Founded in 1843 as a summer refuge from Rio's incredible heat, Petropolis (40 mi/65 km northeast of Rio), Petropolis provides a nice vacation from your vacation. Set in the cool hills north of Rio, this Swiss-style town was the seasonal residence for the last emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II.

Today this mountain city is known for its spectacular gardens, cobblestoned streets and late-19th-century architecture, which evokes the feel of an alpine village. In fact, a significant number of German, Swiss and Austrian immigrants have influenced both the architecture and the hearty cuisine.

The well-preserved Museu Imperial is housed in the emperor's former summer palace. Its main attractions are the emporer's spectacular crown jewels—a real hidden treasure—robes and sumptuous furnishings, and its wonderfully shady gardens.

From the museum, you can take a pleasant horse-drawn carriage tour of the city past lovely canals and bridges, old-fashioned street lamps and pleasant parks. The tour lasts an hour and takes in all of the major sites, including the monumental cathedral, the Crystal Palace and many aristocratic mansions and villas (some of which, such as the opulent Palacio Rio Negro, are open to visitors).

Petropolis also boasts the house of Alberto Santos-Dumont, a turn-of-the-20th-century Brazilian aviator, believed by Brazilians to be the inventor of the airplane. (The Brazilian Encyclopedia Britannica doesn't have an entry for the Wright brothers.)

The town is also host to a thriving clothing industry based along Rua Teresa. Many of the items you will find in Rio's top boutiques originate there. The street also has hundreds of fashion outlets that sell clothing at significantly lower prices.

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