Last updated: 09:33 AM ET, Wed November 18 2015

Dispatch: Gramado, Southern Brazil’s Bavarian Village

Destination & Tourism | David Cogswell | November 17, 2015

Dispatch: Gramado, Southern Brazil’s Bavarian Village

Photo by David Cogswell

If you awoke from a deep sleep and found yourself in Gramado it’s not likely you would guess that you were in Brazil. It looks like a Bavarian village in the mountains.

The mountains are natural Brazil, of course. It’s cattle country, the home of the gauchos. Horses and cattle are still a prominent feature of the surrounding countryside. The gaucho culture is a strong component of the local culture. Leather and meat are nearly as plentiful as air.

Chocolate shops are also a major feature of the city. What American would have predicted that? But then there is little about Gramado that would be predicted by the standard preconceptions about Brazil.

I visited Gramado to attend the Festuris tourism trade show, which brings the travel industry of Brazil together once a year in the southern tourist town. The 27th annual Festuris was held Nov. 5-8 in Serra Park, a conference center in Gramado.

Festuris featured exhibitors from 65 destinations this year, from not only all over Latin America but also from beyond, including North American destinations such as Orlando and Las Vegas, which are big hits with Brazilians, and South Africa, which is called Africa do Sul in Brazil.

The show attracted 16,000 attendees and the exhibitors competed for their attention with lively, colorful booths, costumes, food and wine and practically anything else that might occur to someone who wanted to get your attention and win your favor.

The conference was made especially festive by the elaborate lighting constructions all over the downtown area to celebrate Christmas. The city also hosted an elaborate musical Christmas show with a massive fireworks display during the trade show.  

The Bavarian look of downtown Gramado is not an accident. And it didn’t come from the Germans who were among the first immigrant groups who settled there. They were Germans, but they weren’t Bavarians.

The Bavarian style was implemented in the 1960s when an engineer who was involved in city planning traveled to Bavaria. He was taken with the style he saw there, and came back and persuaded others to adopt the style as Gramado’s signature look.

Since that time, building codes have required stores in the central business district to conform to the Bavarian style. Beyond the business district, homeowners are also encouraged to make their homes blend in with the style through tax breaks they are eligible for if they do so.

The result is that the town has a style of its own, an idiosyncratic blend of diverse elements: the striking Bavarian architecture, the gaucho culture, the chocolate, the leather, the meat and the blend of Portuguese, German and Italian cultural roots.

When you say “southern Brazil” it is natural for an American to think of “southern” culture as more laid back, as is characteristic of warmer climates. But Brazil’s climate profile is upside down compared to the U.S. In Brazil the north is the tropical part and the south is the cool part.

The south of Brazil is not as cold as the north of the U.S. but this year an El Nino weather system kept the weather in southern Brazil abnormally cold and damp.

Gramado is in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil. It’s in a temperate climate much cooler than the more well-known Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. It’s a small city with a population of less than 35,000, but it draws 6 million tourists a year. Its main industry is tourism, which makes up about 85 percent of the city’s economy.

What is now Gramado was originally settled by Portuguese colonists in 1875, followed a few years later by German immigrants and then by Italian immigrants from Caxias do Sol.

The population of the city is said to be comprised of about 40 percent Italian, 40 percent German and 20 percent Portuguese ancestry.

With the Olympics set for next summer, Gramado is one more of many unpredictable and idiosyncratic areas of Brazil waiting to be discovered by visitors who are willing to venture out of the better known parts of Brazil and experience some southern hospitality.

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