When you think of Brazil, do you think of cowboys in wide-brimmed hats and red neck kerchiefs, verdant canyons and apple strudel? Didn’t think so.
These things happen to be as Brazilian as a pulsating samba beat; Technicolor carnival costumes and intoxicatingly beautiful beaches, and you can find them in the country’s southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which is getting ready for its star turn during the 2014 World Cup.
The region will reveal a side of Brazil that few know with culture and customs traced back to fiercely independent gauchos, along with determined Portuguese, Spanish, German and Italian settlers. These customs show up mostly in the region’s foods. There’s chimarrao, the evra mate tea sipped from a communal cup called a cuia; galeterias, restaurants serving the pastas, polenta and grilled chicken of Italian immigrants; and café colonial, serving plate after plate of German-inspired dishes, including strudel. And then, there is churrasco, the gaucho parade of grilled beef, pork and chicken, probably Rio Grande do Sul’s most well-known export.
Porto Alegre, the state capital and one of 12 World Cup host cities, will be the main stage for all this diversity. Besides providing the backdrop for epic soccer battles in its refurbished Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre will show off its gaucho flair in a progressive, modern city that loves a good sunset over Guaíba Lake, sharing chimarrao in one of its many parks and squares, along with a rowdy soccer match, of course.
If you can’t score a ticket to matches in Beira-Rio, watch with fellow fans at a FIFA Fun Fest on the Guiaba River near the stadium or in a bar in Porto Alegre’s hippest neighborhoods, Ciudad Baixa and Moinhos de Ventos. The city will also host a mini version of one of its most popular gaucho events, Acampamento Farroupilha, a rodeo, featuring traditional folk dances in Parque Harmonia.
While Porto Alegre may get top billing during the World Cup, make sure to get outside the city and take the scenic drive along the Romantic Route through pastoral fields into the Serra Gaucha, where Brazil’s grand canyons reside in Parque Nacional Aparados da Serra and Parque Nacional da Serra Geral. Spend time in Brazil’s alpine-inspired resort town, Gramado. Amongst its chocolate shops, wineries and upscale hotels, Brazil’s bastion of European charm will host 2 weeks of cultural events, including parades, concerts and art exhibits to celebrate the World Cup and to showcase the best of the region’s little-known traditions.
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