Overlooked and Underrated: Ouro Preto, Brazil

Where? Ouro Preto, about 210 miles north of Rio de Janeiro and 97 miles southeast of Belo Horizonte.

Why? This is where you'll see some of the best examples of baroque architecture in Brazil. It's also the best place to see the work of legendary Brazilian artist Aleijadinho.

The surrounding mountains, the geometric rows of whitewashed buildings, the cobblestone streets and red-tile roofs that climb the hillsides, and the morning mist and evening fog give the town an evocative, pastoral air.

Tasty treat: Queijo do minas, a mild, soft, white cheese often served with fruit or fruit jam.

Top outing: Brazil's oldest gold mine, where you can ride an old mining car through the tunnels and see exposed quartz, graphite, and black tourmaline.

Best restaurant: Le Coq d'Or. The finest restaurant in the region and one of the best in Brazil. The executive chef trained in Paris at the Cordon Bleu culinary institute. The ever-changing menu reflects his Gallic flights of fancy, but with many unusual Brazilian touches. It's in the Solar Nossa Senhora do Rosario hotel.

Where to stay: Luxor Ouro Preto, a 19th-century lodge-style hotel. Guest rooms have views of the city, and you shouldn't miss a meal at the small romantic restaurant, where you can indulge in mineria cuisine.

Don't leave without: Shopping for gemstones. An excellent source for authentic gems---topazes, emeralds, tourmalines---is Luiza Figueiredo Joias (Rua Conde de Bobadela 48).

Don't miss: Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis, the most impressive of the town's many baroque churches. In addition to designing the structure, Aleijadinho was responsible for the wood and soapstone sculptures on the portal, high altars, pulpits, and crossing arch.

How to get here: Belo Horizonte, the gateway to the region, has two airports. A flight from Rio or Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte is less than an hour. By bus or car the trip takes roughly six hours, mostly because of the bad roads.

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