The landscape surrounding Porto Alegre is pancake-flat, but driving north, the land starts to buckle and rise into a series of hills that gradually morph into a mountain range known as the Serra Gaúcha. In the 1820s and 1830s, Germans arrived and built farming communities in the lower hills. They were followed a few decades later by Italians from the wine-growing regions of Veneto and Trento, who traveled farther into the interior where the soil and climate proved ideal for vine cultivation. Meanwhile, continuing due north, the mountains take on an Alpine allure. With their combination of verdant peaks and wildflower-dotted valleys, Bavarian architecture, and restaurants serving fondues, the mountain resort towns of Gramado and Canela have become favorite destinations for Brazilian tourists in search of exotica such as strudel and even snow.
With its stone and wood chalets set against rugged green mountains, Gramado seems ripped from an outtake of The Sound of Music. From fondue restaurants to faux ski lodges that wouldn’t be out of place in Gstaad, this Swiss connection is played to the hilt (sometimes to excess—such as during Christmas, when the whole town is lit up like a kitschy theme park). You might find this Alpine aspect excessively quaint or charming, but it attracts Brazilian tourists in droves, making it somewhat of a mob scene. For this reason, avoid the winter (when artificial snowstorms are the rage) and summer (when moderate temperatures attract sweltering city dwellers); instead plan to visit in the spring (October–November) when tourism is down and wild hydrangeas are in full bloom.
Information and Getting To Gramado
Gramado is 115 kilometers (72 miles) northeast of Porto Alegre. From the Rodoviária (Av. Borges de Medeiros 2100, tel. 54/3286-1302), frequent buses arrive and depart from Porto Alegre. Citral (tel. 0800/979-1441) has bus service from Porto Alegre’s Rodoviária and Airport to Gramado and on to Canela. Buses leave almost hourly, but not all are direct. The 1.5–2-hour journey costs R$21–29. By car, the shortest route is to follow RS-020 to Taquara before turning onto RS-115. Frequent buses connect Gramado and nearby Canela (R$1.70).
Aside from its pretty center, Gramado has a few natural attractions. At the end of Rua Bela Vista, Parque Knorr (9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily) offers magnificent views of the Vale do Quilombo, a dramatic valley that runs along the road between Gramado and Canela. Around 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the center of town, amid a wooded park, the Lago Negro is a bucolic artificial lake ringed by hydrangeas where you can pedal around in swan-shaped boats. Exploring the mountains on your own from Gramado is difficult without a car. However, a quick bus or taxi ride can take you the 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Gramado’s center to the Ecoparque Sperry (Linha 28, tel. 54/9629-8765, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$10). Located in the Vale de Quilombo, this organic farm, surrounded by native forest and waterfalls, has well-marked nature trails you can explore. On weekends a restaurant serves delicious lunches using local produce.
Entertainment and Events in Gramado
During the second week in August, Gramado takes on an air of the Sundance or Cannes film festivals as celebs, paparazzi, and cinephiles flock to the Festival de Cinema, one of the oldest and most prestigious film festivals in Latin America.
In Gramado, you’ll find no shortage of fondues (beef and cheese), fresh river trout, and chocolates (the town is home to 28 chocolatiers!). Although plenty of cheap fondue rodízios have sprung up, if you want the real cheesy deal, you’ll have to pay for it. Often touted as one of Brazil’s finest Swiss restaurants, Belle du Valais (Av. das Hortênsias 1432, tel. 54/3286-1744, 7 p.m.–midnight daily, noon–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun., R$50–70) is decidedly romantic with lots of dark wood paneling, sparkling crystal, and a glowing fireplace. Aside from the ubiquitous fondues, try the pierrade (filet mignon and chicken cooked over volcanic rocks and served with various sauces).
You’ll find fondues as well as traditional German dishes at Gasthof Edelweiss (Rua da Carrière 1119, Lago Negro, tel. 54/3286-1861, noon–3 p.m. and 7:30–11 p.m. daily, R$45–60), the godfather of Gramado’s Alpine eateries. Signature dishes include rabbit in black beer sauce and honey-roasted pheasant. The wine cellar is so vast that it doubles as a dining room. A more unusual dining experience can be had at La Caceria (Av. Borges de Medeiros 3166, tel. 54/3295-1305, 7 p.m.–midnight daily, R$50–70), located in the luxurious (and kitschy) Hotel Casa da Montanha. The dining room, decorated with hunting rifles and stuffed animals heads, is the perfect setting for tucking into game such as partridge, duck, wild boar, and even capybara. The wine list features an impressive array of regional vintages. Reservations are essential.
Of Italian origin, galeterias are Gaúcho institutions second only to churrascarias in terms of gastronomic popularity. Instead of red meat, the star here is a galeto (i.e., a chicken between 25 and 30 days of age), which, after being marinated in sage and white wine, is roasted over hot coals. Those served at Casa Di Paolo (Rua Garibaldi 23, Centro, tel. 54/3286-7799, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 7–11 p.m. Tues.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Sun. Jan.–June and Aug.–Nov., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 7–11 p.m. daily July and Dec., R$20–30) are golden and tender. Traditional accompaniments include homemade pastas and capeletti in brodo.
Centro has innumerable cafés, including those along the Rua Coberta, a covered passageway leading from Avenida Borges de Medeiros and Rua Garibaldi. Particularly inviting is Josephina Café (Rua Pedro Benetti 22, Centro, tel. 54/3286-9778, 10:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Tues.–Sun.), which is located in the owners’ own charmingly decorated house. To nosh, there are tasty homemade sandwiches and pastries.
Canela is smaller, lower (in altitude), and less touristy as well as more down-to-earth than its ostentatious sister city, Gramado, 8 kilometers (5.5 miles) away. It also makes a better base for adventure-sports enthusiasts as it is much closer to two natural parks: Parque Ferradura and Parque Estadual do Caracol. If you don’t have your own wheels, Gramado-based Vida Livre (tel. 54/3286-7326) offers half-day tours (R$55–65 pp) to the parks as well as full-day trips to the magnificent canyons of the Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra (R$70–100 pp).
Information and Getting To Canela
The tourist office (Largo da Fama, tel. 54/3282-2200, 8 a.m.–7 p.m. daily) is in the center of town. You can also visit these informative websites (in Portuguese): www.canela.rs.gov.br and www.canelaturismo.com.br.
During the day, a Canela–Gramado bus circulates between the two towns at regular 20-minute intervals (R$1.70). From Porto Alegre, the same Citral (tel. 0800/979-1441) buses that stop in Gramado continue onto Canela.
Parque Estadual do Caracol
Canela’s main draw is the Parque Estadual do Caracol (Estrada do Caracol Km 9, tel. 54/3278-3035, 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, R$10). Within its borders is the stunning 131-meter (430-foot) Cascata do Caracol, the tallest waterfall in Rio Grande do Sul. You can gaze on this spectacle from a lookout point, or else climb 927 very steep stairs (which takes about 40 minutes and isn’t for the faint of heart or breath) to the top of the falls. Less exhausting are the hiking trails that weave through the park’s wooded landscape. If you don’t have a car, you can get to the park on the “Caracol Circular” bus that leaves from Canela’s rodoviária. Be prepared for dozens of tour buses to accompany you during high season.
Parque da Ferradura and Teleférico
Farther along the road lies the entrance to Parque da Ferradura (Estrada do Caracol Km 15, tel. 54/9972-8666, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily, R$8), a natural park that offers incredible views into the immense canyon, shaped like a ferradura (horseshoe) formed by the Rio Caí. Two easy trails lead to lookout points while a more challenging 2-kilometer (1-mile) trail leads down to the river. On the way to the park, the Teleférico (tel. 54/3504-1405, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs.–Tues. Feb.–June and Aug.–Nov., 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Dec.–Jan. and July, R$20) is a cable car that takes you down until you’re hovering close to the Cascata do Caracol. The 20-minute ride includes stops at two viewing platforms for gaping and photos.
Sports and Recreation
Canela has become an eco-adventure destination with plenty of activities for nature lovers with athletic inclinations. Vida Livre (tel. 54/3286-7326) offers reasonably priced half-day excursions that include rappelling (R$55), rafting (R$60), climbing (R$100), and horseback riding (R$75). Daredevils will particularly enjoy pendulum jumping (R$55)—i.e., throwing themselves off the 30-meter-high (98-foot-high) Ponte Passo do Infirmo (which spans the Rio Cará waterfall) and swinging wildly in the air. Another Canela-based company that offers similar activities is Black Bear Adventure (tel. 54/9939-7191).
Food in Canela
On the road from Canela to Gramado, Cantina 28 (Rua Jacob Adamy 528, tel. 54/3282-0628, noon–3:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sun., R$39 pp) is a necessary stop for those with a penchant for polenta. In their welcoming house and garden, the owners invite guests to partake in a buffet of 28 Italian dishes starring polenta in steamed, stuffed, and toasted versions with robust support from sauces that run the gamut from mushroom to Bolognese. Since only 28 guests are seated on any given day, reservations are a must. Equally nourishing are the culinary creations at cozy Café Canela (Rua Altenor T. de Souza 15, tel. 54/3282-4422, R$20–30) whose signature soups and salads are served in hollowed-out round loaves of bread while pastas and risottos come to the table in carved-out blocks of cheese.
Canela is famed for its apple strudel. Aside from traditional German cuisine such as kessler and sauerkraut, Strudelhaus (Rua Baden Powell 246, tel. 54/3282-9562, noon–3 p.m. and 7:30–11 p.m. Tues.–Sat., noon–4 p.m. Sun. July–Aug. and Dec., R$15–25) serves up a tasty version with ice cream. One of the finest recipes to be had in the center of town is at Confeitaria Martha (Av. Júlio de Castilhos 151, tel. 54/3282-4190), a bakery that also makes good sandwiches. However, the best of all is served a Castelinha Caracol (Estrada do Caracol Km 3, tel. 54/3278-3208, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and 2:20–5:40 p.m. daily). Built by family of German immigrants, this historic early-20th-century house was constructed entirely from native araucária pine without using a single nail. It’s the perfect place to savor the family recipe for strudel alongside homemade fruit jams and waffles.