Courtesy of Sergio Lunardi
Courtesy of Sergio Lunardi
With airport options in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, you can either start in Belo Horizonte and progress south towards the coast, following the Route of Gold took from Portuguese Brazil to Lisbon, or start on the coast and head inland, following the route African slaves took to work in the mines and coffee and sugar cane plantations.
From Ouro Preto to São João del Rei we follow the route of the Old Gold Road, which in its heyday around 1700 led to and meant great splendor for Paraty, the compulsory port for gold shipments. From São João del Rei to Rio de Janeiro we divert on to the “New Road”, whose construction led to the decline of Paraty and the enrichment of another region, the Serra dos Órgãos, whose history encapsulates the end of colonial Brazil and the rise of Imperial Brazil.
In Ouro Preto, the old state capital of Minas Gerais (literally, “general mines”), the ambience of the authentic Baroque architecture enables you to visualize what this place would have been at the peak of its historic wealth. With all its churches and carvings created by Aleijadinho, Ouro Preto was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. Numerous mines continue their traditionally important role in the state’s economy, and mines near Ouro Preto produce a stone unique in the world – the imperial topaz. In sum, a quaint town with beautiful architectural sites, good food, and good gem shopping. The Route of Gold is part of the Diamonds path too.
Nearby Mariana is not to be missed. It was already capital of the captaincy when it was still São Paulo and Minas de Ouro. Today no one would dare to compare this provincial town with the metropolis but three centuries ago they were pairs if measured by their wealth. Just to appreciate the power of the mining industry at the time, nothing better to penetrate the core of one of its mines.
We continue to Tiradentes which took its current name from the hero of the Mining Conspiracy, the only serious attempt at independence and republic that ended with the hero executed, dismembered and a defamed remembrance.
The city is yet another example of an authentic pioneering and colonial baroque
Brazil, with a few museums and landmarks to visit, and some interesting hiking trails.
From here we continue into the New Road to take us to Petrópolis, named after Emperor Pedro I, the founder and first ruler of Imperial Brazil, and Teresóplis, named after Empress Teresa Cristina, wife of Pedro II. The first settlements created as resting spots on the “new” path of gold were soon dominated by the important architectural legacy left by the imperial court that chose this cooler mountainous area as its summer residence. Today’s cariocas (Rio de Janeiro’s inhabitants) still go there for something as exotic as a little cold.
That, the tropical highland climate and mountainous terrain make you forget just sometimes it is in Brazil. But a walk in the Sierra of Organs National Park, bathing in its rivers and waterfalls and admire the lush wildlife, it is enough to return to the tropical reality.
Then on to Rio, the wonderful city. It’s a must to become a carioca if only for a few days and live life as they do. Basic shirts, shorts and flip flops, drinking acai juice or coconut water on the beach, and end the day in a bar with a beer and a shrimp cake and try to get into a carioca conversation. Go to a soccer match at the Maracana. Climb or cable car up Sugarloaf, and don’t forget to take bananas to give to the monkeys. Go to the Christ the Redeemer statue, and then get lost in the Tijuca Forest, a large urban park that’s preserves a remnant of the Atlantic Forest. And above all, give yourself time to enjoy a city pulsing rhythm of samba.
From Rio you’ll follow the coast on the last part of your journey to the Costa Verde, Ilha Grande Bay and finally, Paraty. The Royal Road ended in Paraty and from there the gold continued overland to São Paulo and by sea to Rio and Lisbon. The new road was designed to avoid the journey by sea from Paraty to Rio, and prevent pirate attacks. With this, the city was losing importance and remained isolated until the road linking Rio to São Paulo was built and again made it a halfway point in the coming and going of people in 1980. Its isolation was to some extent its salvation, because it is particularly well preserved. Walking through its streets, visiting its beaches and daring as the pioneers to climb the Camino Viejo cueing by the Sierra de la Bocaína, can take us to the sixteenth-century and the Route of Gold to be shipped to Europe.Request more information