By Alison McGowan Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Historical towns and rural landscapes are just a couple of the great things about Brazil. However, they perhaps come together most vividly in the state of Minas Gerais, the state northwest of Rio de Janeiro, where mountain ranges and verdant hills coexist beautifully with unspoiled colonial towns.
This is a vast state with much to offer, and there are some delightful trips to be had with amazing places to stay both north and south of the capital, Belo Horizonte.
Ouro Preto and Tiradentes are towns where cultural and religious festivals take place throughout the year and visitors can get quickly acquainted with Brazil’s rich heritage by visiting its spectacular museums and churches.
In Ouro Preto, attractions include the church of São Francisco de Assis, Aleijadinho’s sculptures and carvings, Museum of Inconfidência, and Casa dos Contos gold exchange plus the recently refurbished Municipal Theatre. A walking tour of the historical center is a must but also worthwhile is a quick side trip to the old gold mine – Mina da Passagem.
“Comida mineira” (food from Minas Gerais) is rightly famous, frequently cooked on wood burning stoves in huge black pots, and this is particularly good at the working farm and guesthouse Pousada Mirante do Café just a few kilometers outside the town.
Tiradentes offers some lovely pousadas and if staying at Pousada da Terra or Pousada d’Oleo de Guignard you can take a horse-drawn buggy to the main center to visit the Padre Toledo Museum Matriz and church of Santo Antonio Largo das Forras. Also the Maria Fumaça (steam train) to historical São João del Rei.
On the more rural side of Minas Gerais, the area of Serro has some beautiful colonial villages like São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras and Milho Verde many with interesting histories of wealth and intrigue from the diamond and gold mining era.
This is an area of extraordinary natural beauty, of amazing rock formations, caves, waterfalls and pre-historic paintings. Things to do include trekking to Pico do Itambe or Serra do Raio and seeing the Pedra da Rapadura Grota Seca waterfall.
Pousada do Capão, with all its rustic charm is a great place to stay and be close to it all while experiencing some of the best food in Brazil. Nestling between the Serra do Espinhaço and the state national park of Pico de Itambe, is Milho Verde where you will find Pousada Luar do Rosário a beautiful place in a sleepy village where visitors can walk and relax.
The weather in Minas Gerais is generally good year round and it does not get as hot and humid as other states. However it can get cold in the hills in winter, and heating is not always available, so pack warmly if traveling at that time of year.
Buses to and between major towns are fairly regular, but they are infrequent between villages and a trip is much easier to do by car, particularly if you want to do any of the interesting side trips to Mariana, Congonhas, or Bichinha (outside Tiradentes) where the local handicrafts are best.