When the first Italian immigrants arrived in southern Brazil from northern Italy in 1875 all they wanted was a piece of land to call their own. They faced a long, perilous journey and braved the weather, disease, occasional droughts (when they lacked water to make bricks for their church, Our Lady of the Snows, they ingeniously used wine instead!), and wild animals. They hid in holes under trees (one is still there for all to see), built huts, then houses made of stone (see below), but most importantly they planted vines. When you visit the area around Bento Gonçalves where they first settled (and where the main road is named Via Trento), now called Vale dos Vinhedos (Vineyards Valley) and Caminhos de Pedra (Stone Ways), you can't help but tip a mental hat to them. It's one of the richest and most beautiful regions of Brazil and I immediately fell in love with my pousada (check out the bedroom decorated with dried vines and the funky sink), the food, the views, the wines, the people (and their regional accent), the trees and the sheep (and the cheeses, yogurts, and sweets made from their milk).
We took a ride on an old train, gorged on galeto with polenta and radicci, homemade desserts like sagu of red wine and fresh persimmons and pinhão (the fruit of the araucaria pine pictured in a vineyard below). Oh, and we obviously toured one winery and spent a few hours at the wine spa, the first one in Latin America, for some TLC. All the skincare products are made in Bordeaux, France and all therapies are based on wine, grape skin, and grape seeds. It's more than worth the long trip (after you arrive in Brazil you still have to face a two-hour flight from Rio to Porto Alegre, followed by a two-hour drive up the mountains, more or less); as I said to my friend when we stopped at a particularly scenic spot overlooking a waterfall: Imagine all of this, plus Brazilian food and hospitality...
Our deepest thanks to our friend, driver and guide, the tireless Ms. Gesswein!
Here are some photos of the less affluent area of these mountains, which still have a few of the traditional wooden houses left (and we hope at least some of them will be preserved for posterity!). Our favorite photographer, the Aussie/paulista Jenny Silva recently toured the area to check out the apple and tobacco harvest and catch the houses before the bulldozers get there!
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