Vassouras, a now-quiet town 118km north of Rio, was the most important city in the Paraíba valley in the first half of the 19th century. Local coffee barons, with titles of nobility granted by the Portuguese crown, built huge fazendas in the surrounding hills. With the abolition of slavery in 1888, the depletion of the soil and the relocation of coffee production to São Paulo state, the importance of Vassouras diminished, but several historic buildings from the boom days still survive in the pleasant town center.
The area’s biggest attractions are the coffee fazendas several kilometers outside of town, some of them on the scale of French châteaux and with gardens to match. To visit these, you really need your own vehicle; otherwise, you’ll run up some hefty cab fares or calf muscles!