Sometimes, when the mercury is nudging 40 degrees and there isn't space on the beach for a German to lay out a handkerchief, let alone a towel, escape from the heat and clamour of Rio can be a welcome relief. The traditional getaway route for Cariocas is to take the Washington Luis highway to the cool mountain cities of Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo.
Recently though, some of a more enterprising nature have begun to open up the Serra Fluminense above the oil boom town of Macaé in the north of Rio State. The centerpiece of this area is the sleepy hill town of Sana, a bridging point across the crystalline, cascading waters of the Sana River, guarded by the majestic 3,700 foot Pedra do Peito do Pombo (Pigeon Breast Rock).
The best choices for accommodation in Sana are the town’s charming and inexpensive pousadas. Highly recommended is the pretty Repousa da Sana, with its mature gardens, restaurant serving tasty local dishes cooked in a wood burning oven (ask for the baked trout), shop selling local crafts and its comfy, tastefully decorated riverside chalets.
A big bonus here is that the owner, Antenor Sousa, speaks passable English, a rarity in this part of the world. He is a keen photographer and has spent the last 20 years documenting the town and its surroundings so there isn’t a lot he doesn’t know about the place.
For travelers with an eye on their budget, many pousadas also offer a camping option with bathroom and laundry facilities. From your base in town you can take guided walks to the dozens of waterfalls and natural swimming pools that dot the region, trek up some of Sana’s steepling granite peaks or enjoy a very agreeable couple of days’ pony trekking. There’s also enough rock climbing, abseiling, mountain biking, kayaking and white water rafting to keep the adventure sports enthusiast absorbed for days.
And after these strenuous calisthenics, what better way to wind down than in a hammock on your chalet deck, caipirinha strategically placed at arm’s length, with the calls of roosting flocks of parrots and the chattering of the river lulling you to sleep? Keep a weather eye on your drink though, as the local Micou monkeys, emboldened by human contact, are rather partial to those cachaça-impregnated lemons.
I should point out one small inconvenience. The nearest bank is 12 miles away in Casimiro de Abreu and, as telephones are a relatively new phenomenon in Sana, many of the town’s pousadas, bars and restaurants don’t accept credit cards.
However, carrying cash does not present the safety risks that it does in Rio. You are less likely to be mugged than savaged by a member of the town’s bovine community which outnumbers the human population by some distance, in other words, not very likely at all.
There is no direct public transport link between Rio and Sana. Take an air conditioned coach from the Terminal Rodoviaria Novo Rio to the town of Casimiro de Abreu (the journey last about three hours), from whence you can catch one of the large number of VW Combis that shuttle between Casimiro and Sana. Don't worry when you hit a dirt road as you wind your way up into the hills; the district council in Macaé has plans to pave it but it hasn't happened yet. The Repousa da Sana is about two kilometres before the town centre on your left. Ask the driver to drop you there. There are two websites in Portuguese that you will find useful, the general information site, www.portaldosana.com.br, and the Repousa da Sana's homepage, www.repousadasana.com.br.
All of Rio’s beaches tend to get packed – except the small, idyllic Joatinga beach, which feels like you could be on a deserted island. Locals go there on weekends, so if you turn up on a weekday you will be one of the only people there.
The only way of getting there is in a cab – and you need to check he knows exactly how to get there. It’s at the end of the Estrada de Joá and through a private condominium, where there is a precarious trail down to the beach.
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