rio’s Rodoviária Novo to Nova Friburgo, via Niterói. Although the trip takes three hours, the scenery is breathtaking. Buses arrive at the Rodoviária Sul (Ponte de Saudade), 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) south of the center of town. If you’re coming from Teresópolis, you’ll arrive at the Rodoviária Norte (Praça Feliano Costa) around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) north from the center.
If you’re driving from Rio, you’ll need to head across the Rio-Niterói bridge and then follow the BR-101, BR-104, and BR-116.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition