Rota Romantica is Portuguese for 'Romantic Route'. In the mountains of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state; it's the name for the 184 km (114 mi) scenic road that winds from São Leopoldo to São Francisco de Pallia through the Serra Gaucha. It is a fairytale landscape of wooded hills, vineyards, broad rivers, canyons, waterfalls, bluffs and green pastures. It looks almost · European, a look enhanced by the predominant German and Italian cultures of its original colonists. Many of the local Brazilians have blond hair and look northern European; and even speak the local Riograndenser Hunsruckish German dialect. The towns are full of black-and-white half-timbered, or Swiss chalet-style, buildings. The shops are full of German and Italian specialities; and Oktoberfest is sacred. Add to this an arcadia worthy of Poussin, in all the moods and colours of four full seasons, and the Rota Romantica is unlike any other Brazilian experience.
For visitors, Gramado and Canela are the hub of the Rota Romantica's attractions, and of the serra alemana, the towns with the Rota's typical German flavour. From Gramado it is easy to join the Rota's sister routes, the Italian-influenced Caminhos da Colonia, which runs through the Italian wine-making towns in the parallel serra italiana, and the specifically wine-inspired Rota de Uva e o Vinho.
Gramado, Canela and the shoemaking and dairy town of Novo Petropolis also form part of the stunning Região de Hortênsias – a shorter road tour through miles of dazzling blue hydrangeas. One of the region's greatest delights is the constant incongruity of its Euro-Brazilian character and the Rota Romantica's popularity thrives on it. It is also the Rota's only drawback: for many northern Brazilians, the emphasis on old-world cultures practised in the Serra Gaucha's communities is a political issue about 'being Brazilian'.
WHEN TO GO
Year-round. March/April is iI is especially lovely. Come for the December Film · Festival in Gramado, the biggest of various events along the Rota throughout the year.
TIME IT TAKES
3-4 hours to drive from end to end.
Most people come for 3-8 days.
The late 19th century medieval-style half-timbered buildings of Picada Café, along with Novo Petropolis, among the most obviously Germanic towns on the Rota.
The Plateau of Araucarias, part of the National Forest of Ibama, 6km (4 mi) from Canela. The 131m (430 ft) waterfall plunging off the cliff into the dense growth of Canela's Parque de Caracol - a landscape typical of the Serra Gaucha's beauty.
Vale dos Vinhedos, north and west of the Rota, centre of Brazil's best vineyards.
The grandeur of the ltaimbezinho canyon country in Aparados da Serra National park, north of Gramado, a reminder of what Brazil is really like just beyond the charming Rota.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The temperature in Gramado, Canela and Novo Petropolis (580 m/1900ft up in the Serra Gaucha) is usually about · 5 oC (41°F) lower than in Porto Alegre.