The south of Brazil is different. Here, palm trees give way to pines, forested mountains are split by tranquil valleys, nature in general is more rugged, with roaring waterfalls and monumental canyons, and the temperate climate provides four distinct seasons, with cold weather, even snow, in the winter. The people, too, are different. Blue-eyed blonds replace the dark-featured types of the north and northeast, reflecting the deep European roots of the south.
The traditional breadbasket of Brazil, the south is a region of bounty. The farms and ranches of the states of Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul are the country’s leading grain producers. A combination of unleashed nature and pleasing urbanity are the trademarks of Paraná, and here you will also find the wildly beautiful Iguaçu Falls.
Across the flat pampas of Rio Grande do Sul wander Brazil’s largest cattle herds. In recent years, the south has drawn from its agricultural wealth to invest in industry, and today the region is the center of Brazil’s booming textile and footwear industries. Together, the south’s rich earth and surging industrial power have given the inhabitants of its three states a standard of living second only to the state of São Paulo.
Two cities from the south, Curitiba and Porto Alegre, have been chosen to host games during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Both cities plan to upgrade their existing stadiums: Arena da Baixada, in the case of Curitiba, and Estádio Beira Rio, located on the banks of the River Guaiba, in the case of Porto Alegre.
The world's greatest collection of waterfalls will take your breath away. Read more about Iguaçu Falls...
The capital of Paraná state is an urban planner’s dream, with a deserved reputation as one of Brazil’s cleanest cities and ample green space, wide avenues, flower-decked pedestrian malls, and a relaxed and comfortable pace of life. Founded by gold-seekers in the 17th century, Curitiba today is a bustling metropolis with a population of 1.7 million, located atop an elevated plateau at 900 meters (2,800ft). In the latter half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Curitiba, together with the state as a whole, received an infusion of immigrants from Europe, which transformed the city into a European outpost. The profusion of fair-haired people on the city’s streets, together with Curitiba’s annual ethnic festivals, is proof of the mixed origins of its citizens. The city’s best-known ethnic neighborhood is Santa Felicidade, founded in 1878 by Italian immigrants and today home to Curitiba’s finest cantinas – traditional, informal Italian eateries.
Paraná's second great natural attraction after Iguaçu Falls is Vila Velha State Park. Sited majestically atop the plateau, with the wind whipping around them, is a series of fantastical rock formations, carved over 350 million years by the wind and rain. There are 23 separate formations, each identified by the object, animal, or human form that it appears to represent. Close by is another of nature’s mysteries: the Furnas Craters, two enormous holes sliced into the rocky ground to a depth of almost 100 meters (330ft), half-filled with water. Take your swimsuit, because in one of these natural wells an elevator has been installed so visitors can descend 54 meters (180ft) to water level.
The smallest of the southern states, Santa Catarina is also the most boisterous. Its German heritage is apparent in the Bavarian architecture in inland Blumenau, home to South America’s liveliest Oktoberfest, a three-week blowout that attracts more than a million visitors, making it Brazil’s second-largest festival after the Carnival of Rio. But the state’s real treasure is its coastline, with miles of unspoiled white-sand beaches. The northern coastal resort of Camboriú has a long crescent beach that is a near-carbon copy of Rio’s Copacabana, both for its landscape and its party atmosphere.
Considered the capital that offers the best quality of life in the country, Florianópolis is the gateway to Santa Catarina Island (linked to the mainland by the Hercilio Luz Bridge, one of the largest suspension bridges in the world). Before heading to the beaches, it is worth spending a day or two exploring the island’s history and culinary delights here. The island has 42 beaches, ranging from quiet coves to areas of roaring surf, and combines the aspects of a hectic capital with the delights of a laid-back fishing village. The simple lifestyle, like the fish-based menu and the accent of local people, is inherited from the Azorean immigrants who first arrived on the island in 1750.
The northern shore is home to what is claimed to be the best beach resort in the country, the Costão do Santinho Golf (www.costao.com.br) at Praia do Santinho; while the Lagoa da Conceição, a beautiful freshwater lake wedged between the island’s mountain spine and the sea, has jet-ski and windsurfing facilities, as well as lots of trendy stores, restaurants, and bars, some of them exceptional. Meanwhile, the island’s southern beaches, are the most unspoiled and scenic, many of them reached only by dirt roads or tracks. Here the colorful village of Ribeirão da Ilha, site of one of the first Azorean settlements on the island, is home to some of the best seafood restaurants where local oysters are the highlight of the menus.
The principal southern beaches are on Ponta de Garopaba – comprising Garopaba, neighboring Praia do Rosa (one of the most beautiful in the country), and Laguna. Surf shapes the local lifestyle, and the exceptional landscape of Praia do Rosa sets the scene for pretty little inns. Between July and November the Garopaba and Praia do Rosa region takes on a distinctive role however: as the breeding site for hundreds of southern right whales, which can be seen with their calves from the beach or up close on a boat trip. Praia do Rosa is home to the conservation project Baleia Franca (www.baleiafranca.org.br), created to study and to protect these special animals, and the old whaling station on Praia do Porto has been converted into a Whale Museum.
The premiere attraction of Rio Grande do Sul state is the Aparados da Serra National Park. The view is well worth the effort of getting there, for suddenly, in the midst of pasture and forest, the earth seems to open up, revealing the enormous Itaimbézinho Canyon. Some 700 meters (2,200ft) deep, 7km (4 miles) long, and in places more than 2km (1 mile) wide, the canyon is the largest in Latin America. There are walking trails and horse riding tracks running through the beautiful national park. Itaimbézinho impresses not simply because of its amazing size but because of the varied shades of green that mark it out, from the light-green pasture to the deep-green forested cliffs. Waterfalls cascade down the canyon’s sides.
The area known as “the Missions” lies due west of the Serra Gaúcha. Here, in the 17th century, with the authorization of the Portuguese and Spanish kings, Jesuit priests organized Guarani tribespeople into a series of settlements – Roland Joffé’s 1986 movie, The Mission, starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, was based on this period, and the movie was filmed in the region. The Jesuit fathers controlled the region for nearly a century, establishing centers of sophisticated culture as well as religion, and overseeing the construction of Amerindian cities. Today, the ruins of the missions, notably São Miguel das Missoes, designated a World Heritage Site, stand in dramatic solitude on the plain, all that is left of a once-thriving Amerindian community. Every evening, São Miguel mission offers a spectacular sound-and-light show, portraying the history of the area.
Caminho do Alto do Morro s/n, Praia Rosa
tel: 48-3355 6062
A lovely inn, built in the 1980s, with glorious views and comfortable rooms in bright, clean colors.
Estrada Geral do Rosa s/n (off BR-1-1), Praia Rosa
tel: 48-3355 6056
Attractive, relaxing pousada close to the beach, about 70km (45 miles) from Florianópolis, with wooden balconies and a small pool. Glorious setting.
5875 Avenida Manoel Ribas, Santa Felicidade, Curitiba
tel: 41-3372 2121
The most popular among Curitiba's Italian cantinas, this claims to be the largest restaurant in Brazil. Not surprisingly, given that it can seat 4,800 customers and has 52 chefs. It offers a wide-ranging set menu with pasta, salads, chicken, liver, risotto, and fried polenta. But it’s not the place for intimate dinners.
371 Rua Manuel Severino de Oliveira, Ilha Santa Catarina
Among the exceptional restaurants at the Lago da Conceição is unpretentious Um Lugar, which serves delicious, world-class gourmet seafood.
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