March, 2016: Brazil is BIG…in fact southern Brazil is probably bigger than most countries! For some foolhardy reason we thought that we could skip through it in a few weeks. In doing so, we thought we would be happy that we had done due justice to a country that neither of us had ever been to and yet offered so much. Despite a tanking economy, endemic corruption and a political crisis which has seen the country’s first female president indicted for allegedly cooking the books, it is, well, bloody brilliant.
We kicked off our Brazilian tour in southern Brazil and started with a few days of eating and beaching on the gorgeous Santa Catarina Island. Santa Catarina was our first proper beach time for the trip and it was great to be back beachside. We hired a rust bucket little Chevy hatch back with only half it’s doors functioning and spent a few days driving around getting sand between our toes and pursuing some of the island’s tasty treats. Mole Beach was probably our favourite due it’s proximity to where we were staying but there were a few others which deserve an honourable mention.
- Praia Joaquina on the south eastern side of the island has a huge long stretch of golden sand which did get a bit blustery but was still pretty awesome. You can also go sand boarding on the dunes behind the beach.
- On the far southern tip of Santa Catarina, at the end of a lush 45 minute walk through thick rainforest is the secluded and rather beautiful Praia de Naufragados where a little family run restaurant pumps out superb flakey prawn pasteles.
- While it’s not strictly a beach, the Ribeirao da Ilha is a gorgeous drive through old colonial villages where it’s worth stopping for a few fresh oysters and a cold beer
- Paranto do Sul is definitely worth a visit for the epic seafood buffet at the atmospheric Bar do Arante. We’re not usually that up for buffets but this one was outstanding with lots of super fresh and well cooked seafood on offer. We spent a lazy few hours there having a long lunch and reading the 1000’s of paper notes which hang from the ceiling while watching the waves roll in.
- Our last beach session was at Praia da Barra da Lagoa which is a stunning long stretch of golden sand. It’s nicely sheltered by a south east point so on the morning we were the water was glassy smooth with nice little waves perfect for a body surf.
From Santa Catarina island we made a quick stopover in the town of Curitiba for more good eating and a train ride back in time. We arrived in the evening and, bags in tow, made a beeline straight to Madero Steakhouse where we managed to time our arrival with a happy hour of some of the best burgers in southern Brazil. The next day we boarded the Serra Verde train for the stunning three hour journey through Brazil’s most pristine stretch of Atlantic forrest to the lovely old colonial village of Morretes where we discovered Barreado. Barreado is a famous southern Brazil beef stew which is traditionally made in a clay pot, slow cooked in a wood fired oven and then served with cassava flour (as a thickener) and weirdly, fresh banana. Other than being totally ginormous, the serving we had also came with rice, prawns, salad plus a range of spicey salsas. While the beef was rich and delicious I’m not sure we were huge fans of the banana and beef combo. Definitely worth a try though.
Our last morning in Curitiba we took a stroll over to the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. I wouldn’t say either of us are really architecture officionados, but we were both pretty blown away by this awesome museum dedicated to one of the icons of modern architecture. Not only is the museum itself a hugely impressive structure but the exhibits and galleries within contained some cracking pieces. By the end of our few hours in the museum we were both bubbling with creative juices about how we could apply some of the ideas from the museum to our impending wedding.
For probably the only time in our Brazilian adventure we actually stuck to our ill made plans and moved on relatively quickly from Curitiba bound for Londrina the former coffee capital of Brazil. Londrina was named in honour of the English who came to build the town’s railway back in the 1800’s but nowadays there isn’t a huge amount going on other than playing home to an old school mate Payno and his lovely wife Fernanda (Fer for short). The outstanding hospitality of Payno and Fer, their friends and Fer’s family made it rather hard to leave. We feasted on our first and best Rodizio (Brazilian all you can eat BBQ), learnt the proper method of concocting killer Caipirinhas, played an epic game of Bingo and got the lowdown on the crazy state of Brazilian politics. We haven’t eaten in a lot at rodizio restaurants but Galpao Nelore Churrascaria in Londrina certainly set the bar high with waiters bringing a steady stream of freshly grilled, succulent, well salted, meaty treats from delicate little chicken hearts to big slabs of the famous picanha (rump cap). And, to make it even better, half price Thursday nights meant we could happily feast away for next to nothing. So good!
Santa Catarina, Curitiba and Londrina had got us off to a flying start in southern Brazil and with expectations high we set out for the wilds of the Pantanal…
Southern Brazil travel and feasting tips:
Florianopolis and Ilha Santa Catarina:
- O Padeiro de Sevilha, a few blocks up from the Florianopolis bus station is a great place to stop in to sample good espresso, epic focaccia, perfectly flakey little croissants and a range of other baked goodies. (O Padeiro de Sevilha, 214 R. Esteves Junior, Centro).
- Spend a lazy lunch reading the 1000’s of paper notes which hang from the ceiling of the old, atmospheric Bar do Arante while feasting on a sumptuous seafood buffet and watching the waves roll in. We’re not usually that up for buffets but this was outstanding. Bar do Arante, 254 R. Abelardo Otacilio Gomes, Pantano do Sul.
- Have a massive and cheap meal prawns done every-which-way at Retiro da Lagoa while watching the gentle waters of Lagoa da Conceicao at 1866 Ave. das Rendeiras.
- Head over to Mole Beach to grab a caipirinha and watch the sun go down with the sand between your toes
- We stayed at Joaquin 433 Posada e Hostal (USD37.50/private double/night including breakfast, 433 Ave. Prefeito Acacia Garibaldi S. Tiago) just around the corner from Lagoa da Conceicao. Despite a fairly small room we loved the long veranda with comfy hammocks not to mention one of the best breakfasts of our trip.
Curitiba / Morretes:
- Madero Steak House Relogio das Flores (63 R. Kellers, Sao Francisco, Curitiba) has delicious and cheap burgers during their happy hour which are well worth a look
- Challenge yourself to a huge and delicious lunch of Barreado on the veranda of the 17th century, slightly kitchy, Hotel e Restaurante Nhundiaquara (13 r Gal Carneiro, Morretes).
- If you’re even mildly interested in modern architecture then a visit to the Oscar Niemeyer Museum (999 R. Mal. Hermes, Centro Civico, Curitiba) is a must. We happily spent a few hours getting acquainted with the work of this hugely influential man who we both knew nothing about.
- Despite being a little noisy, Curitiba Backpackers were a friendly bunch with some delicious local craft beers on tap in the bar. Food vans also park up next door for cheap, delicious eats. (USD24/night/two people in a private room with shared bathroom, R. Nilo Peçanha, 243 – São Francisco, Curitiba)
- Galpao Nelore Churrascaria (891 Ave. Higienopolis, Centro) offers mid-week discounts, a well stocked caipirinha trolley, quality sushi and lip-smackingly good grilled meats in abundance