The state of Minas Gerais - ‘General Mines' - was a source of great wealth for the Portuguese imperialists, with gold and other precious metals found in plentiful supply in the forested hills that characterise much of this part of South Eastern Brazil. Pretty colonial towns such as Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and Mariana grew up to support the mining boom, and their cobbled streets, churches and whitewashed colonial mansions are well-preserved.
The beautiful Baroque churches in these towns are especially noteworthy, a good number of them featuring carvings by Brazil's most celebrated sculptor, Aleijadinho. As such, it's the colonial settlements to the south of the modern state capital, Belo Horizonte, and their cultural treasures that attract most visitors to Minas Gerais. Time allowing, it's also worth visiting one or more of the state's national parks - which protect swathes of cerrado forest and grasslands, in which live giant anteaters and other elusive and interesting animals.