By Alison McGowan, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Mountain retreats, tropical forests, pristine islands, and quaint cobblestone towns: these are just some of the many inviting locations in Rio de Janeiro state. The best part, though, is they are all only a few hours drive from the state capital, so it is easy to combine both a city and off-the-beaten-track experience. Although winter in Brazil is much cooler than the summer, there is still plenty of sunshine and plenty to explore, particularly off-season when things are quieter and prices are lower.
Deciding where to stay is part of the adventure, and it helps to do some planning of course. Once you are outside the city of Rio de Janeiro you enter the land of pousadas: small, individually owned guesthouses, inns, and B&Bs where you will find a warm welcome and benefit from your hosts’ insider information on where to go and what to do locally.
The village of Araras near Petropolis is the ultimate location for retreating to the mountains. At the foot of Pedra de Amarylis mountain, you will find Solar de Ponte Verde, an American-Brazilian-owned pousada where you can sample wonderful home-made vegetarian food, go for long walks in the mountains, or simply relax pool-side.
In Paraty, quality pousadas are in abundance but the more unique include Pousada Vivenda, Pousada Maris, and Pousada Morro do Forte. These are all great places to stay while discovering the historical city, checking out the restaurants, and taking trips around the bay.
Traveling north from Paraty seventeen kilometers in the direction of Rio, you will find the mountain village of Grauna, home to Pousada Bromélias Bem-Estar. This is a pousada where rustic meets luxurious and where feeling completely relaxed and de-stressed starts the moment you arrive in this spectacular setting. From swimming pool, sauna and ofuro to gym, tennis courts and a great restaurant, you have it all here without ever needing to venture outside.
Traveling a little further up the beautiful coastal road, you come to Angra dos Reis, the main jump-off point for boats to Ilha Grande. Here you can snorkel, surf, dive, or hike over to the island’s deserted beaches.
When staying in the main town of Abraão, Pousada Aratinga Inn or Pousada Naturalia are great choices. However, for a peaceful corner of paradise situated on the other side of the island, Praia Vermelha is the place to be. This is home to the exclusive, South African-run, oceanfront hideaway Vila Pedra Mar, a pousada with spectacular views and true luxury.
And for the last stop before returning to Rio, why not try something different and take the boat back from Abrãao on Ilha Grande to the tiny village of Conceição de Jacarei only a few kilometers from the uniquely beautiful Casa Tarumã. This is a truly hidden gem offering B&B accommodation in a family house with oodles of artistic character set in 1,500 sq meters of tropical gardens. Here you’ll find great home-cooked food, interesting conversation, and when you just want to chill out with a caipirinha, you can choose between the large jacuzzi or beach to enjoy.