By Lindsay Spratt, Sub Editor
RIO DE JANEIRO – Picture timber-framed buildings, flower-lined streets, chocolate shops and snow in winter, and you probably don’t picture Brazil. Yet the sister cities of Gramado and Canela in Rio Grande do Sul are just that.
It all seems a million miles away from Rio’s palm-fringed beaches or the Amazon rainforest, but the longer time one spends in Brazil, the more one learns about such stark contrasts.
Gramado and Canela form part of what is known as the ‘rota romântica’ (romantic route). This is a scenic itinerary of thirteen cities in Rio Grande do Sul first colonized by German immigrants in the Nineteenth Century. They cultivated this colder, mountainous part of the state and built houses reminiscent of the Bavarian style from Germany. Their identity has been preserved to the present day in the regional dialect, traditional music and local festivals.
Gramado and Canela can be reached in a day trip from Porto Alegre, at a distance of 150 kilometers from the Gaúcho capital, and lie just six kilometers apart. They are popular resorts not just for Brazilians, but also for Argentineans and Uruguayans, seeking what the romantic route’s website describes as ‘the most European cities in Brazil’.
Arriving from Porto Alegre, the first stop is Gramado. The city center is compact and a stroll taking in the streets famed for their flowerbeds and Bavarian-style buildings is a must. There are many shops selling traditional Gaúcho hand-made products, such as leather and woolen clothing.
Arts and crafts and local produce are also in abundance, including the famous Gramado chocolate. Every second shop boasts chocolate in hundreds of different shapes and forms, and cups of thick hot chocolate are even served in winter at the city’s sidewalk cafes.
There are many events in Gramado throughout the year. In winter, the city hosts the most important film festival in Latin America and at Christmas the city streets are garlanded with decorations and twinkling lights in a festival called ‘O Natal Luz’ (Christmas Light).
Other attractions in Gramado include the ‘Lago Negro’ (Black Lake), so called because it was constructed after a fire destroyed the existing forest and trees imported from the Black Forest in Germany were planted at its edges. Nowadays it’s a peaceful spot for having a picnic or renting a pedal boat in the form of a ubiquitous swan or curiously, a mini-pirate ship.
‘Mini-Mundo’ (Mini-World) is another popular tourist attraction. Created in 1981, it represents a city in miniature, replete with castles, railways, windmills, churches, cable-cars, towers, lakes, waterfalls and houses. There are various models based on famous buildings and structures, including the Neuschwanstein castle in Germany. Addition to the model continues to this day and recent inclusions are representations of the Andes mountain range, the Argentinian airport of Bariloche and the Hamburg metro system.
Canela city center is similar in atmosphere to that of Gramado, with its flowerbeds and chocolate shops. The majestic stone cathedral at the top of the main road provides a focal point for its tidy streets and well-kept shops and houses.
However, the real draw for tourists to Canela are rather the various parks outside the city, offering scenic walks, trails for hiking and sites for camping and barbecuing outside of the short winter.
The most famous of these parks is ‘Parque do Caracol’ (Snail Park), named after the breathtaking ‘Cascata do Caracol’ (Snail Waterfall).
The waterfall is 131 meters high and is picture-perfect against a backdrop of forest and basalt rocks. The park includes various viewpoints, camping facilities and stalls selling artesan gifts such as ponchos, hats and barbecue tools. There are also 927 steps leading to the base of the waterfall, open in high season.
For more information on the romantic route, check out the website (in Portuguese), rotaromantica.