São Paulo, the country’s most populous state and home to by far its biggest city, is Brazil’s economic powerhouse. Home to nearly half the country’s industrial output, it is also an agricultural sector that produces, among other things, more orange juice than any single nation worldwide. Its eponymous city boasts a dizzying variety of cultural centres and art galleries, and the noise from its vibrant fashion and music scenes is heard around the globe. Although most people come to the state in order to visit the city merely for business, São Paulo has numerous attractions other than the concrete jungle at its heart. The beaches north of the important port of Santos – especially on Ilhabela – rival Rio’s best; those to the south, near Iguape and Cananéia, remain relatively unspoiled. Inland, the state is dominated by agribusiness, with seemingly endless fields of cattle pasture, sugar cane, oranges and soya interspersed with anonymous towns where the agricultural produce is processed; additionally, some impressive fazenda houses remain as legacies of the days when São Paulo’s economy was pretty well synonymous with coffee production. To escape scorching summer temperatures, or for the novelty in tropical Brazil of a winter chill, you can head to Campos do Jordão, one of the country’s highest settlements and a kitsch Alpine-style resort seen through a peculiarly Brazilian lens.
São Paulo stateAway from São Paulo city, the state’s main attraction is its coastline. Santos, Brazil’s leading port, retains many links with the past, and a number of the beaches stretching north and south from the city are stunning, particularly around Ubatuba. The towns and cities of the state’s interior are not so great an attraction – the rolling countryside is largely devoted to vast orange groves and fields of soya and sugar. Fortunately, good-quality roads run through this region, including major routes to the Mato Grosso and Brasília.
The interiorAlthough there’s not much to hold your interest inland from São Paulo, Santa Bárbara d’Oeste has traces of Confederate history, while more recent Dutch immigrant arrivals have had a far greater impact on nearby Holambra. Further into the interior is coffee country, where it’s possible to visit some old fazenda houses. To escape the summer heat, the resort of Campos do Jordão, northeast of the city, offers some attractive hill scenery and hiking possibilities.
Confederates in São PauloIn the face of humiliation, military defeat and economic devastation, thousands of former Confederates from the American South resolved to “reconstruct” themselves in often distant parts of the world, forcing a wave of emigration without precedent in the history of the United States. Brazil rapidly established itself as one of the main destinations, offering cheap land, a climate suited to familiar crops, political and economic stability, religious freedom and – more sinisterly – the possibility of continued slave ownership. Just how many Confederates came is unclear; suggested numbers vary between 2000 and 20,000, and they settled all over Brazil, though it was in São Paulo that they had the greatest impact. While Iguape, on the state’s southern stretch of coast, had a large Confederate population, the most concentrated area of settlement was the Santa Bárbara colony, in the area around present-day Santa Bárbara d’Oeste.
The region’s climate and soil were ideally suited to the growing of cotton and the Confederates’ expertise soon made Santa Bárbara d’Oeste one of Brazil’s biggest producers of the crop. As demand for Brazilian cotton gradually declined, many of the immigrants switched to sugar cane, which remains the area’s staple crop, though others, unable to adapt, moved into São Paulo city or returned to the United States. Today as many as 100,000 people claim descent from these Confederate exiles.