Canela is a pretty and picturesque town in the South of Brazil, located at 837 meters above sea level in a region called Serra Gaucha ( Gaucho Highlands) or Regiao das Hortensias ( Hydrangeas Region) named after its beautiful blue Hydrangeas flowers that frame roads and landscapes throughout the spring and summer months. Located in the state of Rio Grande do Sul ( it means Great Southern River) which is the Southernmost estate of Brazil, bordering with Argentina and Uruguay. Canela can be reached by car or bus, about 2 hours from the state capital city of Porto Alegre. The climate is subtropical humid with summer average temperatures of about 20 degrees C and winter temperatures below zero with the occasional dust of snow.
Its roots started in the shade of a Cinnamon Tree “Caneleira“, were the travellers “tropeiros” used to rest and often arrange to meet up along their journeys on a horseback or horse-pulled carriage, at the turning of the century. They would often say to each other, let’s meet under the “Caneleira” and that is how the name Canela come about.
Canela is my hometown; I was born here, my grandparents were Italian immigrants that settled here in the nineteen hundred when there was only a big jungle of Araucaria trees and a very small community of other predominantly Italians and German Immigrants. These early settlers slowly built this town, which now boasts a population of about 42,000 people.
It is not yet on the international tourism radar, and long may that continue, but it is well known to Brazilians that come to the town to enjoy its charming Bavarian and Italian-influenced architecture, beautiful parks, waterfalls, trails, activities such as white water rafting, horse riding, walking trails, zip- lining, traditional gaucho barbecues (churrascarias ) and the great Southern hospitality.
I visit regularly to see my family and at my last visit in August/September 2014, I came over to attend my niece Caroline’s wedding (Anglo-Brazilian wedding – part 2, stay tuned for that), I arrived in Canela with my son James at the end of August 2014. James and I flew with TAP, from London via Portugal to Porto Alegre – RS, my daughter Chloe were already in town, since she had already spent 2 months staying with the family and practicing her Portuguese. Due to work commitments, Brian joined us a week later and arrived just in time for the Big Fat Brazilian wedding and later on a trip of 2 days to the canyons of Taimbezinho and Fortaleza.
It is always very emotional for me to see my family and spend time with them, there are usually tears of joy when I arrive and tears of sadness when I leave, in particularly because it can take another 2 to 3 years before I see my father again and he is not getting any younger. I enjoy visiting my old hangouts and there are always some new things to do in the town.
Parque do Caracol
This beautiful waterfall is set in a large and protected park, there are trails that can take you down to the foot of the waterfall (about 927 steps down) or it can just be appreciated from a viewpoint (Mirante). The Caracol waterfall is about 430 feet/ 131 meters high, falling down from a basalt cliff and surrounded by native trees, such as the Araucaria tree. The protected park is well maintained with good facilities and my family loves coming here for a day out and a barbecue or a picnic.
Catedral de Pedra
The main road into the town leads to the Catedral de Pedra, a Gothic style, Stone cathedral. This Catholic church was built by Italian immigrants, including my grandfather, who was one of its biggest benefactors. The church has a 65 meters tower that house the 12 bronze bells which were made in Italy and donated to the church by my grandfather, Joao in memory of my late grandmother Gilda. Each bronze bell is engraved with religious and political scenes about this region and also each bronze bell is engraved with the names of one my grandparents 10 children, including my father who is called Remy and is the youngest of all their children. He has the smallest bell named after him. The 2 largest bell’s which weigh 970 Kg and 680 Kg are named after my grandfather Joao and grandmother Gilda. Inside the church, there are also many of the stained glass windows that were also donated by my family. So needless to say this church has been very important to our family, I got married here in 1990. My grandparent’s house used to be on a corner plot to the right of the church and my father’s house is only a 5 minutes walk from here.
On my first day back in town, my sister Angelita took me to a new tea house, just opposite the church, called Emporio Canela, that has just recently opened offering a range of teas, coffee, hot chocolate and snack meals. We spent few hours there sipping apple, clove and cinnamon tea, gossiping and catching up.
This town has changed a lot since I lived here, it has grown and expanded so much. When I was a teenager, growing up in this town there were hardly any coffee shops, restaurants or nice bars to hang out. As a teenager I had a love – hate relationship with this town and I was often bored with the lack of things to do. Nowadays you can even get stuck in the occasional traffic jam here on the main road leading up to the church, during the busy holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter when a lot of Brazilian tourists descend here to enjoy the pretty decorations, lights and shows that in recent years have become major events in the South of Brazil.
As a teenager, I did not appreciate this idyllic location set high up in the hills and surrounded by nature, rivers, and waterfalls.
Trails and waterfalls
Canela has many nature parks with trails, waterfalls, and beautiful green scenery. I enjoyed exploring some of my old hangouts again, but this time I also spent time exploring with Brian, Chloe, James and Ben’s family, who came to Canela for the wedding to my niece Caroline. It was great to see Canela through their eyes as we explored together. We chose a sunny day to go zip-lining at Passo do Inferno, but unfortunately, when we got there the zip-lining activity was closed for that day. But we still enjoyed the trail down to the river and waterfall.
White Water Rafting
The white water rafting is on offer at the Parque das Corredeiras, on the border of Canela and Tres Coroas, the River Paranhana, offers a level 3 (beginner) rafting. Its 2.4 miles/4 km descent starts at a river dam called “Barragem das Laranjeiras”, a local company organizes it all including transport there and back. It is a fun packed day out.
Canela does not often receive international visitors, but for few days before Caroline and Ben’s wedding the British took over this little town and enjoyed the culinary delights and local beers. English is not widely spoken here, so there was a lot of pointing and sign language going on whenever I was not around to help with translations. Chloe had already been here for 2 months, so her Portuguese had greatly improved and she loved every opportunity to practice it.
There is a strong regional identity and culture, with the Gauchos still practicing their traditions of dressing in a particular way, using traditional language and expressions. Traditional dances and the habit of drinking “chimarrao”, a green herbal tea, called “mate”, which is served very hot in a “cuia” with a metal straw and shared with friends and family during a get-together.
Wine and Rum production
Canela is not as famous for its wine production as the neighbouring towns of Caxias do Sul and Farroupilha, but there is good wine to be had here and during my recent stay we visited the Jolimont Wineries, together with my father who was very happy to drive us down into the valley, via a dusty and unmade road. We spent a lovely afternoon sampling the wine and also later on visited the rum factory, which was just further down the valley. Rum is used to make the popular Brazilian cocktail called “caipirinha”, the recipe includes rum, lime, ice, and sugar.
The south of Brazil is, of course, famous for its barbecue and every gaucho house will have a built in barbecue place, my father’s house is no exception and most Sundays he will host a great barbecue for the family. During our visit, we certainly had our fair share of enjoying this tradition. The culinary here is also greatly influenced by the Italian and German immigrants, there are many pizza and pasta restaurants offering a great selection. Some pizza specialist restaurants, called “pizzarias” offer the “rodizio” in which an entrance fee is paid and dinners can eat as much pizza as they can possibly stomach. A great way of tasting all the different flavours, including some sweet flavours such as the chocolate or ice cream pizza.
Canela is also well known in Brazil for its prayer chocolate factories and much delicious local produce such as colonial bread, jams, cakes, tarts, cheese, and salamis. The incredible “cafe colonial” is a feast of all these local produce which can be enjoyed over many hours of gluttony, usually washed down with some local wine.
Canela has a very special place in my heart and although I only lived there for 18 years, since I left home at the age of 18 to live in the state capital Porto Alegre to attend University and later on I settled in the UK where I have lived most of my adult life, I do still feel very connected to this small town in gaucho land. But the main pull for me is my family and the love and memories that we share together. I lost my mother in 2001, she died after a long battle with kidney disease and renal failure. She died very young, aged only 65 and I still miss her dearly.
Therefore my visits are all about spending time with the family and ensure that my children get to know and connect with their Brazilian roots. Both Brian and I have always encouraged them to learn to speak Portuguese since most of my family does not speak any English.
Brian and I have plans of spending more time in Brazil in the near future, we are keen to do a coastal road trip from the South along the coast all the way up to the very North Brazil. It will be an epic road trip!