Minas Gerais

We spent around a week in Minas Gerais, an inland region of south east Brazil. The area has many historic colonial towns built during the rush after gold was discovered in the 1690s. We visited three of them: Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto and Tiradentes.

First stop was Belo Horizonte, aka BH, pronounced Beagá (still struggling to grasp Portuguese sounds!)

We arrived just as the famous Mercado Central was opening – the perfect place for breakfast. We also stocked up on picnic supplies: an enormous, ripe avocado large enough to feed a family, local cheese similar to feta and fresh bread made a memorable feast “to go”.

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We decided to leave the caged live animals for sale behind (everything from mice, rabbits, chinchillas to geese and ducks – I’ve never seen or heard anything like it!)

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BH is the bar and cachaça capital of the whole of Brazil. We remained sober as we were only there for one morning and afternoon, keen to continue on to the photogenic Ouro Preto.

Ouro Preto couldn’t have been more different from the sprawling concrete jungle of BH: hugged by verdant mountains, the town itself is all steep cobbled streets, multicoloured buildings, broad piazzas and stunning baroque churches.

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Many of the façades were carved by Aleijadinho, known as Brazil’s Michelangelo. (Mark keeps calling him Ahmadinejad…)

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After a couple of days exploring, our legs and knees were almost as shattered as after the “bootcamp” trekking experience in Chapada Diamantina. Ouro Preto’s streets are so steep and the cobbles so ragged and uneven, walking around is like an extreme sport!

Luckily there were many opportunities to recuperate with some of the region’s renowned food and drink. “Comida mineira”, or cuisine from Minas, is very hearty and flavourful, designed to keep hard working miners going strong.

One of the best rodizios we’ve experienced in Brazil was at Cháfariz in Ouro Preto, where we sampled classic regional dishes including tutu de feijão (raw beans mashed to a paste with manioc flour and then cooked), frango com quiabo (a yummy chicken and okra casserole), pork ribs and sausage, corn, traditional cheeses and much more. All washed down with cachaça of course!

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We had heard that Tiradentes was a charming, peaceful place that also happened to be a foodie hotspot. What better place to head for my birthday…

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We had a lovely couple of days strolling around the small, quaint village. Conversely, many of the shops must cater for people who own enormous mansions – we saw all sorts of blingy, ostentatious “objets” such as a carved wooden lion bigger than our whole flat in London.

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As a birthday treat we booked a table at Tragaluz, which had been billed as the best restaurant in town. We had a really enjoyable evening; the food was decent but not quite the extravaganza we had hoped for. The one course worth writing about was dessert: dried guava rolled in cashews, fried in butter and served with creamy catupiry cheese and guava ice cream. In fairness I would return just to eat that again.

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From Minas Gerais it was a relatively short bus to our next destination, São Paulo: just 8 hours. The sheer scale of South America has quickly altered our dainty English views about what constitutes a long journey!

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