VENDA NOVA DO IMIGRANTE, to give it its full name, is an Italian village some 67km further west of Domingo Martins on the Vitória–Belo Horizonte highway (the BR-262). Even by the standards of the state, the landscape in which it is set is extraordinary, a delightful mix of rich Mata Atlântica, valleys and escarpments.
Ten kilometres outside the village is the most remarkable sight in Espírito Santo, a towering, bare granite mountain shaped like a thumb and almost 1000m high – the Pedra Azul, or “blue stone”. Its peak is actually 2000m above sea level, the other thousand accounted for by the hill country from which it sprouts, an area popular with mountaineers. It’s like an enormous version of the Sugar Loaf in Rio, except no vegetation grows on its bare surface, which rears up from thick forest and looks so smooth that from a distance it appears more like glass than stone. During the day sunlight does strange things to it – it really does look blue in shadow – but the time to see it is at either dawn or sunset, when it turns all kinds of colours in a spectacular natural show. The Pedra Azul forms the centrepiece of a state park, the Parque Estadual da Pedra Azul (Wed–Sun 9am–noon & 1.30–5.30pm; R$5 to the base or R$10 to the pools); there’s a small visitors’ centre at the foot of Pedra Azul with exhibits on local fauna and flora, and the park rangers will point you towards the trail leading up the stone – a tiring, but not very difficult, three-hour walk, though the area is closed when there’s been heavy rain. Bring food and drink for the trek, and swimwear if you want to enjoy a refreshing dip on the way up in one of the natural pools. An excellent, very detailed map of the Pedra Azul area is sold at most local hotels.