This week’s travel dream: Getting lost among Brazil’s sleepy villages

Brazil's “rural heartland,” Minas Gerais, is dotted with colonial towns, mountains, and waterfalls. Its cuisine is famous across the nation.

There’s the Brazil known for golden beaches, tropical rain forests, and the urban centers of Rio and São Paulo, said Seth Kugel in The New York Times. But there’s also a Brazil that “lies beyond the Christ on the hill in Rio, the eco-lodges of the Amazon, and the model-flecked beaches of Florianopolis.” Its name: Minas Gerais. The South American country’s second-most-populous state is also its “rural heartland,” a “sloping landscape” speckled with quiet colonial towns. Instead of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, Minas has baroque churches with spires “visible in all directions.” Instead of vast rain forests, Minas has soothing waterfalls hidden amid fertile sierras. Best of all, Minas cooks up a cuisine that’s famous across the nation.

I was four hours north of Rio when I came upon Tiradentes, a romantic little town tucked into the São José mountains. It was here that I first encountered Mineiro cuisine. At Tempero da Angela, a no-frills open-air restaurant, I “feasted on plate after plate of crunchy moist pork shoulder,” chicken stew thick with the local leafy green ora pro nobis, and a manioc flour and bean purée known as tutu de feijao. I kept room for dessert—farmer’s cheese drizzled with a creamy caramel made by women who spend hours stirring milk and sugar over a crackling fire. I left sated, and convinced I had just found the “greatest lunch deal in the Western Hemisphere.”

Driving even farther away from Rio, I stumbled upon Catas Altas, a “sleepy village in the foothills of southeast Brazil.” The only other visitor appeared to be a white horse chomping on some grass. The town square was studded with baroque-style churches, whose “over-the-top ornamentation” contrasted surprisingly with the region’s simple beauty. I headed to a nearby waterfall to take a dip. “Neither huge nor stunningly beautiful,” the waterfall was simply a “quaint swimming hole” that transformed the “other­wise still-life mountain landscape into a motion picture.” This was the perfect place to spend an afternoon, and, if I didn’t have to get back to the real world, I would have stayed much longer.

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