Epic Rides in Brazil
A Ride through Minas Gerais
This Epic Ride starts with the Costa Verde (Green Coast) behind us as we venture into the mountains and mining towns of Minas Gerais.
This ride doesn’t have a planned route. Minas Gerais is scattered with many worthy natural sites and colonial towns. Some of the highlights are below.
Petrópolis and Teresópolis
Situated in Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgãos, these twin towns are a great base for exploring the park and dramatic mountains, including the iconic Dedo de Deus (God’s Finger) and Agulha do Diabo (Devil’s Needle).
Located at the foot of the Serra de São José, the city was just a mining camp in the early 18th century. In 1718, it became Vila São José, in honor of the then Portuguese Prince D. José I.
With the proclamation of the Republic, the city was renamed Tiradentes, name of the martyr of the Inconfidência Mineira (an attempt at emancipation from Minas Gerais in 1789), born nearby and who died fighting against the monarchy.
When gold became scarce in the region, the city was forgotten and fell into dispair, it was rediscovered in late 1970. Exceptionally preserved thanks to the decades of long isolation, the Baroque architectural ensemble of Tiradentes gathers jewels like the charming fountain of the São José Fountain, built in 1749 to supply the city with drinking water and which runs until today.
Also standing out in the city is the majestic Church of San Antonio, second in amount of gold in Brasil, with its front built by the artist Antonio Francisco Lisboa, better known as Aleijadinho, and an organ brought from Portugal, in 1788.
Largo das Forras, the central city square, houses the City Hall and numerous handicraft shops, restaurants and inns. It was here, in 1888, that slaves gathered to celebrate the end of slavery.
Located in a valley and framed by majestic mountains, Congonhas do Campo, 70 kilometers from Belo Horizonte, bewitches its visitors with the beauty of its rich Baroque heritage.
The earliest records of human occupation dating back to the late 17th century, when the entire region was in a fever of adventurers in search of gold. A large part of the flag of Bartolomeu Bueno populated Vila Real de Queluz (Conselheiro Lafaiete) in 1700, but other members of the expedition followed the trip further and founded other villages such as the Arraial de Congonhas on the banks of the Congonhas River.
The name of the village comes from the plant “congõi” that cover the region’s fields and in tupi means “what supports, what feeds”. It is said that there was much gold in Congonhas that the rocks were the size of potatoes.
So much wealth attracted to the city the great Antonio Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho, one of the main artists of Brasil. The passing of Aleijadinho through Congonhas gave Minas Gerais and Brasil one of the most spectacular Baroque treasures: the Basílica Santuário do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos.
The architectural and artistic set of the Basilica is simply breathtaking. This masterpiece of Aleijadinho stands out by its rich carvings and indoor decoration, of 12 large soap stone statues of the Prophets and the six Capelas dos Passos distributed on a hill outside of the temple.
In the chapels, that recreate in a theatrical and educational way the passion of Christ, there are 66 realistic statues carved in cedar and colored masterfully by Mestre Ataíde, a great Brazilian painter and decorator of sacred art.
The sanctuary was declared a world heritage site by Unesco in 1985 and made Congonhas known today as “City of Prophets”.
The city of Ouro Preto, in Minas Gerais, is well known for its colonial architecture. It was the first Brazilian city to be considered a world heritage site by Unesco in 1980, and is home to a magnificent Baroque architectural ensemble, one of the best preserved in the world.
The history of the city begins at the end of the 17th century, when an anonymous adventurer encountered curious dark stones (dark gold with a layer of palladium) and initiated one of the biggest gold races of humanity.
The territory that today make up Minas Gerais began to be occupied quickly and various camps sprang up. In 1652, they were grouped under the name of Vila Rica – today, Ouro Preto.
Tons of gold were sent to Portugal in the 18th century, and what remained in the region produced Baroque wonders that enchant those who visit the city.
In the historic centre, alleys and streets you will find rich fountains, townhouses, chapels and churches of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The name of the Caraça (big face) mountains and nature reserve derives from the colonisers’ perception that the range’s profile resembled a human face. A chapel was built here around 1774, dedicated to Our Lady the Mother of Men, as well as a house to shelter missionaries, on the initiative of a certain Brother Lourenço from the Lamego bishopric. Some historians hold that he was really José Policarpo de Azevedo, one of the figures involved in the attempt to assassinate King José I (1768), who had taken refuge in Brazil to escape capital punishment. The original features of the house and chapel are known from an old drawing apparently used as a model for the Seminary of Mariana. When he died in 1819, the founder left all his property to the prince regent, requesting that a teaching institution be established at the site. The resulting college was founded in 1820 by two Lazarist priests designated by King João VI. In 1883, a building in the neo-Gothic style replaced the original chapel; elements from the latter are nevertheless still identifiable, such as the floor flagstones and some religious images, as well as the altars painted and gilded by master Ataíde, who also painted the canvases embellishing the church, among them the famous depiction of the Last Supper. One of the college’s wings was destroyed by a fire in 1968, which also affected the library. In the 1980s, the complex was subject to a thorough and ambitious restoration. (link)
Maned Wolf Experience
One of the highlights of this place happens under the night sky on the steps of the neo-Gothic monastery. If you’re lucky, you may witness the beauty of the maned wolf up close and personal. These are rare creatures to see in the wild, making for a surreal and unforgettable experience.
The unique relationship between the residents of the Santuário do Caraça monastery and the area’s native maned wolves began in the early 1980s. Monks started to notice that an apparently large and strong animal was habitually raiding the church’s trashcans by tipping them over and dragging out the contents for clandestine midnight feasts. (link)
While not located in Minas Gerais, instead located in Espírito Santo state. The ‘Blue Rock’ is a granite rock formation reaching a height of 1,822 metres (5,978 ft). Temperatures range from about 7.3 to 27.8 °C (45.1 to 82.0 °F). It is rated the 3rd best climate in the world (from the UN). Altitude ranges from 1,250 metres (4,100 ft) at the visitor center to 1,909 metres (6,263 ft) at the peak of Pedra das Flores, the highest point. The park covers parts of the municipalities of Domingos Martins and Vargem Alta. These towns are built by Pomeranian immigrants, who came from a region that is now part of Germany and Poland. This population often finds itself in difficult-to-access areas, and many still speak East Pomeranian, though today it is thought to be extinct in their homeland. Domingos Martins still has many characteristically Germanic architecture and cuisine.