By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Only a short hour and a half drive from the city of Rio de Janerio, in the hills of the imperial city Petrópolis, next to the town of Itaipava, lies the valley of Araras, also known as the Vale Gourmet (Gourmet Valley). With its cooler climate, lush landscape, and several renowned restaurants, the Araras valley has become an noteworthy culinary destination for both food and nature lovers alike.
Long enjoyed as an ideal trip for those looking to escape the heat and crowds of the city, the historic mountain city of Petrópolis, once a retreat reserved for Rio’s royal and wealthy, is now one of Rio’s most popular destinations for day trip excursions.
Many visitors may not realize that tucked away in a hidden valley about ten kilometers outside Petrópolis center, lies the valley of Araras. Surrounded by mountains and streams, the picturesque location, serves as an ideal backdrop for some of the most exceptional restaurants in Rio.
Restaurante Enogastronomico in the Fazenda das Videiras Pousada transports guests to the countryside of France in a rustic yet elegant restaurant built in the guest cottage of a colonial farmhouse.
Offering refined French cuisine from the time of Escoffier, traditional classics, such as Ratatouille and Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, take center stage on the seasonal menu that changes weekly. Those lucky enough to grab one of the select ten tables will have the option of ordering a la carte, from a set menu, or a tasting menu. Please call the restaurant in advance to check availability.
A little further down from Restaurante Enogastronomico, several restaurants share the same address in one of the most scenic locations in Petrópolis. Nestled in a serene nook off the road, surrounded by mountains, trees, flowers, and a pond, the restaurant Afrânio, named after one of the owner’s dogs, delights guests with a sophisticated international menu, featuring dishes such as pear and brie ravioli and Ossobuco with saffron risotto.
The restaurant is divided into two unique indoor dining areas separated by a flowered garden pathway, a rustic colonial house with a fireplace for brisk evenings, and a romantic glass-walled structure with a garden view. If one prefers to sit among the birds and the trees enjoying the mountain view, a large several storied patio area is also available.
Next door to Afrânio, on the same tranquil site, housed in a cozy Portuguese cottage, is the restaurant, Oliveiras da Serra. The traditional Portuguese establishment has garnered acclaim across the country in many gastronomy guides for its preparation of its flagship ingredient, bacalhau, or salted cod fish.
Guests can choose from one of fifteen different preparations of this popular fish, such as bacalhau stew with octopus and shrimp, bacalhau with chickpeas, bacalhau rice, and bacalhau with potatoes and bechamel sauce.
“I can remember a time when there were maybe one or two dining options here,” said diner Minako Okada, “now there is such a wide variety of incredible food in this region.”
For those wanting to explore the culinary delights of the Araras valley, it’s only about 10 kms outside of Petrópolis and can be reached by taking route BR-40 to exit 65.
Other attractions in neighboring Petrópolis and Itaipava include the Crystal Palace, a glass structure imported from France, which was inspired by the glass palaces in London and Porto, the historic brewery Bohemia, the country’s oldest beer brewery, the house of aviator Santos Dumont, now a museum about Dumont’s life and the Castelo de Itaipava, a magnificent medieval-style castle built in the 1920s.
For all the restaurants mentioned here, visitors are highly encouraged to call in advance to make reservations or check availability.
Restaurante Enogastronomico – Estrada Paulo Meira, 6000 – Araras, Petrópolis – (24) 2225 -8090
Afrânio, Estrada Bernardo Coutinho, 3575 – Araras, Petrópolis – (24) 2225 0705
Oliveiras da Serra, Estrada Bernardo Coutinho, 3575 – Araras, Petrópolis – 24 2225-0520