Ouro Preto is a gold mine. Literally. During the eighteenth century the town, nestled in the rolling hills of the largely rural province of Minas Gerais, was one of the most important cities in Brazil – the Americas, even – thanks to the vast gold deposits that were discovered in the nearby foothills.
Once the gold was depleted and shipped off to Portugal, however, and its title of provincial capital was taken away, Ouro Preto began to decline in importance. The Portuguese went home, but not before leaving in their wake a gorgeous colonial city, now an UNESCO World Heritage City, with numerous impressive Baroque churches and a vibrant local culture. Already a popular travel destination among Brazilians, Ouro Preto is now catching on internationally, having caught the attention of both The New York Times (twice!) and the Travel Channel’s Entrada show.
Ouro Preto encapsulates much of that very particular Brazilian air of effortlessness, with an extra dose of charm that makes the already fairytale-like city seem even more enchanting. There are no large hotels, but rather intimate bed and breakfasts and pousadas in carefully preserved historic buildings. Similarly, there are no chain restaurants, instead a variety of buffet-style eateries serving up a hearty local cuisine, heavy in beans, rice, kale, okra, steamed veggies, and meats stewed in rich sauces that is famous throughout Brazil. Most people navigate the unbelievably steep streets of the town center on foot, as cars are often not equipped for the sharp curves and plummeting blocks that make up the breathtaking cityscape.
Relaxed in comparison to Sao Paulo or Rio, Ouro Preto still maintains that wonderful Brazilian joie de vivre, with a lively population of university students fueling the many small bars that line the colonial streets, enjoying frosty national beers and delightfully cheap caipirinhas until the early hours of the morning. Come Carnaval season each February, the city comes alive with festivities that are drawing more participants and onlookers each year. Get in on Ouro Preto before the rest of the world does; while you may not strike gold, you’ll certainly feel as if you’ve come across a gem.