A trip to Brazil’s Imperial past

26 Nov

Last weekend we took a trip to Petropolis, an hour north of Rio and the summer residence of Brazil’s Imperial family. To give a little historical background…the Portuguese Royal family fled to Brazil as Napolean’s army was heading towards Lisbon in 1807. The King eventually returned to Portugal when his mother died, demoting Brazil to a colony and leading to a rebellion with his son, Don Pedro I, declaring the Brazil an independent country and himself Emperor in 1922. Passing through the hills to the north of Rio and staying on a farm he had decided it would be a perfect spot for a cool summer residence and for his daughters health. A German architect was employed to design it and it was settled by over 300 German families along with the Emperor and his retinue…resulting in Petropolis, a little bit of European splendour in the midst of the rainforest.

The bus ride up gives spectacular views of the mountains and valleys leading down to the coast. And then you step out and go back in time…and to a different continent. The weather was cold (at least 11-12 C!) and it was grey and drizzling so it felt like we were back in the UK, perhaps in the peak district. We had been looking forward to some colder weather…but we’ve decided its not for us. We’ll stick to the sunshine, wearing T-shirts and sitting with the windows open all day and night! I’d just get rid of these pesky mosquitoes, which biting me now…arggghhh. You can’t have everything!

Anyway, Petropolis is very beautiful, if slightly bizarre, full of French style chateaus, old crumbling wooden latticed houses, clattering horse carriages and a faded gentile charm. The old Imperial summer palace is beautiful, not overly grand, but grand enough! When the Republic took over the Presidents decided they needed to keep up the summer palace practice so there’s another beautiful building, decidedly shabbier, that they had for their use. Since the capital moved to Brasilia and the sight of Presidents in large summer palaces became a voter turnoff, they only drop by to hang their painting on the wall. Dilma is obviously yet to visit, or maybe they’re just seeing if she lasts!

Presidential Palace and French-style chateaus in Petropolis

Presidential Palace and French-style chateaus in Petropolis

Imperial Palace Petropolis
Imperial Palace Petropolis

There have been several  other notable residents of Petropolis. Particularly interesting is the house of Alberto Santos-Dumont, one of the fathers of aviation, and according to the Brazilians, at least, the first person to fly a plane. His was the first ‘official’ heavier-than-air flight, certified by the Aéro Club de France in 1906, with him demonstrating his flights in public, unlike the Wright brothers who were interested in obtaining a patent! His house, which he designed himself, demonstrates his general interest in engineering and innovation. It isn’t large width and every bit of space is maximised. The bed turns into a desk during the day, he designed a shower that he could control the temperature of by mixing two halves of a bucket containing separated hot water (heated by a little alcohol stove) and cold water, and the stairs that lead up the steep hillside are carved so that you don’t hit your shins as you walk up!

Alberto Santos-Dumont's innovative house

Alberto Santos-Dumont’s innovative house, you can just make out the carved steps

Finally we ended up at the brewery. This definitely demonstrates the cities Germanic influence. The citizens were fed-up of having a to wait weeks for beer to arrive so they built their own brewery! Even today they import all of the ingredients, hops, oats and yeast. The beer must taste better if the ingredients have been shipped halfway across the world! I have to say I was pretty happy when I tasted their Bohemia Confraria, a belgian style beer with flavour, yippee. The chopp (draft lager) is perfect for a hot day on the beach, but oh for aromas and something to tickle the taste buds…

Enjoying the beermaster taste test of the at the Bohemia cervejaria!

Enjoying the beermaster taste test of the at the Bohemia cervejaria!

I’ll just leave you with the amazing views down to Rio with the sun streaming through the clouds during our bus journey home…

The view from the mountains of Petropolis down to Rio

The view from the mountains of Petropolis down to Rio


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