Accommodations and Food
Nestled in the mountains, the town of Itatiaia is the best and most convenient base for visiting Parque Nacional do Itatiaia. It has many hotels located right on the BR-116 (known as the Via Dutra), which leads to the park’s entrance, as well as several actually in the park.
Chalés Terra Nova (Estrada Parque Nacional, Km 4.5, tel. 24/3352-1458, www.chalesterranova.com.br, R$160–190 d, full board) is one of the latter—located right in the midst of lush Atlantic forest. The basic but comfortable accommodations are split between a main house and individual chalets, which are ideal for groups or families. Aside from a sauna and swimming pool, there is a small lake for trout fishing, a treetop walking course, and access to mountain bikes.
The oldest and one of the finest hotels of the region, the Hotel Donati (Estrada Parque Nacional, Km 9.5, tel. 24/3352-1110, www.hoteldonati.com.br, R$185–280), is also located within the park, in an area surrounded by bromeliads and fragrant pines. Since 1931, its charming chalets have sheltered nature lovers from composer and poet Vinícius de Morais to modernist painter Alberto Guignard (who was inspired to paint the doors and windows of the main cabin). Some of the chalets have Jacuzzis, while all have fireplaces. Among the restaurant’s many offerings are fresh trout and fondues.
Another option is to stay in the town of Penedo, 14 kilometers (9 miles) away and easily accessible by bus. Penedo was founded in 1920 by a Finnish immigrants. Part of a master plan in which forward-thinking Finns set up a handful of self-sufficient, back-to-nature communities throughout South America, the Penedo group was soon forced to deal with the unhappy fact that the mountains in which they settled weren’t fertile for agriculture. While the majority returned to Scandinavia, an optimistic few remained to develop Penedo as a pseudo-Nordic tourist resort. As a result, the town is often overrun with weekenders from Rio and São Paulo who come to purchase local jams and chocolates and visit the Parque Nacional do Itatiaia.
Aside from Saturday polka night at the Clube Finlândia (Av. das Mangueiras 2601, tel. 24/3351-1374), which houses a small museum tracing the history and handicrafts of the region’s Finns, the most prevalent Finnish legacy in Penedo is the many Finnish saunas (a feature of most of the hotels).
One of the most inviting hotels in town is the Pousada Serra da Índia (Estrada Vale do Ermitão, tel. 24/3351-1185, www.serradaindia.com.br, R$150–240 d), which involves a precipitous 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) climb from the center. Perched upon a mountain slope (ensuring atmospheric misty mornings), the delightful Swiss-style chalets offer quite spectacular views. Rooms are cozy and comfortably outfitted with king-sized beds and fireplaces. Aside from the requisite sauna, there is a pool and a spa. Breakfasts include homemade yogurts, compotes, and strudels.
Curiously, in terms of culinary legacies, Swedish food is much more in vogue than Finnish fare in Itatiaia. Restaurante Skandinavia (Av. das Mangueiras 2631, tel. 24/3351-1529, 6–11 p.m., R$10–20) is a delicious inexpensive option for Swedish-style open-faced sandwiches.
Meanwhile, one of the only Finnish restaurants in the country is Koskenorva (Estrada das Três Cachoeiras 3955, tel. 24/3351-24532, noon–midnight daily, R$30–40), surrounded by a pretty garden decorated with the artist/owner’s sculptures. Specialties include wild mushroom soup, fresh and marinated trout, and a Finnish version of smorgasbord, with diverse meats, fish, and potatoes.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition