The drive to OURO PRETO, 100km southeast of Belo Horizonte, begins unpromisingly with endless industrial complexes and favelas spread over the hills, but in its later stretches becomes spectacular as it winds around hill country 1000m above sea level and passes several valleys where patches of forest survive; imagine the entire landscape covered with it and you have an idea of what greeted the gold-seekers in the 1690s. On arrival, the first thing that strikes you is how small the town is, considering that until 1897 it was the capital of Minas (its population is still only 67,000). That said, you can see at a glance why the capital had to be shifted to Belo Horizonte: the steep hills the town is built around, straddling a network of creeks, severely limit space for expansion. Today, the hills and vertiginous streets of Ouro Preto’s historic centre are vital ingredients in what is architecturally one of the loveliest towns in Brazil.

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