In the Pariba Valley near Vassouras many wealthy colonial farmers lived a privileged existence off slavery and coffee. Pousada Fazenda Ponte Alta is one of the 19th century colonial coffee plantations that now provide tours and historic programs for school groups and day-trippers from Rio as well as accommodations for those seeking a quiet stay in the country. Built by José Luiz Gomes, the Baron Mambucaba, in 1830, over 200 slaves once lived and toiled on the plantation. With the end of slavery in 1888 and the climate changing effects of rainforest deforestation, farmers moved south in search of cheaper immigrant labor and more rainfall, leaving their plantations to fade from prominence. Loving hands have since restored Fazenda Ponte Alta and the present owners offer their visitors and overnight guests food, tours, and historical soirées that depict what typical social gatherings were like for coffee barons and their families.
It took two hours for our group trip mini-bus to drive from Rio de Janeiro to Fazenda Ponte Alta. Immediately upon arrival, we were ushered into the main house and treated to a buffet breakfast of baked goods, sliced cheese and meat, and tea and coffee.
Afterwards, we followed a woman in colonial dress on a tour (in Portuguese) of the plantation buildings. The grounds were charming and the overcast skies were a welcome break from the heat. As a non-Portuguese speaker, I would have been satisfied if the tour had ended here, but more programming was in store for us.
All of the plantation’s visitors crammed into the church/library/social room for a historical reenactment. When able, my husband and I broke off from the group and did a bit of wandering and picture taking on the grounds.
Some of the trees were wearing their springtime floral finery. Brazil is currently experiencing drought but you would never guess by looking at the rolling green hills. This farm no longer grows coffee but they do have cows, horses, and geese.
At lunch we took a poll – Who was ready to leave and who wanted to stay for one more historical show? The next show didn’t start for another hour and a half and the coordinator of our excursion group decided we were staying. To kill time after our buffet lunch, we visited with the animals again, watched the kids kick a ball around, and grumbled some more about not having our own car.
The next soirée was a reenactment of musical entertainment from the 19th century. Songs were sung and the audience was encouraged to sing along and dance.
The historical programing at the farm is supposed to make you feel that you are simply a guest visiting a day in the life of a colonial plantation owner. But as I sat watching people sing and dance, I kept wondering what the slaves would have been up to. Wouldn’t their story be more interesting?
Although I complain about the length of our stay, the 6 hours was our guide’s choice not the farm’s fault. Fazenda Ponte Alta and its grounds are quaint and lovely, and their buffet was enjoyable. If you are visiting in the area, stop by for a couple of hours.