From Rio
to Petrópolis

São Pedro de Alcântara Cathedral, Petrópolis.

Serra dos Órgãos park, between Petrópolis and Teresópolis.

Patio of the Plage Café in Lage de Rio park.

The villa of Cláudio de Souza, a friend of Zweig, in Petrópolis.

Scenes in Petrópolis, from landscaped parks to Neoclassical palaces.

Scenes in Petrópolis, from landscaped parks to Neoclassical palaces.

Catholic University of Petrópolis.

O comme oser Oser voyager dans une ville inconnue sans jamais ouvrir la porte de la voiture qui vous transporte. Voir quotidiennement, selon un horaire invariable, le même décor derrière une vitre. Omettre le reste, sauf les noms.

O as in opting Opting boldly to travel through an unknown city without ever opening the car door. Seeing the same sights out the window, day in day out, at the same time of day. Omitting the rest, except the names.

Casa da Ipiranga, built in Petrópolis in 1884.

Manuel d’Orléans-Braganza, a descendant of Emperor Pedro II.

Palácio de Cristal in Petrópolis, with its cast-iron and glass architecture

Palácio de Cristal in Petrópolis, with its cast-iron and glass architecture

Zweig’s chessboard on the terrace of his house in Petrópolis.

Mama Ruisa

Palácio Amarelo, Petrópolis.

Solar do Império

In the 1940s, in the midst of a luxuriant land, as a new country’s history was being written, Stefan Zweig found echoes of prewar Europe. He lived in tropical exile, from lavish Rio to Petrópolis, a small imperial town and poetic refuge.

Twicefirst in 1936, then in 1940Stefan Zweig entered the bay of Rio in the morning by boat. His delight remained total from one journey to the other. He saw the islands appear out of the water like “Venus Anadyomene.”1 He saw the “floating gardens.”2 Then he caught sight of “image after image,”3 an immense city, incessantly surprising, offering multiple facets. Unfolding “like the fingers of one hand.”4 Or “like the ribs of a fan.”5 One after another, bay after bay, between the undulating hills. The landscape was humanized, feminized, deified. Zweig’s enthusiasm added enchantment to the site, imbuing its beauty and natural grandeur with magic. A space opened up that seemed to welcome him, full of promise and with a certain feminine charm. The author did not merely observe and describe what he saw before him. He experienced the country he was discovering, breathed it in, loved the powerful scent of earth, of flowers, mingling with that of the sea; immersed himself in it right from the first moment.

Light of a new day

The project to translate these impressions into words for a book about Brazil, which would celebrate the country’s sheer breadth and “divine variety”6after which “everything is disappointing, faded”7began to take shape in 1936, during a 12-day stay. He felt he had to return, as soon as possible, to find a secluded house where he could write, a place he wouldn’t find until after the publication of Brazil: A Land of the Future. It was in August 1941, after giving a series of lectures in Latin America, that Zweig finally stopped in Petrópolis, a small town north of Rio, which he had once visited on a short excursion. This internationally famous author had found a patch of land amid the vastness of the world that reminded him of his region of Semmering, in Austria. He described the landscape of this former imperial city located at an altitude of 800 meters and founded in the 19th century by Emperor Pedro II, of the Habsburg family, as his Brazilian Alps. He planned a return to writing and a normal life in a modest bungalow some distance from the downtown area, at 34, Gonçalves Dias, complete with a small terrace and a staircase at the back of the house. He expected to find in this country the “intellectual stimulation”8 one feels on certain mornings, at daybreak. With him was his second wife, Lotte, a young woman he had met in England several years earlier. Together, nearly every day, seated in an armchair on higher ground above the house, they raised their eyes to a mountain that was not visible from their terrace. This was probably to experience from their small refuge, as in Rio, the singular pleasure of watching the changing views, “always different from every side, from every surface, from every perspective, different from within, from outside . . . different from every house, and different from every single story and every room of that house.”9

Perceptions recomposed

When you take the steep road out of Rio leading to Petrópolis, the landscape looks like a singular picture composed of places from here and elsewhere. It has a hybrid look that reminded Zweig of Europe in the New World: the veils of mist floating over the broad leaves of the bright green banana trees; the craggy slopes of the gorges, where the cascades fall softly and gently over the thick carpet of tropical vegetation; the skies, with the sudden appearance of torn patches of blue among clouds clinging to the peaks. This grandiose nature, both sensual and dramatic, creates the feeling of being on the threshold of a strange world that cannot be grasped through mere observation; you must let it fill and transport you, as you fully experience the confusion of suddenly reaching one place from another, the sense of struggle as you combine two orders of sensation that belong to different times and places. The immediate perception awakens a slumbering memory, along with a feeling of wholeness. As if every living being and thing were brought together and harmoniously arranged in this “new world,” which contains, encompasses, all the others. The architecture of the imperial city contributes to this effect. The Neoclassical style of the main buildings, including the Palácio Imperial, Palácio Rio Negro, Palácio Amarelo, Casa do Barão de Mauá and the Casa da Princesa Isabel, with its garden of potbellied coconut trees, camellias and palm trees; the gossamer-like iron and glass rotunda of the Palácio de Cristal, an example of the late 19th-century European style adopted for the first World’s Fairs; and the enduring presence of several old families, most notably the House of Orléans-Braganza, descendants of King Louis-Philippeall represent European enclaves in the New World. Time seems to stand still here. As in an imaginary land, a paradise or an island utopia. An Edena word penned by one of the first explorers to have discovered Brazil.

The luck of the explorers

The luck of the explorers In 1941, Zweig wrote and published Amerigo, a biography of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci of Florence, at the same time as Brazil: A Land of the Future. Despite being falsely accused of co-opting the privilege of naming the American continent with an imaginary journey, and overtaken in historical recognition by Christopher Columbus, Vespucci nevertheless did discover this “new world.” He was the first to realize that Brazil was a new continent, located south of the equator, rather than at the far eastern edge of Asia. His biographical investigation, meticulously researched to redress this error, is less lyrical and more clear-cut in style than Brazil: A Land of the Future, but it does provide a glimpse of what Zweig felt and wanted to feel in Petrópolis: the unwavering hope of finding a timeless earthly paradise, a beautiful walled garden, diverse and fragrant, full of never-ending surprises.

Anyone walking today through the immense national park located at the foot of the Serra dos Órgãos, next to the small town of Teresópoliswhere the author lived for a time in 1940or in the parks of Rio, one of the rare cities encompassing both a mountain and a tropical forest, can imagine Amerigo Vespucci’s emotion, which would become Zweig’s as well. Buoyed by his belief that God, after the Fall, had not destroyed the Garden of Eden, but had instead moved it across the sea to the other side of the globe, in an area deemed “impenetrable by mortals,” the explorer thought he had reached it on landing in Brazil, as did, perhaps, his biographer much later. Zweig identified with his subject, but added to the descriptions of nature those of “an old intellectual culture that was still especially well preserved through detachment.”10

Strolling through Rio to the former Portuguese neighborhood of Largo do Boticário you get a sense of a protected world that could very well be described as a paradise. A few old buildings with facades clad in azulejos and rear windows facing a lush jungle form a kind of small island at the back of a paved square, radiating a singular sensation of silence. This combination of historic architecture with riotous vegetation in one place is as surprising and delightful as an image perceived in a dream. You’re reluctant to come too close. You stop at the end of the square. You let an illusion wash over you: the permanence in the New World of a European past that the upheavals of recent history have left untouched.

1.In his Journals 1912-1940, in the entries dated August 14, 15 and 16, 1940, Zweig described his impressions on arriving in Rio; they were repeated and expanded in Brazil: A Land of the Future. 2. Brazil: A Land of the Future (Riverside, California: Ariadne Press, 2000. Kindle edition). 3. Id. p. 200. 4. Journals 1912-1940, August 14, 15 and 16, 1940. 5. Le Brésil, terre d’avenir p. 200. 6-7.Brazil: A Land of the Future (Riverside, California: Ariadne Press, 2000. Kindle edition).8. d. p. 20. 9. Id. pp. 197-198. 10. d. p. 20.

A place to write

The house reminded him of the one on the Kapuzinerberg in Salzburg, with its lofty position and surrounding mountains. This is where Zweig wrote in Petrópolis. Its relative isolation was conducive to reflection, its elevated location symbolizing the heightened perspective of this humanist intellectual, so fond of Montaigne and Erasmus. He was used to vast mansions in Salzburg and England, yet chose a dwelling of modest size, an observatory with a narrow front terrace a few meters above the now gone Café Elegante, where chess players gathered. Zweig wrote The Chess Player in Petrópolis, hence the chessboard still in the house. Everything here seems to reflect the liberty of spirit that offsets the limits imposed on the body. He seldom went to Rio, usually once a month; his was a solitary life, free from external needsexcept for the books required for work, borrowed from the municipal library in Petrópolis or purchased from an old bookseller, like an edition of Montaigne’s Essays bought for his biography of the French author, the preface for which he wrote in Petrópolis.

Mama Ruisa

Jean Michel Ruis wanted this Art Nouveau-style hotel, the first to open in the aristocratic area of Santa Teresa, in 2005, to showcase Brazil, and Rio in particular, with a strong emphasis on culture and creativity. He furnished it with lovely pieces by Brazilian designers from the 1960s. He offers his guests a small booklet featuring 15 sites to see in Santa Teresa and the vicinitygalleries, shops and parks, main events and the addresses of museums. He speaks French, making this a popular spot among French actors and artists.

Mama Ruis

a Santa Cristina, 132, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Tél. +55 21 2210 0631.

Solar do Império

The hotel’s two beautiful 19th-century mansions surround a garden with coconut trees and centuries-old camellias. The biggest, Neoclassical one, built in 1875 by a Portuguese coffee merchant, Joaquim dos Passos, has a patio out front for enjoying the cool evening or morning air. Princess Isabel found it to be the most beautiful house on Avenue Koeler and decided to ennoble its owner, naming him a baron. Elegant and comfortable, the hotel pays tribute to the city’s history: each room is named after a member of the imperial family. They line a long corridor leading to a series of small lounges, pleasant spots for reading and relaxing.

Solar do Império

Avenida Koeler, 376, Petrópolis. Tél. +55 24 2103 3000.


a master’s muse

Carnet d’adresses

Mama Ruis

a Santa Cristina, 132, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Tél. +55 21 2210 0631.

Solar do Império

Avenida Koeler, 376, Petrópolis. Tél. +55 24 2103 3000.
Address Book

Going There


Air France has 7 weekly flights to Rio de Janeiro from Paris-CDG.

KLM has 7 weekly flights to Rio de Janeiro from Amsterdam.


Aéroport Rio de Janeiro-Galeão.
À 20 km.
Tél. +55 21 3004 6050.


À l’aéroport.


— En France : tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.

Location de voiture

Hertz, à l'aéroport

Tél. +55 21 3398 2379.

À faire

— Sail in Rio  - Private Day Tours.
Tél. +55 21 9 9998 3709..


Les ouvrages de Stefan Zweig
sont publiés dans la collection La Pléiade, Gallimard.

Stefan Zweig, Le monde d’hier
Laurent Seksik, Flammarion.

Rio de Janeiro
– Brésil Gallimard, coll. Encyclopédies du voyage.

Rio de Janeiro
– Brésil Gallimard, coll. Bibliothèque du voyageur.

– Lonely Planet.

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Map for illustration purpose only