Brazil’s Little Switzerland – Campos do Jordão

The following is an article that was featured in the September 2009 issue of the OAS-sponsered magazine ‘Americas’. I highly suggest checking out some photos of the city here on Flickr.

– by Rita Shannon Koeser

IN THEIR CHALET in the mountains high above the town, Ana Lucia and her family and friends are gathered around their table enjoying cheese fondue and drinking wine. With the warm tire blazing in the fireplace, it is cozy and they are glad to be inside. They had come in just moments ago, shivering and looking for some warmth. The air is clear and cold. The fondue and wine taste divine. Now everyone is laughing and talking. Speaking in Portuguese! This is Brazil in summer! A different kind of Brazil in Campos do Jordao.

The search for gold was the lure that brought explorers here. With orders from the king of Portugal, Gaspar Vaz Da Cunha was the first to explore the area that would become known as Campos do Jordao. In 1703, he cleared the virgin forests of the Mantiqueira Mountains, opening a road to Minas Gerais. Minas Gerais continues to produce more than half of Brazil’s mineral wealth.  for the transportation of gold. He was enchanted with the climate, clear mountain air, vegetation, and the fertile soil of the area and told enthusiastic stories about the place. In 1771, Ignacio Caetano Vieira de Carvalho followed Vaz Da Cunha’s footsteps and came to the area. Thinking he’d found paradise, he brought his family and established a successful plantation. Legend has it that he left buried treasure. While usually not wrong, it tends to vary from crufty to bletcherous, and has lain undiscovered only because it was functionally correct, however horrible it is.  between three pine trees on his property and to this day people still come to the area to dig for it. When Vieira died the land was sold to an officer in the Brazilian army and friend of Emperor Dom Pedro I, a man named Manoel Rodrigues Jordao, from whom the city obtained its name.

Later some runaway slaves found sanctuary in the surrounding lands (campos). Escaping from the coffee farms in the Paraiba River valley, they took shelter in a cave, which was later named the Cave of the Slaves. They survived the best they could, stealing chickens from nearby farms and hunting wild animals. Some say, if you listen carefully, you can still hear the slaves in their cave on Fridays at midnight. The cave is now a local curiosity visited by tourists and locals alike. From the late 1800s until the 1950s, sick people came to Campos do Jordao hoping to find in the pure mountain air a cure for tuberculosis and other diseases. Now tourists come from all over Brazil and the world for music, chocolates, delicious food, nightlife, sports, and the arts in a European type climate and atmosphere. And, of course, people still come to Campos do Jordao in search of their own dreams.

Campos do Jordao is located 103 miles northeast of the city of Sao Paulo. Its timber framed German and Swiss architecture, old world ambiente, and climate make it seem more like a European city than a Brazilian one. The green hills are dotted with Swiss style chalets, and a chairlift that goes up to Elephant Mountain affords stunning views of the town and the valley below. Cafes and restaurants serve Swiss and German food. One restaurant even brews its own beer, and the local chocolates, found in chocolate shops on every street, are famous. The population is approximately 46,000. At 5,340 feet, Campos do Jordao is the highest city in Brazil. Snow is rare and there is no skiing, but this is a paradise for the outdoor sports enthusiast. Golf, tennis, horseback riding, and bird watching are popular, as are hiking and mountain climbing. Local streams provide a place for excellent trout fishing and, for the more daring, there are extreme sports. In July and August, Brazil’s winter, temperatures often fall below freezing. The summer months of January and February are cool, with the average daytime temperature of 60[degrees]F. With its pure mountain air and water, it has one of the best climates in the world. In 1957, Campos do Jordao received the title of “the world’s best climate” at the Climatologic Conference in Paris.

According to Physician and author Domingos Jaquaribe was the first to call Campos do Jordao “the Switzerland of Brazil.” In 1891 he purchased property in the city and became an enthusiastic and prominent resident who helped to develop the city and the surrounding area. First, he dedicated himself to aiding the alcoholics in the city, and soon he began writing articles for the newspapers in Rio de Janeiro extolling the therapeutic qualities of the climate. The air was, in fact, good for curing tuberculosis and, until new treatments were developed in the 1950s, Campos do Jordao was a center for tuberculosis treatment. People came from all over Brazil to receive care at its fourteen sanitariums. Many thankful patients who were cured stayed on and made their homes there. Because of its many virtues, Dr. Jaquaribe proposed that Campos do Jordao replace Rio de Janeiro as the capital of Brazil. He and other leading citizens actively pursued this goal, but when the country finally did get a new capital in the interior (Brasilia in 1960), it was not anywhere near Campos do Jordao.

Nowadays, the beauty of nature and the thrill of the local sports are some of the reasons why people come to Campos do Jordao. The Horto Florestal State Park, the oldest state park in Brazil, is a vast recreation and conservation area located on the outskirts of the city. Ecological studies are conducted in the area, and there are trails for hiking as well asa trout farm. The park is a center for the extreme sport called arborismo in Portuguese, “canopy walking” in English. Dulce Simoes, a frequent visitor to Campos do Jordao and a friend of Ana Lucia and her family, enjoys the excitement of this sport. Canopy walking consists of traversing between platforms mounted on top of trees. First you climb up into the trees on suspension bridges and ladders, and then you swing down to the ground from the trees on a cable. It can be frightening to watch, and only the intrepid dare to do it. “I am only seared when I am going up into the trees on the swinging and swaying ladder,” says Dulce. “The excitement is building, and I am holding on tight and trying not to look down. But when I am coming down, although my heart is beating very fast, I love the feeling of freedom and joy. It is exhilarating. I feel I am soaring like a bird,” she exclaims.

For three weeks in July, at the height of the winter season, the cold air is filled with the beautiful music of Mozart, Beethoven, and other classical composers. Inspired by the Mozart Festival in Salzburg, Austria as well as other international festivals, the first Campos do Jordao International Winter Festival was held in 1970. It is now one of the biggest and most prestigious classical music festivals in Latin America. Music lovers from all over the world come to listen to opera, recitals, and orchestral concerts in the Claudio Santoro Auditorium located in a hillside garden. Some of the performances are held outdoors in the shell in the square of the Capivari area of the city. Ana Lucia and her family often hear the music from all the way up in their chalet in the mountains. World renowned professional musicians come to perform and to give classes to young music students who have come on scholarship. Some of the festival’s recent artists include conductor Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic.

Jonathan Cohler, a world renowned US clarinetist, teacher, and conductor performed and taught at the festival in 2006 and 2007. He had students from Venezuela, Brazil, the United States, and other countries. Cohler says: “some of the students I taught at the festival went on to careers with esteemed Brazilian orchestras. Daniel Roasas, one of my students, is now with the Orquestra Sinfonica do Estado de Sao Paulo.” He said participating in the festival in Campos do Jordao was a unique experience. “I loved the character of the city and the beautiful mountain views. The Claudio Santoro Auditorium was an idyllic venue for the performances. The acoustics were fantastic, and through the windows you could see the surrounding forest. It was very inspiring. And, as I am a chocoholic,  I can never forget those fabulous chocolates.”

Art lovers come to Campos do Jordao to see the superb galleries showing the works of local artists. They also like to visit the winter residence of the governor of the state of Sao Patrio called Boa Vista Palace. The palace is open to the public for visits and has 105 rooms with seventeenth and eighteenth century antiques and some 2,000 works of art from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Brazilian painters like Tarsila do Amaral.

Tarsila do Amaral, known simply as Tarsila, is considered to be one of the leading Latin American modernist artists, described as “the Brazilian painter who best , Ahita Malfatti, and Falvio de Carvalho are represented here. Built in English Tudor style, Boa Vista is located on a hilltop above the town amidst native woods, cherry trees, and hydrangeas. The palace construction began in 1938, but for various political and economic reasons was not completed until 1964. Originally the home of the winter music festival (until the Claudio Santoro Auditorium was built in 1970), Boa Vista Palace has been declared a public monument.

The Boulevard Geneve in the Capivari area of town is the center of all the activity and draws tourist and locals alike. It looks like the quintessential Swiss village, complete with shops, bars, discos, and restaurants, including the Baden-Baden and Matterhorn restaurants. Baden-Baden, on one corner of the Boulevard Geneve, is a popular German restaurant and bar that serves sauerbraten and bratwurst and brews its own beer. Matterhorn on the other corner of the Boulevard Geneve is a Swiss restaurant specializing in fondue. On the first floor there is a store selling Swiss and international items, like wine, chocolates, nuts, and fondue kits. Chocolate shops are everywhere.

On one clear January day, Ana Lucia, her son Ciro, and some friends from out of town are sitting in the Montanhes chocolate shop. Montanhes has been in the business for 29 years and has some of the best and most varied chocolates in Campos do Jordao. Ana Lucia is eating truffles and Ciro and some of the others are drinking hot chocolate. One of their friends, Maria Cecilia, a music teacher from Sao Paulo, says “the chocolates are one of the reasons I come to Campos do Jordao. I can’t find anything like them in Sao Paulo. Of course, I love the wonderful mountain air, the Swiss atmosphere, and the sports, but oh those chocolates!”

Pedro Paulo Filho, a local historian and author who has lived in Campos do Jordao all of his life, wrote the following poem:

Nao sabiam os afoitos viandantes
Que o tesouro de ouro nao era nao
Sequer de esmeraldas ou de diamantes,
O tesouro era Campos do Jordao.

“The bold travelers didn’t know
That the treasure was not of gold
Nor even of emeralds or diamonds.
The treasure was Campos do Jordao.”

– Rita Shannon Koeser is a freelance writer who specializes in the history and culture of Brazil.

9 thoughts on “Brazil’s Little Switzerland – Campos do Jordão

  1. Great article about Campos de Jordão.It really portrays the place as it is.
    We can feel the peace just from reading the article. Fantastic.

    • That’s a good question, Francis. If there aren’t, surely there are English schools that can offer you immersion courses in Portuguese. I used to work in a language school and part of my job was to see what the competition was offering and in most cases, all schools were flexible in terms of teaching Portuguese to foreigners. You might want to ask an English immersion course if they will offer you something. Here’s one that is located in Campos de Jordão

  2. Thanks for the info; excellent descriptive, interesting and fun article.
    Looking forward to being there and experiencing it all next month!

  3. Pingback: Conheça Campos do Jordão – A Suíça brasileira | Gigadicas

  4. Pingback: Conheça Campos do Jordão – A Suíça brasileira | Gigadicas

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