Holambra: the Dutchest city in Brazil

holambra netherlands brazil flower capital tourism

On the flat highway heading north-west out of the megacity of São Paulo, It doesn’t take long before the skyscrapers recede, giving way to vast pastures and nothingness. Once the bright countryside sun comes out from behind the clouds, you’re undoubtedly somewhere else. With the oppressive heat scorching the grass on the surrounding low hills, one could say it’s not a suitable place for delicate things. Some pops of color off on a discrete exit ramp remind you you’re not in Texas. Cars queuing up for their first snaps of a town gate decorated with well-maintained flowers announce you’ve arrived in Holambra, the “Dutchest” place in Brazil. 

</p> <p>While Holambra sits a mere two hours drive from São Paulo, the journey undertaken by the first 680 Dutch immigrants in 1948 was not so straightforward. They followed an unpaved path from the nearby city of Campinas to Fazenda Ribeirão cattle farm, a 5,000-acre piece of land bought by the Dutch Organization of Catholic Farmers and Vegetable Growers (KNBTB) from American meatpacker Armour &amp; Company.</p> <p>This place, which would eventually become Holambra—a neologism combining Holland, America and Brazil—was bare and isolated.&nbsp;</p> <p>Fleeing to Brazil to rebuild their lives after World War II, the Dutch community faced some hardships right from the off. Their first 700 dairy-producing cattle perished from tropical diseases and financial crisis struck, causing many of the families to move to Brazil&#8217;s South.</p> <p>While they managed to reorganize their economic activities by setting up a cooperative agricultural system, the real game-changer came in the late 1950s, when the first gladioli seeds arrived.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="667" src="" alt="holambra netherlands brazil flower capital tourism" class="wp-image-25084" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Holambra is the &#8220;Dutchest&#8221; city in Brazil</figcaption></figure> <h2>Nothing towers over the windmill&nbsp;</h2> <p>Modern-day Holambra proudly stands by its title as the Flower Capital of Brazil. It pays attention to the little details: road signs are tulip-shaped, streets are named after flowers or Dutch cities. Under the shadow of the high eucalyptus trees in Van Gogh Park, or by the shore of the Dutch Lake, the town doesn&#8217;t really feel like Brazil—that is, if it wasn&#8217;t for the scorching heat.</p> <p>Though it is tiny, Holambra is far from an exclusively Dutch town. Therefore, as it grows and modernizes, maintaining this symbolism is vital. &#8220;Holambra is and will remain preserved. We have many ways to maintain the city’s history. We teach it in schools, we have cultural associations, dance groups. It is our job to protect it as public administrators and as a society, it doesn’t matter how many Dutch people live here today,” says Alessandra Caratti, the town&#8217;s tourism director.&nbsp;</p> <p>And the municipal government has found ways to guarantee Holambra&#8217;s identity through public policies. As tour guides explain, buildings higher than 38.5 meters are not permitted, as “no building can stand higher than the United Peoples Windmill”—Holambra’s biggest tourist attraction.</p> <p>Property owners who build Dutch-style houses are given significant urban property tax breaks. A quick walk in the town center shows that the strategy worked, even bank branches adhere to the Dutch colonial style. But for Brazilians, nothing says “European” like trees surrounded by large houses with well-kempt lawns and no fences.</p> <p>The guides claim that the town is the safest place around. According to latest <a href="">violent figures</a>, not a single murder happened in Holambra in 2019. The five closest cities registered at least two cases.&nbsp;</p> <p>Being only 37 km from Campinas, one of São Paulo state’s largest cities, Holambra seems immune to big city issues. For Ms. Caratti, “we can only benefit from being close to Campinas,” as many of Holambra’s residents choose to enjoy the quiet of their town and commute to nearby cities.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even though the city is safe, new residents still think they are unprotected. That feeling makes large walls, gates, and fences appear,” we hear during the tour. Well, they can say that despite the safety, <a href="">we are still in Brazil</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2>Holding it all together&nbsp;</h2> <p>Behind Holambra’s movie-set visage lies a strong sense of community and a successful market. Its <a href="">incredible</a> GDP per capita of BRL 66,380—more than double the national average—makes Holambra the 143rd wealthiest city in Brazil. Not to mention the safety or education numbers that are way above <a href="">national standards</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Undoubtedly, flowers have much to do with it. Holambra has become São Paulo’s second largest flower producer by area, with 397 acres farmed. The state itself is the leading flower producer and exporter in Brazil, accounting for 62.3 percent of the USD 13 billion in exports in 2018 and 70 percent of domestic consumption, according to the state’s <a href="">Department of Agriculture and Supply</a>.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="667" src="" alt="holambra" class="wp-image-25082" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Photo: Wtondossantos</figcaption></figure> <p>Yet, the big ace in the hole was the creation of the cooperative system. Immigrant communities wanted to create a Dutch business mentality and their vision became a reality with the inauguration of wholesale florist Veiling. One of the city’s cooperatives, Veiling represented a turning point in the flower trade.</p> <p>The seed for change was the importing of a Dutch <em>klok</em>,<em> </em>brought to Holambra in 1989. A large clock-like object, it is used for Dutch auctions, where things run in reverse: instead of letting buyers compete for the highest bid, the auction starts with a high price and works down, until a buyer makes a bid.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the <a href="$File/5518.pdf">Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae)</a>, since Veiling Holambra became the city’s economic cornerstone, flower production took a leap. The system change managed to bring the flowers and ornamental plants of São Paulo to all capitals and main centers of consumption across the country.&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Veiling has its very own <a href="">annual trade fair</a>, connecting over 140 companies to experts and producers to exchange ideas, discuss trends and close business deals. According to Mr. Caratti, the business tourism fostered by such events is Holambra’s new booming industry.&nbsp;</p> <p>With its auction system going backwards, Holambra is moving forward.</p> <h2>Made for Instagram&nbsp;</h2> <p>The flowers have made room for more than one business opportunity. As the harvest grew, tourism blossomed alongside it. Local properties spotted a chance to increase their income by opening up their fields and souvenir shops for photographers and their clients, turning Holambra into the dream scenario for wedding, fashion and debutant photoshoots.&nbsp;</p> <p>To encourage this type of business, the town has invested in designing a number of picture-perfect spots, like as the Lovers&#8217; Deck, a bridge over the Vitória Régia lake, to which couples tie padlocks sold by local entrepreneurs. There are also child-friendly spots and playgrounds, which makes it an attractive destination for families.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="holambra" class="wp-image-25083" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Natália Scalzaretto</figcaption></figure> <p>“Tourists come here to visit the fields and buy flowers, but we have many attractions. Holambra is a culturally diverse city, we have events every month. Not to mention the &#8216;instagrammable&#8217; landscapes,” adds Ms. Caratti, noting that Holambra has indeed experienced a boom in the social media era. On Instagram, the tag #holambra has had 236,000 mentions as of September 2019.&nbsp;</p> <p>No other time of the year is as busy in Holambra than September, at the beginning of the Brazilian spring. But the return of hotter temperatures is less of a draw for tourists than ExpoFlora, the largest ornamental flower show in <a href="">Latin America</a>. It has now been held annually for 39 years and brings in around 300,000 tourists for a five-weekend flower-bonanza. <br><br><a href="">Food</a> attractions flourish regardless of the season. Walking down main street—named after John Maurice of Nassau, the governor of Dutch Brazil in the 17th century—you can run into a number of options of northern European cuisine.</p> <p>Restaurant Casa Bela serves up a BRL 45 kassler, consisting of a slightly smoked pork steak, sauerkraut, <em>wortel stamppot</em> (a mash of potato, carrots and onions), crispy bacon and a creamy apple sauce. It&#8217;s a good idea to eat <em>after</em> ExpoFlora, as the food on offer can be quite heavy.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Tasting Expoflora&nbsp;</h2> <p>Inside the ExpoFlora pavillion, a whole other city rises from the infinite lines of cars and tour buses. Entering the pavilion, a large hallway ends with a stand selling early Christmas decorations. After inevitably telling yourself &#8220;it&#8217;s only September!&#8221;, you are then faced with two options: left to an overcrowded shopping area, or right, to Park Expoflora.&nbsp;</p> <p>The latter takes you to a large patio decorated with flowers where excited kids, talkative couples and curious old ladies crowd around to take pictures in front of every square meter.&nbsp;</p> <h2>“It could have been more Dutch”</h2> <p>Edione, Iracy, Geni, and Maura, a quartet of bus-pass wielding senior citizens, were visiting Expoflora for the first time. Speaking for her girlfriends, Edione described the experience as &#8220;disappointing.&#8221; The four ladies had taken the bus from the city of Ribeirão Preto, and were relaxing in front of a huge field of dry grass, with an amusement park.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Why didn’t they put the flowers along this field? It would have been a much more beautiful view,” they complained.&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, flowers are largely limited to decor. Heart-shaped floral arrangements were fought over a few meters behind, while people lined up to take “flower field” pictures on a panel assembled behind a small flower bed. &#8220;Tulipo,&#8221; Holambra’s humanoid tulip mascot, was another hit.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The ladies were also left confused by the cultural references. Dutch icons had to compete with random Brazilian popular music; people danced while a fanfare played a children’s lullaby by popular Brazilian singer Xuxa, in front of a tree fully decorated with Dutch clogs. The visitors had a laugh about it, but shrugged at the end.</p> <p>“We tried to buy some Dutch clogs, but they were too expensive. In the end, it was not what we saw on television. It could have been more Dutch.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="holambra" class="wp-image-25081" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Natália Scalzaretto</figcaption></figure> <p>

Read the full story NOW!

Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at