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A Perfect Pair

Brazil’s not known as a country to cover its charms. And yet, the little towns of Paraty and Tiradentes are largely hidden from the traveller’s initial glance.

One is tucked in the mountains of the interior, the other snuggles the coast (about halfway between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo). Geographically they’re 430 km apart, but a shared history puts them much close together—colonial twins, if you will.

Both towns were settled by the Portuguese in the late 1600s. And both towns met immediate glory at the hands of the mining rush in the state of Minas Gerais (literally, General Mines). Vast deposits of gold and diamonds had been discovered in the hills of Minas and a route was quickly developed to transfer the precious loot to the coast, so it could be promptly shipped back to Europe. The Caminho do Ouro (literally, Gold Road) started in (or near enough) Tiradentes and ended in the port town of Paraty. While the obvious aim was to get the goods out of the country, the newfound wealth was so abundant it couldn’t help but spill out along the way. Attractive homes were built, extravagant churches were erected, and populations swelled.

The golden days didn’t last forever and by the late 1800s both towns had slipped into obscurity. Bypassed by new roads and rail lines, Tiradentes and Paraty became backwaters. Buildings were abandoned, people disappeared (the population of Paraty shrunk by about 95%), things stopped changing. Thank goodness. For such mothballing is precisely what preserved these pretty towns, and protected their superb colonial character.

Today, both towns are impossibly well restored and an ideal complement to one another. Here’s how to tackle them:

Start with a few days in Tiradentes. Explore its quiet cobbled streets (okay for the well-heeled, not high-heeled) and dig into the local history. Find out why the town is named after a real-life character called ‘The Toothpuller’ (literally, Tiradentes) and take the old steam train to the town of Sao Joao del Rei (pronounced something like ‘Sow-Jow-Day-Hey’) just 13 km away. Try some wonderful hiking and horseback riding in the nearby hills. And rest your weary head at the atmospheric Solar da Ponte.

Then drive to Paraty (6 hrs or so). Cruise the cobbled streets and marvel at the colourfully painted, mega-paned windows. Stop from time to time for a lime-y caipirinha (made from cachaça, fermented sugar cane juice). See if you can find an impromptu open-air capoeira session. Hire a boat for the day and sail the stunning Bay of Ilha Grande. Drop anchor off one of the 300 islands in the bay and go snorkeling. Or have another caipirinha. Our favorite spot to stay in Paraty is Casa Turquesa, a wonderful boutique hotel.

Okay for the well-heeled, not high-heeled...

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