More than 300 years ago, gold and diamonds were discovered underground in the region of Brazil now known as Minas Gerais. Bandeirantes (cowboys) and prospectors rushed to mine the glittering earth, unaware that perhaps the greatest natural treasure of all was in plain sight. The Atlantic Forest back then covered hundreds of millions of acres, stretching nearly the length of Brazil’s coast and housing enough endemic species to rival the great jungles of the Amazon. Today, it is one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots, reduced to fragments that cover less than ten percent of its original area. Set where the Atlantic Forest converges with a fascinating quartzite geology of caverns and canyons, Reserva do Ibitipoca is actively working to preserve this natural wonder. A 40,000-acre haven of lush tropical forests, mountains, grottoes, and waterfalls, this private nature reserve was once almost entirely pastureland.
At the heart of the reserve is the main lodge, Fazenda do Engenho, a beautifully restored farmhouse originally built in 1715. To enter it is to step back through the centuries, and to experience the elegant simplicity of rural life. Guests set out from the fazenda to discover landscapes of otherworldly beauty on hikes and horseback rides. And whether it’s a glittering swimming hole surrounded by an improbable white-sand beach, or a catered dinner set up in the most unexpected of spots, you’re treated to a host of surprises both natural and orchestrated. The care and attention with which the owners have restored the surrounding habitat is also evident in every element of your experience at the lodge.
The Reserva do Ibitipoca began as one family’s attempt to restore a critical part of Brazil’s—and the planet’s—natural heritage: the Atlantic Forest. When Renato Machado bought an old farmhouse called Fazenda do Engenho in 1981, his mission was to return the land to its native vegetation and create a private reserve that would serve as a wildlife corridor and a buffer zone for the nearby Ibitipoca State Park. Over time he purchased more than 50 contiguous properties, expanding this protected area to encompass several thousand acres of abandoned homesteads and pastures. With a vibrant reforestation program in full swing, and grazing lands transforming back into wilderness, the Machado family saw an opportunity to preserve the area’s cultural heritage as well.
They refurbished the farmhouse, using deadwood and recycled materials from the original structures and following traditional building methods that date back centuries. They furnished the fazenda with local art and handicrafts, pieces from old farms, and colonial-era antiques, maintaining the authenticity of a true 18th-century farmhouse. Since the pousada (hotel) opened in 2009, not only has it provided employment to those in the area who would otherwise farm, it has also served as a hub for local culture, celebrating music, arts, architecture, folklore, and cuisine of the region in myriad ways.
When you reserve your space through National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, you’ll enjoy an exclusive “farm to table” tour. Visit the garden and farm with a lodge guide to learn about sustainable agricultural methods, see what’s growing, get a lesson in making local cheese, and even milk a goat or cow if you wish. Find out about the lodge’s holistic approach to agroforestry on a nature walk, and cap off the tour with a private catered meal in a special place.
The habitat restoration effort at Reserva do Ibitipoca began some 30 years ago, and the owners have been thorough and careful in their approach, restoring the soil and removing invasive species such as a wild grass called brachiaria that grows rampantly. Saplings of native species like jacaranda and manaca da serra are grown in their nursery and then transplanted on their property, propelling accelerated natural regrowth. As wildlife returns to the area, the owners are deeply involved in protecting rare species like the critically endangered northern muriqui (or wooly spider monkey), one of the two largest species of New World monkeys. These primates are endemic to Brazil's Atlantic Forest and have seen their populations drop precipitously over the past sixty years due to habitat loss and hunting. The reserve offers a safe haven to several northern muriquis, and an international team of biologists is working with the lodge to start a viable colony. The lodge also sources part of their energy from solar panels and wind, and uses a waterwheel instead of a pump to bring water from the spring. Guests are given reusable bottles for water, and plastic and aluminum use is avoided. The main forms of transportation here are foot, horse, or bicycle, and both employees and guests are encouraged to choose these alternatives over cars.
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