MARIANA is one of the major colonial towns, and in the first half of the eighteenth century was grander by far than its younger rival 12km to the west, Ouro Preto. Mariana was the administrative centre of the gold mines of central Minas until the 1750s and the first governors of Minas had their residence here and the first bishops their palace. Yet today Mariana’s churches are far less grand than its illustrious neighbour’s, and it’s really little more than a large village, albeit one that is steadily expanding. It does, however, have a perfectly preserved colonial centre, mercifully free of steep climbs, that is less crowded and commercialized than Ouro Preto. As Mariana is only a twenty-minute bus ride away, you might stay here if you can’t find a place in Ouro Preto.