It was noon when I arrived. The sun was shining radiantly, but it wasn’t hot. On the contrary, it felt cool on this bright summer day.
As I walked along the streets decorated with colourful flowers on both sides and flanked by buildings that look as if they came out of a fairytale – think white bricks, brown wooden logs, triangular roofs – I couldn’t help but think to myself: “Is this Brazil?”
There were no traffic lights, and the cars actually stop when I cross the road. After being accustomed to the chaotic traffic in other Brazilian cities, I hesitated before drivers wave for me to cross.
Welcome to Gramado, a mountain resort town in Brazil that has a Hansel and Gretel feel with Alpine chalets, chocolatiers and artisan shops.
Not many people out of Brazil heard of this hidden gem, and those that do strike it off as merely a touristic town. But a place is often touristic for a reason; it could be the deep culture, the historical significance, or even the sheer beauty of it.
To me, Gramado belongs to the latter.
I wandered along the hydrangea-lined main street, stopping every few seconds to take a photo. The architecture fascinates me; timber-framed structures with small garden sills, storybook woodworking along tall, triangular roofs with detailed ornamental fringes. It felt as if the bus took me to a strange corner in Europe.
Even the McDonald’s looks amazing!
The Chocolate World along the main street boasts a huge chocolate fountain that makes it so hard for me to resist entering, but the price made it easy. It seems like every touristic town I visited after Gramado has multiple chocolatiers!
Coming from Singapore, a multi-religious country without a ‘main church like in Europe / Latin America, I made sure to visit the cathedrals of every city I go to. Each time I stand before a cathedral, I feel small. They are all so majestically built with fine, intricate details. And each time I enter a cathedral, I feel an immediate sense of peace. The Church of San Pedro in Gramado – with its black bricks and green lawn - is no different.
With much time to spare, I decided to walk to the Portico (the entrance to the city). From the main street, it was such a long walk that when I stopped outside a hotel 30 min later, looking lost, a staff exclaimed “You’re walking there? Oh my God.”
With most of the touristic cities I’ve been to, I noticed that only the main street is decorated with deliberate architecture and colourful shops, while the residences look run-down, as if the main street was just a front. But in Gramado, as I walked through the residences, I realized that every house look as fairytale-like as the ones on the main street. Now, this is an entire city with fairytale charm.
A trip to Gramado wouldn’t be complete without a visit to undoubtedly the most beautifully-planned park in Brazil, Lago Negro (Black Lake). Once a vast forest, it got ravaged by a fire. Lago Negro was reborn in 1953; a lake was built in the middle with its banks decorated by trees imported from Germany’s Black Forest – hence the name Black Lake.
The lake acts as a perfect mirror, reflecting the green of the fir pines, the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky. I took a walk along the 1km long gravel path, stopping along the way to appreciate the calmness of the lake, and watching other tourists having fun paddling the swan-shaped paddle boats, a blatant tourist trap.
After the literal stroll in the park, I sat on a bench by the lake, reading my Kindle. A saxophonist played popular medleys and families went about their evening exercise. The music, the coolness, and the scenery combined to create an atmosphere so soothing and calm, that hours passed by quickly and alas, it was time for me to leave.
From the first photo I saw of Gramado to reluctantly leaving the tiny mountain town, I was completely enthralled the whole time. It certainly did not disappoint and is a place I could see myself retiring in.
How to Get to Gramado
The only reason I went to Porto Alegre was to take the bus to Gramado. The bus company Citral has multiple buses to Gramado every day. However, I couldn’t find the counter for Citral at the bus station, at the area where all the bus companies are.
When I finally saw it, at a different area and different level, it was 5:36pm. The office closes at 5:30pm.
The next morning, I reached the office at 7:55am, and waited. 8am came and passed. 8:05…8:10…the door finally opens. As it turned out, this wasn’t the place to buy the bus tickets at all!
The staff guided me to the area which says: Intermunicipal Tickets. An area where it seemed only to serve Brazilians. An area I avoided the previous day.
So, lesson learnt: Don’t assume.
And now, it's your turn.