Living in a city can be a drag, living in one of the world’s biggest cities can be a really big drag, so with a four day weekend this weekend we took the chance to go away and see some of the countryside. But choosing where to go in the fifth biggest country in the world isn’t easy, we got lots of suggestions from friends and workmates, but in the end we were intrigued by a little village called Monte Verde, apparently the closest thing to an Swiss mountain village outside Switzerland and only 170km from Sao Paulo – this was too good to miss out on, or was that too good to be true?
The story behind the village is that apparently the area was settled by migrants from Europe, who decided it would be the perfect mountain retreat, so they built buildings resembling those built where they came from. The truth is that it is a relatively new town, with many purpose built buildings that are indeed in a “European” style, but they are very much designed with tourists in mind. We knew this before we went to Monte Verde so we weren’t disappointed when we got there, but I think people who make the journey expecting to be transported to the mountains of Europe may be disappointed.
So it’s about 170km from our house so we had to hire a car, the cheapest car you can hire in Brazil is something called a VW Gol – not Golf, just Gol , it’s the bestselling car in Brazil and a rugged little beast, though not very pretty it’s cheap as chips (a new four door model is only about £8,000) and it’s built just for the South American market specifically to handle Brazilian roads (80% of which are not sealed – or even graded as we found out).
The super Gol
So we headed off Thursday at 2pm with our trusty driving directions printed off Google maps. The instructions we had were relatively simple and for our first time driving in Brazil we were pretty chuffed to get out on the motorway where our instructions simply said travel for 127km then take exit for Um Street. We thought that was street name was pretty funny as we tootled along the motorway at 120km/hr in our 1.0 litre beast. When we got to the 127km mark we couldn’t see any turn offs so we carried on for another 20km and still no turn off as described, but we then reached the next town we quickly realised that instead of heading north for 140 odd kms we had got on the wrong motorway as soon as we left Sao Paulo and instead headed 140km east!!!!
Never ones to panic we quickly checked our map (better late than never heh) we worked out we could head across the mountains in a north westish direction and we could get to Monte Verde without going back to SP again. Looked nice and simple on the map, we could zoom through some nice mountain roads, along a short stretch of gravel road and still make it in time for dinner – or so we thought! The motorways we had driven on so far were fine roads, but as soon as you step off the major roads the quality of roads and signs drops away quickly, as we discovered. So we winded our way through the hills, the rain started to pour down and we quickly realised we weren’t going to be able to average any real speeds, after a couple of hours we finally got to the point where we could nip cross country on the dirt road. Not finding any signs for Monte Verde we stopped at a petrol station to ask for directions, the guy at the desk thought we were comedians and laughed at the suggestion, he told us the road didn’t even exist anymore and we had to take a big detour on the sealed road to another dirt road which would cut us across the mountains. Another hour passed and we reach the point of our next cunning plan, by now having been scared enough driving on the sealed roads, with massive foot deep potholes, completely washed out sections and long section of those corrugations that make you feel like visiting the dentist we started to lose courage regarding our “short cut”.
Again we stopped for directions at a taxi rank in the middle of a cute little town, again the locals thought we were nuts and advised us to take another even longer detour north to rejoin the main north south motorway where we could then drive back towards Sao Paulo and onto Monte Verde. By now we were really starting to doubt if we were ever going to make it, but after another couple of hours crawling through the hills we finally got to motorway and zoomed down towards our turn off.
Now the road from the motorway to the town is about 37km long, this bit alone took us over an hour due to the even more terrible condition of the road, we constantly had to zig and zag across the road to get around the massive pot holes and wash outs. But I am happy to announce that after eight hours of driving we finally made it to Monte Verte!!!!
A Brazilian road just like the ones we drove on
The red route is our actual route, the blue one our planned route
So we stayed at the excellent Pousada das Montanhas a couple of Kilometres from the centre of town. Our accommodation was really lovely, cute little chalets, had great breakfast, but most importantly had we had a massive open fire place in our room which was great, cos it was cold. Ok before you all start, we have just come from London, so we know what real cold is, but for Brazilians this was about as cold as it gets. Overnight it dropped to as low as 10 degrees.
So Monte Verde itself is pretty interesting and entertaining, it’s basically one long main street (the only sealed street in the town) the street is lined with Swiss and Austrian style buildings.
The main street of Monte Verde
One of the “typical” buildings on the main street.
Lots of the accommodation places are also built in that style as well. We also a saw a beautiful Huf House tucked away in one of the valleys, that really was the last thing we expected to see in Brazil (and Gregs dream house). The town isn’t like a real town, there is no supermarket or anything useful like that, just lots of shops selling the usual touristy stuff, tour operator offering quad bike safaris and horse treks, but what was quite funny (to us at least) was that it actually felt like a real European mountain ski village because everyone was dressed as if it was about to snow! I suppose if you are used to SP and Rios’ constant heat it is pretty cold up there, but come on, do you really need ugg boots, scarves, beanies and gloves when it’s 15 degrees? The food in the very touristy restaurants was also tailored to the “cold” with all of them offering hot chocolate, soups and cheese or chocolate fondues, and everyone was lapping them up.
Overall it was great fun, the place is cheesy as hell, but a real nice change from SP, so we will probably end up coming back here again, or maybe just to one of the nearby towns without the European feel (and prices)!
The weather was terrible the whole time we were there, with constant rain turning the dirt roads into mud baths – luckily no trouble to our little Gol. But by Saturday we had had enough of playing 500 by the roaring fire while the rain bucketed down outside, so we decided to climb one of the nearby mountains. Sure it was raining, blowing a gale and the low cloud meant that we couldn’t actually see anything, but we headed up one of the mountains anyway.
The (lack of) view from Bishops Peak
Cath enjoying the stiff breeze
So now we are back in SP, we made the return journey in a much less painful three hours, and today I bought myself a decent Brazilian road atlas, hopefully we won’t be making that mistake again!