Sao  Francisco De  Assis  Church

Ouro Preto - Brazil

As the world’s eyes focus on Brazil for this summer’s World Cup, Catherine Balston profiles a lesser-known former mining town, now a charming Unesco-protected hub.

Travel Time 20hrs 10min

Why go?

Beautiful beaches (and, particularly this summer, football) may be Brazil’s main calling card, but head inland to the verdant, mountainous Minas Gerais state, and you’ll find the legacy left by the gold rush of the 18th century. Far from being the Wild West, the colonial towns here are picturesque, their whitewashed stone mansions and churches clinging to hillsides, and Ouro Preto is the jewel in the crown. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it’s a bustling university town and a stunning spot to explore past and present.

What to do

Put on some sensible shoes and hit Ouro Preto’s warren of vertiginous, cobbled streets, taking in the grand buildings around the main square, Praça Tiradentes, and one – or all – of its myriad churches. Those not to miss are the baroque- and rococo- inspired Igreja São Francisco de Assis; and the Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar church, ornately decorated in over 400kg of gold leaf. Go underground for a glimpse of the town’s mining heritage at the Mina do Chico-Rei, or just out of town at the more impressive Mina da Passagem, the largest gold mine in the world that is open to visitors. Literature buffs can visit Casa Mariana, the home that was restored by American poet Elizabeth Bishop.

Where to stay

Converted 18th-century buildings comprise the majority of accommodation options, combining a sense of history with modern luxury. At the very top end of the spectrum, the Hotel Solar do Rosário (00 55 31 3551 5040,, in a grand mansion at the top of the town, has rooms with four- poster beds and roll-top bathtubs. The three rooms-to-rent in the private house of Marcia Litchfield, the Solar do Carmo (00 55 21 2294 0525) are a bit like staying with a glamorous godmother. Packed with contemporary art and antique furniture, the house feels like a home and, when Marcia is in town, you’ll get the best insider info on the city’s cultural scene. TVs add a touch of the 21st century to the otherwise old-fashioned style of Pousada Minas Gerais (00 55 31 3551 5506,

Where to eat and drink

One of the best loved of Brazil’s cuisines, comida mineira (‘Minas Gerais food’) is country-style cooking, typified by its hearty dishes, served up in proportions that will challenge even the greediest of appetites. Grand wood-fired ovens with cast-iron hotplates are the centrepiece of many of the region’s farmhouse kitchens, where pots and pans bubble and simmer with all manner of stews and bean dishes. Casa do Ouvidor (00 55 31 3551 2141,, the oldest restaurant in Ouro Preto, typifies the style, serving good, honest food that’s best appreciated at lunchtime, with a siesta factored in afterwards. Bené da Flauta (00 55 31 3551 1036,, similarly set in a quaint colonial mansion, also does excellent Mineiro cooking, like feijão tropeiro mineiro – beans mixed with manioc flour, bacon, sausage, eggs and topped with kale. Follow it with a digestif of cachaça; the artisanal Caçador is a little-known local gem. For a sunset caipirinha, settle in at a table out on the terrace at the charming O Passo (00 55 31 3552 5089,, serving pastas, fish and the best pizza in town. A more sophisticated take on Mineiro flavours can be had at Solar do Rosário restaurant (00 55 31 3551 5040, No-frills fare – pão de queijo (cheese bread) and the like – draw a younger crowd to the colourful, retro Café Geráes, 00 55 31 3551 5097.

Time running out?

Hit the shops for souvenirs: locally mined tourmalines, amethysts, citrine and rarer imperial topazes – and of course, gold – are sold in all shapes and sizes throughout the centre, including reputable Ita Gemas (00 55 31 3551 4895).


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Brazilian real. Ouro Preto is three hours behind GMT. Total travel time is around 20 hours. Cost to carbon offset is £19.46 (go to

Getting There

British Airways ( flies from London Heathrow to Tancredo Neves International Airport (137km from Ouro Preto) via Miami. TAM Linhas Aéreas ( flies from London Heathrow to Tancredo Neves International Airport via São Paulo.


Visit Brazil ( has more details on the best churches and museums in Ouro Preto.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

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