Sunday, June 8, 2014

Santa Catarina in Southern Brasil is One Huge Garden

In honor of the upcoming World Cup in Brasil, I thought I'd get going on some new articles for my Southern Brasil blog. Tomorrow, I may tell you about my one and only soccer story, but for today, I thought I'd start by telling you about all the wonderful gardens of Brasil and my first encounters with the outdoors of this wonderful country.

On my very first trip to the state of Santa Catarina, we flew into the city of Curitiba, one of the host cities of the 2014 World Cup soccer matches. One of the first things that struck me about Curitiba was the enormity of the city. There were two separate cities it seemed, both with tall skyscrapers. We were scheduled to stay in the Batel District. The view of the city makes you believe you are in any top city in the world. 

My husband's father, brother, sister, and others met us at our hotel, The Blue Tree Towers, in the Batel District of the city. This is the financial hub of the city, the business district; therefore, houses some of the toniest neighborhoods. I checked a few years ago and the Blue Tree is no longer the name of the hotel, but the actual hotel still stands under another name and is still a 4-star hotel.
At the time we traveled, the dollar was 3-1, so you can imagine how lucky we felt to be able to afford a 4-star hotel for a third or less of the normal cost of fabulous accommodations. The dollar now stands at around 2.3, so it is still an amazing bargain to visit Brasil at this time.

From our hotel window, I could look up and down the main street and what struck me was the cleanliness and the beauty. The tree-lined streets looked like somewhere right out of a movie set. Also, if you are an architecture buff like me, then this is the place to be. This futuristic-looking city is not to be missed.

We were lucky enough to get a room that overlooked the Japanese gardens.
This is a small urban park complete with a Japanese-style structure, several ponds with little bridges over tiny waterfalls, and plenty of cherry blossom trees. It is a lovely place to go and contemplate life or just soak in the sounds of the city without being so close they annoy.

That evening, the others met us at the hotel, and after a good night's rest, we all set off for Jardim Botanico de Curitiba, or the Botanical Gardens of Curitiba. What an enormous and magical place. First, you walk the grounds outside, fashioned after a French garden, where you will find abundant jogging or walking paths, and flowers galore (in season). Ahead on the main path is the fantastic crystal greenhouse where, inside, you will find plants from all over. This is a must-see in Curitiba. All you have to do is say garden or jardim in Portuguese, and the tour guides will know exactly where you want to go.

After a lovely train ride the next day through the Mata Atlantica or Atlantic Forest and mountains (see my story on the Serra Verde Express), we spent one more magical night in Curitiba, had dinner at a small Italian Restaurant where each entree we ordered could have easily fed 4 people apiece. Needless to say, there were many leftovers. The mood was relaxed, the wine was excellent, and the company was genuine and real. It felt like a family gathering with the proprietors of the business sitting down beside our table and joining in the conversation.

The next morning, we traveled to the city of Joinville, where my husband was born. We stayed at the Anthurium Parque Hotel in downtown Joinville. Joinville is a very busy, very loud city, but when you enter the Anthurium Parque grounds, all the noises of the city seem to melt away and you feel as if you are in a Portuguese seaside resort, sans ocean. The grounds are impeccably kept and the rooms, while not on the par of a 4-star hotel, are quaint, and well worth the cost of a night's stay. Right outside our window was a walkway that led out to an open garden, complete with a trained Macaw on his perch to greet visitors on their way to the hotel restaurant to enjoy café da manhã, or breakfast.

I will stop here. Not because there are not more gardens. To the contrary. There are more gardens and beautiful open spaces in Santa Catarina than I could ever name. However, to truly experience what I am talking about, you really must see the place for yourself.

Oh, did I mention the quaint cabins at Hotel Turek Gartens? Where you have your own half of a cabin (first floor or second) that overlooks the compound's gardens, swimming pool, and fully stocked lake? Where they grow their own produce and serve it up at meals made from scratch in their kitchen? Here is a peek, but I warn you, it may have you calling your travel agent or contacting me for more information on how you can visit this enchanting part of Brasil.

'Til next, tchau!

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