History of Penedo
Penedo is a small village with a curious history. It is located right next to Parque Nacional do Itatiaia. Penedo was settled by Finnish immigrants in 1929. The founder of the settlement, Toivo Uuskallio, came here with a small group of like-minded fellows, and they had prosaic plans in mind. His idea was to build a community that would live in peace with nature, and the precepts included a strict vegan diet, with no foods of animal origin.
He arrived in the city of Rio with his wife Liisa. They were marveled with the lush natural beauty of the state. After taking some Portuguese lessons (reportedly at Berlitz), he ended up going by train to nearby Barra Mansa. From there he started exploring the region, visiting farms and properties in Rio and neighboring states.
He finally visited Fazenda Penedo, then owned by the São Bento Monastery. With 3.500 hectares, it was crisscrossed by fresh water springs and rivers, that were distributed along several altitudes. He could use the large Casa Grande, the main house in the farm, to accommodate his group. He envisioned that the area would allow them to grow both European and tropical plants. He was not aware that the former use of the farm as a coffee plantation had basically drained all the nutrients from the soil, and that voracious sauva ants were ready to eat anything in sight.
In 1929 he purchased the property, and a second group of settlers arrived. After working on the land, they were finally able to plant corn, yams, bananas, flowers, and loofahs. By 1935 most settlers had their own individual houses. Women took care of the laundry, cooking and vegetable gardens, while men tended the earth, planted and negotiated the crops.
Many of the settlers did not adapt well to the new country, and returned home to Finland. When things got ugly with World War II some of them came back to Brazil. The strict vegan philosophy was no longer prevalent, though, and fowl, pig and dairy farming were gradually introduced. Tourism became an alternative. Liisa Uuskallio was the pioneer, using the spacious Casa Grande.
Penedo is where Brazilians were introduced to the Finnish sauna. Guests could enjoy the healthy lifestyle, delicious food and fresh-baked breads, and relax in the river. Clube Finlandes opened doors in 1943. Massages and treatments were incorporated into the attractions for visitors. It could be considered the grandfather of today's spas. In 1970 electricity reached the village, and 1980 the first
Things to Do and to See
Today there aren't many Finns living in Penedo anymore. Nevertheless the Scandinavian style of the houses was preserved, and the village kept its European charm. With a number of talented local artisans, handcraft and carpets (Ryigi and Raanu) are offered in local stores for very attractive prices. Decorative candles, hand-woven blankets and throws are also part of the Finnish legacy.
As the descendants of the immigrants stopped growing loofah in the 70's, the traditional bathing gloves, sandals, dolls and other items are no longer available. To compensate, food specialties such as fruit preserves, chutney, home-made chocolates and ice-cream are well-known for the excellent quality!
In addition to nature lovers and gourmets, Penedo is popular with adventure seekers. Rappel, mountaineering and horseback riding are among the options. If you would rather take things a little more lightly, enjoy the nature trails, waterfalls, go for a few laps in the river, breathe the fresh mountain air.
There are excellent lodging alternatives in Penedo, and hotel rates are quite affordable. You could spend a night in a private lodge at one of the better hotels for less than US$70, including breakfast. Consider staying at Pousada das Cachoeiras, one of the most ecology-minded properties, with its own listed nature trail. Enjoy the facilities and take advantage of the services.
From your hotel desk you can book visits to all the attractions. Itatiaia Park is a must-see, and only a few minutes away. Other popular tours from Penedo are Visconde de Mauá, Quatis, and Serrinha do Alambri. You may also go fishing at Capelinha Farm.