flare-1280We don’t yet know enough about the Brazilian national character, if such a thing even exists, to guess whether it’s a typically Brazilian comment or simply a classic example of grass-is-greener syndrome. But wherever we are, the locals have consistently told us that yes, it’s nice here, but it’s nicer somewhere else. In towns and cities, we’ve been advised to head for the countryside. When we’ve arrived in the countryside, we’ve been told that it’s actually much more agreeable on the coast. And once we’ve reached the coast, we’ve been directed back inland to the hills and mountains. Oh, it’s beautiful. You should really try to spend some time there.

We found a version of this in miniature on the Ilha de Santa Catarina, known to all as Florianópolis (the name of its largest town) and to some simply as Floripa. It’s a fairly big place, about 55km from north to south, and by no means monocultural. While each pocket of activity has its sense of local pride, everyone we met was keen to point out that we should get back on our bikes and go a few kilometres further to see something even better.

To the north in comparatively developed Jurerê, a major draw for Brazil’s moneyed clubbing classes in summer, we were pointed around the coast to quieter beaches in the island’s north-eastern corner. In Lagoa da Conceição, both a lake and a cultured town in the centre of the island, we heard that the south was the real highlight. Then, in the south at Costa de Dentro, we were directed from our isolated pousada to walk along a gorgeous clifftop path out to the even-more-isolated fishing village of Saquinho. That’s the really unspoiled bit.

We ended up spending about a week on the island, riding every other day and going for long walks on the days in between. It’s hard to envisage the place in the heat of the height of summer, when it apparently gets overrun with visitors disturbing the peace of its 42 beaches. But off-season, the flow of tourists reduced to a trickle despite the perfect weather, it’s a thoroughly seductive place.

 


 

ruthhill-1280We headed back to the mainland a week ago and turned right at Palhoça into the inland hills, heading for the Serra Catarinense. We’d been warned by another cyclist in Florianópolis that the climb from the coast up to Urubici along BR-282, the main road, was a thankless slog. Happily, it turned out to be anything but – sensible gradients, excellent tarmac, sparse traffic, considerate drivers and often majestic views. It was much the same story on Saturday, a hilly but beautiful ride from verdant Urubici to the lonesome, high-plains town of Bom Jardim da Serra.

Along the way, we ran into Urubici’s local motorcycle club, who’d decided to celebrate Brazil’s Independence Day by riding a 210km loop around São Joaquim National Park via the Serra do Rio do Rastro. Motorcyclists have treated us with much more respect than we usually get from them in Britain, perhaps because motorbike touring is the closest thing in Brazil to what we’re doing and so the riders recognise us in comradely fashion as a pair of fellow travellers. They’ve also inadvertently helped us find some splendid places to eat: the presence of motorcycle club stickers in the window and/or multiple 18-wheeler trucks parked outside is proving to be a much more reliable source of restaurant recommendations than any guidebook tips or TripAdvisor reports upon which we’ve chanced.

It’s a really special part of the country, this. Naturally, though, we’ve been told it’s nicer down on the coast. So that’s where we’re going next.

from Bom Jardim da Serra, Brazil