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44km (27 miles) N of Rio de Janeiro, 371km (230 miles) NE of São Paulo

Known as Cidade Imperial (the Imperial City), Petrópolis is one of Rio de Janeiro's premier mountain resorts, located 720m (2,400 ft.) above sea level. Though only an hour from Rio, its quiet and calm put it light-years from the hectic pace of the city. The lovely tree-lined streets, the palaces, mansions, and museums can be comfortably explored on foot or by horse and buggy, and the mountain air ensures a pleasant climate year-round. Once just a stopover on the gold route between Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, its fine location and cool climate drew the attention of Emperor Dom Pedro II, who in 1843 founded the city of Petrópolis and built his summer palace (now the Imperial Museum) on a piece of land acquired by his father. Construction of the first railway in 1854 opened up easy access to the new city. Many of Brazil's merchant nobility -- industrialists, coffee moguls, and politicians -- built their summer residences here, turning Petrópolis into the de facto summer capital. Even after independence in 1889, Petrópolis maintained its prestige. In 1904 the former residence of the Baron of Rio Negro became the official summer residence of the president of the Republic.

Nowadays Petrópolis is a favorite weekend getaway for Cariocas: in the summer to escape the heat and humidity of the city, in the fall and winter for a chance to experience "really cold" weather, wear winter clothes, eat fondue, and sit by the fireplace. The historic part of the city, centered around the Imperial Museum and the Cathedral, contains the majority of the monuments and museums. Tree-lined canals and large squares give the small city a remarkably pleasant atmosphere; the side streets are worth exploring just to have a peek at the many mansions and villas. Particularly nice are Avenida Koeler and Avenida Ipiranga as far as the Casa Petrópolis.

In addition to the Cariocas's noble pursuit of culture and nature, they also flock here to visit the Rua Teresa, the best shopping street in Brazil. The area around Petrópolis has many textile factories, and the Rua Teresa has become the prime retail and wholesale outlet for cotton and knitwear at unbelievably low prices.

Petrópolis makes an easy day trip from Rio, but to experience the atmosphere of the city and take in some mountain air, it's better to spend the night. The region has a number of beautiful pousadas and excellent restaurants, and is close to a national park with excellent hiking trails.