Deep into the countryside, close to the state border between São Paulo and Minas Gerais lies a hidden gem called Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza (or FAF).
Fazenda is Portuguese for farm and Ambiental Fortaleza means environmental strength and they live up to their name. Between 1850 and 2001 the farm was called simply Fazenda Fortaleza. In 2001 Silvia inherited the farm, with her husband Marcos, and they started realizing a dream to make it organic. Turning away from traditional farming methods and centennial strict relationships between farm owners and farm hands they began transforming the farm to a sustainable business that takes into consideration the environment and the relationships between people while producing high-quality products that are sold worldwide to more than 27 countries.
While not open to the public in general the farm does on occasion arrange visits for smaller groups, families, friends etc and are excellent at catering to your wishes. We have been longing to visit this wonderful place and arranged for a 24h getaway together with 3 other expat families and a couple visiting from Sweden.
FAF is located 200km from Araraquara so driving is the easiest way to get there. Only the last 5km are on jungle dirt roads.
When we arrived at the 2000-acre farm we were greeted by Cris who is a friend of Silvia’s currently staying at the farm. She agreed to take care of us as Silvia had business in São Paulo. All smiles and positive energy she made sure we were in the right place at the right time with the right gear making our 24h getaway efficient and memorable. Read on for the highlights of this trip. (In between the highlights we just ate fresh homemade cake, homegrown coffee and relaxed in our hammocks. A highlight in itself.)
The farm has a main building, a sede in Portuguese, which is a beautiful 19th century colonial structure with original wooden ceilings, floors and furniture with a very comfortable, familiar and personal feel to it. Surrounding the sede are several cottages that housed the farm hands (and maybe still do) but nowadays guests like us. Each family was assigned a cottage. I was thrilled to find a hammock on the back patio in which I spent a few minutes overlooking the jungle which contained a veritable fruit salad. From my vantage point I could spot trees with oranges, papaya, avocado and bananas! In my temporary back yard!
Couldn’t go to a coffee plantation without learning a little about coffee so the farm’s coffee connoisseur Simone gave us a crash course on coffee tasting in, what seemed to me as, the coffee laboratory. We got to taste 5 different coffees with the correct technique which is to slurp it violently from a spoon, swish it around your mouth and then spit it out in a cup (went against everything I’d learnt at charm school). We had lots of fun learning how coffee tasting is done in several steps. Throughout the tasting process of smelling the dry beans to smelling the beans soaked in water to tasting the coffee, the scent or flavor changed. We were told to choose a favorite after each step and I can say mine changed each time! We also learned what a bag of store bought coffee contains and surprise surprise, it ain’t all coffee….
A culinary dream
At mealtime a giant bell was rung on the sede veranda calling us to the dining room. The bell quickly had us behaving like Pavlov’s dogs. The food was absolutely amazing! Most definitely the best Brazilian food since I set my flipflopped feet in Brazil. Mainly vegetable dishes with 1-2 meat dishes served of course with the traditional (and unconditional) rice and beans. They used avocado in so many dishes. They even made a chocolate mousse which was amazing with only avocado, cocoa and honey. Palette and waist friendly! My kind of dessert.
From seed to cup
After a cozy nights sleep in our cottage we went down to the sede for another fantastic meal; cafe de manhã or breakfast. Freshly made bread, biscoito da lua (a cheese bread) , FAFs own honey and assortment of jams served with beautiful fruit from the estate grounds. Stepping out on the veranda looking out over the treetops still shrouded in morning mist as the farm is located 900m above sea level.
After breakfast Simone took us out for a walk through the coffee plantation. I was surprised to find irregular rows of coffee bushes in the middle of the forrest on the slant of a big hill. Simone explained that this was a part of the plantation where they just let the coffee be and grow in its own time. No fertilizers or pesticides. Further on were more traditional rows in quadrants framed by banana trees. Apparently the banana trees act as a filter so that unwanted diseases or pests don’t reach the coffee. The lovely walk ended up at a lake where the kids and Jens cooled off before hitching a ride back to the farm on a tractor.
Milking of the cows
Although not my favorite activity, the kids loved it. The farm produces its own milk and from it makes butter, cheese and I imagine other things. The cows live in a picturesque stable building from 1825 surrounded by hilly pastures. Twice a day the cows are milked; 0600 (we didn’t get up for that one) and 1330. We opted for the 1330 after a hearty lunch before getting in the car for the 200km drive home.
I am adding FAF to my list of favorite places to go in Brazil while scanning my calendar for the next opportunity to go again. I would love to share this with friends and family visiting from Sweden. Vacationing in Brazil mainly brings up postcard images of Rio, Copacabana, palm trees, bikinis and the Amazon. This is different, another side of Brazil. More genuine, natural and therefore more beautiful.
(Yes, I even got the opportunity to buy some local produce. Yay!)