North of Porto Alegre is the Serra Gaúcha, a range of hills and mountains populated mainly by the descendants of German and Italian immigrants. The Germans, who settled in Rio Grande do Sul between 1824 and 1859, spread out on fairly low-lying land, establishing small farming communities, of which Nova Petrópolis is just one that still retains strong elements of its ethnic origins. The Italians, who arrived between 1875 and 1915, settled on more hilly land further north and, being mainly from the hills and mountains of Veneto and Trento, they adapted well and very quickly specialized in wine production. Caxias do Sul has developed into the region’s most important administrative and industrial centre, but it is in and around smaller towns, such as Bento Gonçalves and Garibaldi, that the region’s – and, in fact, Brazil’s – wine production is centred.
To the east, and at much higher altitudes, are the resort towns of Gramado and Canela, where unspoilt landscapes, mountain trails, refreshing temperatures, luxurious hotels and the café colonial – a vast selection of cakes, jams, cheeses, meats, wine and other drinks produced by the region’s colonos – attract visitors from cities throughout Brazil. Beyond here lies some even more rugged terrain, this highland area largely given over to cattle ranching. What little population there is you’ll find concentrated in the small towns of São Francisco de Paula and Cambará do Sul. Although both centres remain first and foremost ranching communities, they’ve become important jumping-off points for visiting the majestic canyons of Parque Nacional dos Aparados da Serra, one of southern Brazil’s most impressive geological sites.