North of Porto Alegre a series of hills begins, which gradually turns into a mountain range known as the Serra Gaúcha. In the 19th century, the region was settled by two waves of immigrants. In the early part of the century, Germans arrived and built farming communities in the lower hills. A few decades later, Italians from the wine-growing regions of Veneto and Trento went farther west, where they found the region’s climate ideal for vine cultivation.
To the east, the mountains rise, acquiring an Alpine allure that has earned comparisons with Switzerland. Indeed, the twin mountain resort towns of chic Gramado and more laid-back Canela seem much more European than Brazilian. With verdant peaks and wildflower-dotted valleys, Bavarian architecture, and restaurants serving fondues and apple strudel, they are a favorite “exotic” travel destination of Brazilian tourists.
In summer, moderate temperatures and icy waterfalls offer cool respite from the heat. Meanwhile, if you visit in winter, aside from hot chocolate and crackling fireplaces, you’re likely to encounter snow. Although these two periods are considered high season (and are consequently quite crowded), the region is stunning year-round.
If you have a little extra time, head even farther north (and off the beaten track) to the Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra, home of the spectacular Cânion de Itaimbezinho.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition