With the heavy rains that hit Paraguay in recent months, it has been difficult to find a dry enough weekend to escape the city. The other week we got luck though and had a beautiful yet extremely hot day to go on a small escapade to San Bernardino, Paraguay’s ‘Miami beach’, on a lake.
We left Asuncion shortly after the break of dawn on a Sunday morning and took a leisurely drive down the new road that connects Asuncion and Luque to San Bernardino. A newly asphalted road (bike lane included!) is kind of a big deal here, where the roads are normally a disaster. It felt so luxurious driving down a smooth road with no traffic – something we haven’t experienced in months now! It was beautiful being out in the open, appreciating the miles and miles of nature that still graces the Paraguayan countryside. We passed by some small villages on the way, saw plenty of cattle and even some hills in the distance.
Before arriving at our final destination, we took a small detour to drive up into the hills to a lovely town called Altos. This area prides itself on a fantastic view over Lake Ypacarai. The air is a bit fresher and the breeze slightly stronger. It almost felt like being in Switzerland, though that’s a bit of stretch of the imagination.
There’s another small village just a bit further up from Altos called Atyrá which boasts as being the ‘cleanest town in Paraguay’ and apparently the eighth cleanest in the world (really?!). One of their mayors back in 1991 (just after the end of the dictatorship), Feliciano Martinez, started an initiate to clean up the streets and public parks, an activity in which he himself participated. Up until this day, it’s an almost immaculate town with a well maintained main square and lots of greenery. The case of Atyra is now being used as a case study on how community engagement and social consciousness helped increase the quality of life in this town. For Spanish speakers, see this interesting article from UNDP.
Finally we made our way back down to San Bernardino, which as mentioned, is Paraguay’s number one summer hotspot for people from Asuncion, especially among youth who go there to party during their summer break. ‘San Ber’ as they call it, lies on a large lake called Ypacarai, which, while beautiful from a distance, is unfortunately contaminated and few people actually swim in it. There are still plenty of other water activities such as jet skiing, boat rides, etc.
San Bernardino was originally settled by German and Swiss immigrants in 1881.German influence is still very notable, with a couple of German restaurants and the famous bakery called ‘La Alemana’ which is known to make the best Berliners (or ‘bollos’ as they are called here). These donuts come filled with either guava, dulce de leche, or cream. And I can contest – they are delicious!
After getting my dose of German culture, it was time for some fine dining at a French restaurant called ‘Cafe Frances’. Run by an old French/Portuguese couple, they serve traditional French cuisine – even fondue and raclette! With the 38C weather outside, we stayed away from the melted cheese, and had pepper stakes instead, and a starter of assorted cheeses. All the cheeses are locally prepared, mostly by immigrants. We loved our little treat and our outing to San Bernardino and the Paraguayan countryside.