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.
Avoid coming on Monday if you want to see the sights, as all the churches and most of the museums close for the day. Also, buy your onward ticket as soon as you arrive, as buses fill up quickly. Some people complain about Ouro Preto being touristy but they miss the point – it's precisely because there really is something to savour here that the visitors come. If you have the time, aim to spend at least a night or two so that you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the city after all the day-trippers have departed.
Ouro Preto has an extremely popular street Carnaval that attracts visitors from far afield, so be sure to reserve accommodation long in advance. Likewise, at Easter , the town becomes the focus of a spectacular series of plays and processions lasting for about a month before Easter Sunday; the last days of the life of Christ are played out in open-air theatres throughout town.