Until the road-building programme of the 1970s, mountainous central and western Santa Catarina was pretty much isolated from the rest of the state. Largely settled by migrants from neighbouring states, this territory has inhabitants of diverse origins including Germans and Italians in the extreme west, Austrians, Italians and Ukrainians in the central Rio do Peixe valley, and gaúchos – and even Japanese – in the highlands of the Serra Geral. In the more isolated areas, dominated by a single ethnic group, traditions and languages have been preserved but, as elsewhere in southern Brazil, they are under threat.
Any route taken to reach the Serra Geral is spectacular, but if you enter the region directly from the coast the contrasts of landscape, vegetation and climate unfold most dramatically. From the subtropical lowlands, roads have been cut into the steep escarpment and, as they slowly wind their way up into the serra, dense foliage emerges – protected from human destruction by its ability to cling to the most precipitous of slopes. Waterfalls can be seen in every direction until suddenly you reach the planalto. The graceful Paraná pine trees are fewer in number on the plateau but are much larger, their branches fanning upwards in a determined attempt to re-form the canopy that existed before the arrival of cattle and lumber interests.