Countryside culture and nature captivate tourists in the Paraíba Valley


From inside the cars and buses that travel the 400 kilometers of BR-116 daily, it is difficult to imagine the richness of the region that borders the Paraíba do Sul River.

With São Paulo at one end and Rio de Janeiro at the other, the Presidente Dutra highway cuts through small towns in the Paraíba Valley, where historic buildings, natural beauties and the essence of country culture form a package of attractions for tourists.

Knowing the history of the Paraíba Valley is essential for tourists to understand what they see. Originally covered by the Atlantic Forest, the region was devastated by coffee growers in the 19th century.

Fortunes were formed on the farms of the barons, but carelessness with the land took its toll: at the turn of the 20th century, bankrupt farmers and exhausted land led the Paraíba Valley to a long period of abandonment, which only recently began to be reversed .

In a way, this decadent phase –which the writer Monteiro Lobato portrayed in the book of short stories “Cidades Mortas”, from 1919– helped to forge the identity of the place.

Without resources, far from the modernities brought by progress, small towns have preserved traditions that are now successful among visitors —which new tourist enterprises have learned to exploit.

This is the case of Fazenda Santa Vitória, located in Queluz, São Paulo, close to the border with Rio. Built in 1850, the 4,000-hectare property changed hands in 2016.

It became a luxurious farm hotel, with suites, guest houses and a helipad. In the restaurant, however, the accent is hillbilly. Chef Alex Sander Lopes’ menu is based on vegetables from the garden, products from his own cheese factory and emblematic dishes of the region, such as farofa de içá, a plump ant that becomes crispy after being fried.

Days in the valley pass slowly, but not for lack of things to do. Walks in the middle of nature compete with an intense cultural program, which involves street celebrations throughout the year.

Viola fashion festivals are not uncommon. Popular festivities of a religious nature mix traditional dance performances and plenty of food. But nothing compares to the excitement that takes over the valley during Carnival.

In São Luiz do Paraitinga, the Nhô Frade de Marchinhas Festival began at the end of January and, at Carnival, the street blocks will circulate again through the historic center, after two years of the pandemic. The city hall expects to receive 15 to 20 thousand visitors a day.

In São José do Barreiro, the municipal program includes matinees with bands, street parades and concerts. At the Rancho restaurant, in the city’s central square, the Carnaval das Antigas reenacts club dances, with a brass band playing live marchinhas and a costume contest.

Traveling through the Paraíba Valley by car is the best option due to the proximity between the cities. See below for a tour of some of them. Those traveling close to Carnival should consult the occupancy of hotels and inns, which are in high demand at the time.


Warehouse Three Leagues

The owner, Gilmara Seixas, mines products from the Paraíba Valley and the Mantiqueira erra, from artisanal cheeses and sausages to handbags and books by local authors. The American crochet game costs R$ 40.
R. Coronel Manoel Bento, 72, Centro, tel. (12) 98278-1026, Instagram @tresleguas

Lara C. Restaurante

Chef Lara Coninck occupies a nice little house in the square of the oldest church in town, built in the 17th century, and stocks up on local ingredients. Shimejada with organic rice costs R$38.
Largo das Mercês, 21, Centro, tel. (11) 95473-9920, Instagram @larac.restaurante


The cheese factory, which left the 2022 Cheese World Cup with a Super Gold medal for its Causo cheese, recently opened a shop on the farm. A slice of the award-winning product costs R$ 42 (200 g).
Estrada do Fundinho, 1001, Catuçaba, district of São Luiz do Paraitinga, tel. (11) 94287-0204, Instagram @lano_alto


Dairy Oro Bianco

Welcomed by the owner, Simon Riess, who trained as a cheesemaker in Italy, visitors see the tame Murrah buffaloes up close, witness the milking and buy freshly made burrata and mozzarella. The tasting in the garden, at R$150 per person, must be scheduled.
To get there, you need to take a secondary rural road from Rodovia Paulo Virgínio (SP-171), consulting the online map. Tel. (12) 3125-3130, website


Trempe Restaurant

Founded by the sociologist Ocílio Ferraz, who dedicated his life to promoting the culture of the tropics, the former Restaurante do Ocílio changed hands after his death in 2016. The current owner, Mateus Araújo, has improved the cuisine and service without giving up traditions – he maintains the tables in the garden, the hammock and farofa de içá as the star of the menu (R$50 for three people). Open from Friday to Sunday, with long fermentation pizzas in the evening.
R. José Ferraz Filho, s/nº, Vila Esperança, tel. (12) 98182-3161, Instagram @tremperestaurante

Mugango House

On the rural road that connects Silveiras to Cunha, the couple Virgílio Paiva and Fernando Marques raise sheep in Cabanha Bocaina, produce dulce de leche and host visitors in a chalet by the lake, with capacity for four people. R$457 per day (or R$500 per day during Carnival week).


Santa Vitoria Farm

Guests in the suites and houses are entertained with horseback riding or bicycle riding, waterfalls, river bathing, swimming pool and spa, among other attractions. The full-board system includes special events, such as a caipira lunch at Rancho da Cascada and pizzas at night. The hotel is only open from Thursday to Sunday, except for groups. Daily rate for a couple from R$ 2,200; five-night package for Carnival, from February 17th to 22nd, from R$ 17,000.
João Batista Melo Souza Highway, km 5, tel. (12) 99784-2568.

house lamp

A two-story house from 1923, opposite the old train station, houses the workshop where five artisans from the region work. With embroidery, crochet, sewing and other techniques, they produce handbags, tablecloths and aprons – the embroidered pantry cloth costs R$ 119. Visits by appointment only


Serra da Bocaina National Park

Atlantic forest conservation unit open to visitors, has trails that were used by gold and coffee traders, lookouts from where you can see almost the entire Paraíba Valley and several waterfalls that form natural pools.
Rod. Est. Francisca Mendes Ribeiro (SP-221), no number, km 0

Rancho Gastronomy and Culture

The mix of restaurant and emporium is an informal embassy of country culture. At lunch, the buffet on a wood-burning stove lists typical recipes (R$65.90 per kilo from Monday to Friday, R$89.90 per kilo on weekends and holidays); in the evening, the service is à la carte. In the attached store, there are hundreds of products from the region, from guava paste to teapots.
Praça Coronel Cunha Lara, 61, Centro, tel. (12) 3117-1317, Instagram @ranchosjbarreiro


Nosco Reserve Alambique

At Fazenda Valparaíso, built in the 19th century, Marcelo Nordskog produces the award-winning Reserva do Nosco cachaça. With prior booking, visitors are received by the owner and taste the labels in the former slave quarters, where the aging barrels are located. A bottle of white cachaça costs R$110.
Estrada da Fazenda Valparaíso, s/nº, Engenheiro Passos, district of Resende, tel. (24) 98803-8872; @reservadonosco


Santo Antônio cheese factory

Famous among São Paulo chefs, the cheeses produced by Joãozinho Laura are available at Venda dos Laura, inside the farm. A slice of Grana dos Laura (200 g) costs R$34. With prior booking, visitors can visit the maturation cellars.
Estrada da Fazenda Velha, s/nº, Pinheirinhos, tel. (35) 99835-8564

Monjolo’s House

Inaugurated in August 2022, the restaurant belongs to chef Rafa Bocaina and cheesemaker Joãozinho Laura. From the kitchen, there are country dishes like suckling pig with beans, rice and salad, exclusive to Saturdays and Sundays (R$ 157, for two).
Estrada da Fazenda Velha, s/nº, Pinheirinhos, tel. (35) 99834-6678, Instagram @casadomonjolo

*The reporter traveled at the invitation of Fazenda Santa Vitória

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