Brazil's well-preserved colonial towns are atmospheric places to spend a few days during a tailor-made tour, surrounded by elegant architecture and tangible history. Olinda and Salvador in North Eastern Brazil are two of the most popular choices, while the mining towns of Ouro Preto and Tiradentes in Minas Gerais state are also not to be missed. But there are others, too, up and down the country, full of colourful festivals and fascinating local legends.
Brazil's colonial history began with the arrival of Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. British, French and Dutch traders soon seized opportunities to make their own mark on this vast land full of promise, and Jesuit missionaries set about converting the indigenous Brazilians to Christianity. The colonial towns tell the history of the nation, from the planting of sugar plantations and the boom generated by the gold rush, to the slave trade and Brazil's struggle for independence. The beautiful old colonial towns have narrow cobbled lanes and impressive plazas lined with mansions, churches and whitewashed town houses - and visiting them is a real highlight of a Brazil holiday.