By Beatriz Miranda, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – At one point Rio’s countryside played a major role in Brazil’s economy, and Vassouras is the best example for that: the so-called “Barons’ city” used to be one of the most important coffee producers in Brazil in the nineteenth century.
Today, Vassouras is the perfect destination for those interested in the glorious golden age of coffee in Rio’s countryside.
The city was founded in the 1830s, time when coffee’s production was starting to grow in Brazil. When coffee became a protagonist commodity in the economy, Vassouras was drastically transformed: in only a few decades, it became the “Coffee’s Little Princess”, home of the wealthiest farmers in Brazil.
Protected by the National Institute for Artistic and Historical Heritage since 1958, it is no wonder that Vassouras still preserves most of the sumptuous houses from the coffee’s golden age.
If getting into the atmosphere of the “coffee’s golden age” is what you are interested in, visiting some of the innumerous former coffee farms is definitely a must-do activity. Two famous ones are the “Cachoeira Grande” and the “Cachoeira do Mato Dentro”, where one easily feels like going back to the past.
Built in 1820, “Cachoeira Grande” is the former property of the Baron of Vassouras, one of the most powerful producers in Rio’s Coffee Valley. Today, the main house is a temple of relic where one can find objects and furniture used by a typical oligarchic family from the nineteenth century. At the end, handmade sweets, pão de queijo and, of course, local coffee are served for the visitors.
Besides “Cachoeira do Mato Dentro”, where one can see an original forty-seat dinner table in the main house, farms also worth the visit are “Santa Eufrásia”, the only private property protected by the National Institute for Artistic and Historical Heritage; and “Secretário”, with neoclassical paintings from the 1830s on its walls.
The best moment to visit Vassouras is certainly July, when the city hosts the Vale do Café (Coffee’s Valley) Festival. In the event, plenty of houses and coffee farms open their doors for a variety of cultural attractions, like samba, chorinha and bossa-nova shows and culinary festivals.
In April, the city promotes another important event, the Café, Cachaça and Chorinho Festival. As the name suggests, the festival gathers the best of Brazilian live music, local coffee and local cachaça tasting.
Walking in Vassouras is a pleasant option for those who want to see the city in a more chilled pace. A good itinerary is to start from the Barão de Campo Belo Square, the core of Vassouras historic center, surrounded by plenty of mansions from the nineteenth century. From there, one can visit the Igreja da Matriz (Mother Church), which opens a sacred arts exhibition in the weekends; and the beautiful former train station, built in 1875.
A comfortable and nice option to see Vassouras is the “Baron’s little train”, a thirty-minute ride that starts from the former train station and passes by the historic center and some of the heritage sites in the city. In the evening, one can check the Broadway Street, where Vassouras’ undergrads usually gather to have a beer in one of its bars and restaurants.
Cachaça lovers also have a great reason to go to Vassouras, where the artisanal cachaça União Carvalheira’s still is situated. Open for visitation, the house produces approximately 60 thousand liters of the drink per year.
Those in the mood of enjoying nature can also find a refuge in the “Baron’s city”, where the Park Serra da Concórdia is situated. There, one can do activities like bird watching and trails, all inside a fascinating fauna and flora.
To get to Vassouras from Rio de Janeiro, one must get the BR 116 highway through Via Dutra. After the first toll by the 212 exit, one must take the RJ 127 road (Paracambi direction), passing by Paulo de Frontin and Mendes.
From São Paulo, one must take the BR 116 highway through Via Dutra until Volta Redonda. Afterwards, take the Lúcio Meira road (BR-393) until Vassouras.