The Mountain Resort Town In South America That Will Make You Feel Like You're In Europe

At first glance, the town of Gramado appears as though it should be on a postcard from Western Europe. With chocolatiers at every turn, the smell of fondue wafting in the air, and Bavarian-style houses dotting the streets, it might be hard to believe you're in South America. That's part of what makes this town so striking, along with the warm Brazilian hospitality and guacho (cowboy) culture. It's a unique blend of elements you won't find anywhere else, and it is worthwhile to plan a trip here.

Gramado sits in the picturesque mountains of Serra Gaúcha in Brazil, a two-hour flight south of Rio de Janeiro. The town is considered a treasured part of Rota Romantica (Romantic Route), a nearly 124-mile tourist stretch that covers 13 scenic towns from the river to the highlands. The German, Italian, and Portuguese influence comes from the immigrants who settled in the area during the 19th century.

Things to do in Gramado

Start your trip in downtown Gramado, where you'll find boutique shops and European restaurants serving hearty Italian meals, French cuisine, and flavors from Germany. Leave room for fondue, as it's available in dozens of bistros. Gramado also has a rich chocolate scene, peppered throughout with shops, factories, and the World of Chocolate. The popular museum features 200-plus art pieces made of cacao, including the White House, the Eiffel Tower, and the Christ the Redeemer statue from Rio de Janeiro. Wash down all the chocolate treats with a glass of vino at one of the area's many wine bars.

When you're ready to stretch your legs, head outside the Centro to Mini Mundo (Mini World). This miniature city and park spans over 3 square miles and contains 3,268 tiny inhabitants. The buildings are 24 times smaller than the regular world you're used to, but no less impressive. It's a fun place to feel like a giant, spot a few Easter eggs (like the Beatles crossing Abbey Road), and snap some creative photos. For rest and relaxation, head to Lago Negro (Black Lake) next. The swan boats, blue hydrangeas, and lush forest scenery only add to the European fairytale ambiance.

Natural wonders and gaucho culture

Beyond the European-inspired stops, there are plenty of attractions to remind you that you're, in fact, in Brazil. GramadoZoo is one of them. This animal reserve specializes in rehabilitating injured species and rescuing wildlife from traffickers. You won't find bars and cages here. Instead, picture open aviaries and large glass enclosures that mimic the natural scenery. It's a great place to catch a glimpse of rainforest wildlife up close, like spider monkeys, capuchins, jaguars, tapirs, macaws, toucans, emus, and crocodiles.

Just outside of town, there's another gem worth noting. Parque Estadual do Caracol (Caracol State Park) has a staggering 434-foot waterfall. You can catch a glimpse of it from the viewing platform, a cable car, or by walking 730 steps down a staircase to the bottom — bearing in mind that you'll have to walk back up again. Don't forget to stop at the ecological observatory, which has a glass elevator offering panoramic views from 89 feet up.

Of course, no visit to the mountains of Brazil would be complete without digging into gaucho tradition, most simply defined as South America's cowboy culture. If you're not already full from all the fondue, book a Gaucho Night at the Churrascaria Garfo e Bombacha (barbecue house). You'll dig into some tasty barbecue while performers sing and dance in traditional gaucho attire. From chocolatiers to cowboys, wildlife to waterfalls, that's Gramado for you.