Brazil is a huge country with a lot to see and do, and one of the best ways to learn about the land is to go on a trip back in time. Away from the bustle of big cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo, historic towns dot the country – these places are a reminder of Brazil’s ancestors and public personalities.
PETROPOLIS (RIO DE JANEIRO)
Located in the State of Rio de Janeiro, Petrópolis is a mountain retreat with a European flavour. It was the favourite city of Dom Pedro II, who built a palace that served as summer residence of the imperial family: the Imperial Museum, with its neoclassical architecture.
The Museum showcases a rich collection of pieces that belonged to the imperial family, from furniture to artworks and even personal objects. A number of rooms are open to the public, including the music room with its golden harp, the State room, and the princesses’ chambers.
The city centre, with its picturesque parks, bridges, canals and old-fashioned street lamps is easily explored on foot or by horse and carriage. Today, it’s a favourite weekend getaway for cariocas (residents of Rio city).
Brasília replaced Rio de Janeiro as Brazil’s center of government in 1960, under the visionary leadership of President Juscelino Kubitschek, whose term was marked by prosperity and political stability.
The futuristic city is a product of visionary architect Oscar Niemeyer, and its millennial design evokes the layout of an airplane. Notable avante-garde buildings include the Catedral Metropolitana with its spiked bowl shape, the UFO-like Museu Nacional Honestino Guimarães, the magnificent Palácio da Justica with its asymetrical concrete waterfalls, the pyramid-shaped Templo da Boa Vontade, and Congresso Nacional, the icon of the capital with its two half-hemispheres and twin towers.
Memorial JK, located downtown, tells the history of the former president, showcasing his large personal collection and pictures of the construction of the city. Visitors can also see Kubitschek’s grave (where his mortal remains are), which is kept in a dark room, with stage lighting.
GRAMADO (RIO GRANDE DO SUL)
The city of Gramado is dominated by Bavarian-styled timber-framed architecture that feels like a Swiss mountain village. The atmosphere here is very much European, thanks to its community of German and Italian immigrants.
Gramado is part of the Romantic Route, where cold weather – thanks to its location at the top of Serra Gaúcha – and flower gardens are part of the draw. Its boutiques sell gourmet chocolate, and local restaurants specialise in fondue, and hotels resemble Swiss chalets. A number of agritourism trails allow visitors to taste the wines of the region.
The city is also dotted with various manmade attractions, including the Museu do Chocolate, Snowland (the first indoor snow park of America), and Dreamland, the first Wax Museum of Latin America.
OURO PRETO (MINAS GERAIS)
Ouro Preto city, in Minas Gerais, is known for its Baroque-style colonial art and architecture, and is significant historically as the centre of gold mining and government. Its historic downtown was the first Brazilian UNESCO site in 1980.
Built at the foot of the Serra do Espinhaço, Ouro Preto’s colonial centre is steep. The town consists of narrow, vertiginous cobblestone slopes that make navigating by car difficult, and on foot exhausting. However, there are outstanding views of the 23 churches spread out across the hills.
The city also houses Museu da Inconfidência, dedicated to the memory of the Inconfidência Mineira (revolutionary movement against the Portuguese colonialism in Brazil in 1789). It was built in 1930, when President Getúlio Vargas asked that the bodies of the inconfidentes mineiros (revolutionaries) that were buried in Africa be brought to Brazil.
Salvador is the capital of Bahia State, known for its natural beauty. There you can visit the UNESCO- listed Pelourinho, the historic downtown and the centrepiece of the Cidade Alta.
The cobblestone-lined neighbourhood is home to colourful colonial mansions, multi-story houses inspired on Portuguese Baroque architecture, as well as magnificent churches (with intricate interiors) from the 17th and 18th centuries. Cultural centres and schools of music, dance and capoeira pack these pastel-colored 17th- and 18th-century buildings.
Check out a live capoeira jogo (game) in the historic square, visit a samba bar, or hop on the 72m-high Elevador Lacerda (built in 1873) to experience the upper and lower city. Take a break at Praça Municipal (or Praça Tomé de Souza), the heart of colonial Brazil for over 200 years.