By Sarah Coursey, Editor
RIO DE JANEIRO – According to the United Nations, Belo Horizonte, or BH as it is known to insiders, is the city with the best quality of life in all of Latin America. It is also the third biggest city in Brazil, the capital of Minas Gerais and will be one of the hosts of the FIFA World Cup in 2014. And yet many Gringos don’t even know where to find it on a map. BH is one of the country’s hidden gems, offering rich history, beautiful architecture and great nightlife.
BH was the first modern Brazilian city to undergo urban planning. When the state capital of Ouro Preto was moved there in 1893, the architect Aarão Reis set to work. The project was inspired by the most modern metropolises in the world at the time, namely Paris and Washington DC. The first major square that Reis built was the Praça da Liberdade. Its buildings were designed in an eclectic style with neoclassical elements, such as colonial Baroque. Today, the square tells the story of Brazilian architecture, with elements of art deco, two modernist Niemeyer buildings built in the 50s and 60s as well as a post-modernist building from the 80s.
Start out Friday night in the Savassi quarter at the hip kilo restaurant Sushi Beer. It has a Japanese buffet as well as pizza and appetizers on offer. There are two locations in BH, and The Gringo Times recommends the set-up on 1121 Rua Tomé de Souza for its lively weekend crowd. They serve from 7PM until 1AM, and it is advisable to arrive early to get a good table.
Following dinner, head to the club Chaletzinho in the Seis Pistas quarter for one of Brazil’s only open-air dance floors. Housed in a re-styled Swiss chalet restaurant, the venue mixes traditional European mountain design with modern elements. The music is electronic, although check their website as they also host classic rock nights.
For those in the know, breakfast in BH is taken at Padaria Savassi on 1436-A Rua Rio Grande do Norte in Savassi. It is an historic bakery so famous that it gave its name to the neighborhood itself. While perusing their morning buffet, be sure to try the regional specialties broa de fubá com queijo e coco (cornflower bread with cheese and coconut)and pão mineiro recheado de queijo (typical Minas Gerais bread stuffed with cheese).
Spend the day shopping at Savassi’s many boutiques. Be sure to make a stop in the chic shopping mall Patio Savassi, which is well-stocked with all the top brands in a relaxed setting. If that isn’t enough go to Diamond Shopping in Lourdes, which has a charming market called Praça do Mercado, which sells fruits, vegetables, meat and fresh breads. Get the fixings for a picnic lunch and head to the beautiful Parque Municipal (City Park), just off Avenida Afonso Pena.
Saturday night in Belo Horizonte can be warmed up with a wood-stove pizza enjoyed leisurely over a good bottle of Italian wine at the trendy restaurant Marília Pizzeria on 153 Rua Marilia de Dirceu in Lourdes. With forty different combinations on offer and a seventy-bottle strong wine list, you can’t go wrong in this popular weekend destination. Be sure to reserve a table on their website.
You cannot leave BH without trying the classic drink of Minas Gerais, cachaça. The venue Alambique Cachaçaria offers everything from ten-year cachaça to varieties made with honey, not to mention live traditional Minas music. With a mixed crowd, it offers two clubs for the price of one, with electronic DJs on one stage and Minas musicians on the other.
Sunday can be spent at one of the city’s many museums. Palacio Das Artes is a great choice. Housed in a cultural complex in the Lourdes neighborhood, it displays eighteenth and nineteenth century art with a focus on BH’s architectural history and colonial art, as well as modern and contemporary collections.