By Beatriz Miranda, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Between Rio and São Paulo lies Penedo, the only Finnish settlement in Brazil. Situated in the Mantiqueira’s mountain range, in the south of Rio’s State, the charming district attracts several tourists every year for its typical culture, cuisine and outstanding nature.
The first Finnish settler in Penedo was Toivo Uúskallio, who supposedly received a “divine call” to leave the cold Nordic country and head to the tropics, where life would be sunnier and wealthier.
It was in 1929 when Uúskallio and his family acquired the Penedo farm, a green area that, in principal, aspired to become a naturalist vegetarian community in Rio.
As time went by, more immigrants started to settle around the farm. By the 1940s, Penedo’s surrounding area was home to over 300 Finnish people. From its architecture to the festivities, the district has been strongly preserving its traditions until the present day.
For its fascinating cultural attractions and breath-taking natural landscapes, the two and a half hour from Rio Finnish spot is a must-go destination for Brazil’s Southeastern residents.
Once in Penedon (how the Finnish settlers used to call it), one must not miss the Finnish ball, which takes place in the Finnish Club every first Saturday of the month. Mixing folkloric Finnish dances, like polca and mazurca, to Brazilian music genres, the ball is a unique experience, where participants dress up with typical clothes. Tourists are encouraged to join the dances, and one can easily get the basic steps with a little help from a local.
If history and culture is what one is looking for, the Eva Hilden Museum of Finnish Art and Culture will deliver. Hundreds of objects brought by the first settlers, as well as handcrafts and art pieces that tell the immigrants’ history, can be found at the museum.
One of the tourists’ favorite spot is the Santa Claus’ House, situated in the Pequena Finlândia (Little Finland) mall, which is inspired by the Finnish countryside’s architecture.
Penedo’s Santa’s house is the only one considered “legitimate” in the Southern Hemisphere. There, visitors can meet a true Finnish Santa Claus and see an authentic Santa’s sled, brought all the way from Lapland.
When it comes to Finnish sauna tradition, Penedo’s residents created the first sauna in Brazil, built from the leftovers of a coffee farm’s buildings. The habit of using eucalyptus to aromatize the saunas was also born in Penedo, where the species grows abundantly. Today, plenty of Penedo’s hotels and lodges offer saunas for the tourists.
The Finnish district also attracts many visitors for its great culinary options, varying from typical Finnish dishes to the trouts, raised by many farmers in Mantiqueira’s mountain range. If one is craving for traditional Finnish food, Koskenkorva is just the right place to go. Run by Finnish chef Marti Virtia, the restaurant offers a menu for all tastes, including vegetarian dishes.
For those who want to try a fresh trout, the Rei das Trutas (King of Trouts) restaurant is a great bet. Home made ice creams, prepared according to the Finnish recipe, can be found at Tonttulakki Jäätelö, while Tonttulakki offers delicious home made chocolate. For the beer lovers, Casa do Fritz and Penedon Brew Pub are two local labels that are worth the try.
Penedo is also perfect destination for those interested in ecotourism, being only thirty minutes away from Itatiaia’s National Park, the first national park in Brazil. The area offers both light and challenging hiking options.
A thrilling hike for the experienced trekkers is going up Agulhas Negras, the highest peak in Rio’s State, and the sixth highest in Brazil. During the summer, going to Penedo’s waterfalls and natural pools is the most recommended tour.
To get to Penedo from Rio or São Paulo by car, one must get Dutra’s highway (BR-116) until the exit 311 (entrance of RJ-163, between the cities of Itatiaia and Resende). Bus tickets to Penedo cost around R$40, with company Cidade do Aço operating from Rio.
Visitors coming from São Paulo must take a bus with Cometa company until Itatiaia and take a municipal bus to Penedo afterwards.