February 2014

Belo Horizonte, Brazil

By Júlia Ribeiro

Surrounded by beautiful mountains and graced with mild weather, Belo Horizonte, Brazil (or simply “BH” {beh-ah-GAH} to locals), with a population of about 2.4 million, is the capital of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and one of the host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Minas Gerais (“General Mines” in Portuguese) has been the centre of the country’s mining activity since colonial times, providing the Portuguese Court with gold, gems and diamonds. Nowadays, the state holds more than 50 per cent of the country’s mining operations, with more than 300 active mines in its territory – the main product being iron ore.

Where to stay

 Visit_Brazil_Ouro-Minas-Palace
Courtesy of Ouro Paul Lowry Minas Palace Hotel 

The only five-star hotel in the city is also the only one with a multilingual concierge service. The Ouro Minas Palace Hotel, located in the Ipiranga neighbourhood, is close to the Cidade Administrativa (the state government complex), shopping malls, restaurants and the metro. In addition to all the usual amenities, it offers a convention centre capable of hosting 900 people. ourominas.com.br

The Mercure Lourdes Hotel and the Mercure Belo Horizonte Belvedere Hotel, part of the Accor Hotels chain, are both strategically located. The former is downtown, on Avenida do Contorno, Belo Horizonte’s main strip, close to bars and restaurants and to major businesses located in the city. The latter is in the Belvedere neighbourhood, with easy access to the airport and many corporate headquarters. Both hotels have impressive amenities (cable, pool, gym, wireless Internet and a complete restaurant) and are business-friendly. mercure.com

Where to dine

 Visit_Brazil_barbecue
Courtesy of Wilson Hui
 Visit-Brazil_Minas-cheese
Courtesy of Visit Brazil

Brazilians view lunches and dinners as opportunities to socialize and do business. In Brazil, there is no “grab-a-sandwich” culture, especially in Belo Horizonte, where the “mineira” (which means “from Minas Gerais” in Portuguese) cuisine is offered at its most refined.

Xapuri

(Rua Mandacaru, 260, Pampulha)

Xapuri (pronounced sha-pu-REE) was voted the best authentic Minas Gerais cuisine by several Brazilian food guides. Chef Nelsa Trombino has created signature versions of traditional local dishes, such as her famous pork ossobuco with sweet potatoes and collard greens. This place is also famous for its local dessert buffet. Meals from $30 to $70.

 Visit_Brazil_Xapuri-Whitiebrass-Flickr
Courtesy of whitiebrass

Fogo de Chão

(Rua Sergipe, 1208, Savassi)

With eight restaurants in Brazil and more than 20 locations in the United States, Fogo de Chão is the definitive Brazilian steakhouse. It is a prime spot to experience all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue. The restaurant is a local favourite for business lunches. Meals at $50 (drinks and desserts not included).

Verdemar

(Av. Nossa Senhora do Carmo, 1900, Sion)

The delicious “pão de queijo” (Brazilian cheese bread) is Minas Gerais’s gift to Brazil and the world. In Belo Horizonte, lots of bakeries sell excellent pão de queijo, but for a sure bet go to Verdemar Minimart’s coffee shop. It goes for $14 per kilo.

Where to explore

 Visit_Brazil_Pampulha_Architectural_Complex
Courtesy of Visit Brazil

Right in the heart of Belo Horizonte, the Pampulha neighbourhood is home to some of Brazil’s modern architectural highlights including the world-famous Pampulha Architectural Complex designed by renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. He also designed the Pampulha Museum of Art and the beautiful Church of Saint Francis of Assisi: a project so controversial for its uniqueness that the Catholic Church refused to consecrate it for more than a decade.

If you are interested in learning more about Brazil’s colonial mining history, take a drive to the city of Ouro Preto (about 100 kilometres from Belo Horizonte). The city is one of Brazil’s best-preserved colonial towns and a UNESCO world heritage site. There you can visit Mina da Passagem, which was a gold mine under Portuguese colonial rule. In addition to the fascinating old mine workings, there is also a striking underground lake.

How to get there

 Visit_Brazil_plane
 Thiago Melo

Although there are no direct flights to Belo Horizonte from Canada, Air Canada offers a daily 10-hour flight from Toronto to Sao Paulo’s international airport, which offers connections to many others cities in Brazil. The flight from Sao Paulo to BH takes an hour and a half. Another option for Canadian travellers is an American Airlines’ eight-hour direct flight to BH from Miami. On both airlines, flights range from around $1,200 for economy to around $8,000 for first class.

How to fit in

 Belo_Horizonte_business_people
Pedro Silveira

Business fashion is similar to Canada’s, and Brazilians dress casually for the most part – blazers and casual button down shirts are common. That said, the suit and tie still predominate in formal – especially legal – office settings.

Brazilians tend to speak loudly and informally, especially in casual situations, and BH locals are no different. Long, animated conversation is a favourite Brazilian habit brought even to business meetings.

Touching arms and elbows during conversation is normal. Brazilians speak in very close proximity, with lots of physical contact.

Getting around

Most major credit cards are accepted in Brazil, but all foreign currency must be exchanged for Brazilian real (BRL). One Canadian dollar is worth about 2.16 Brazilian reals.

A growing number of Brazilian executives and government officials speak some English. However, on setting up an appointment, you should always ask if your contact speaks English or would feel more comfortable with an interpreter.

As service in restaurants, taxis and stores is mostly in Portuguese, try to learn a few key words to help you navigate the city.

A 10 per cent service charge is added to most hotel and restaurant bills, so it is not necessary to tip your server. Brazilians also do not normally tip taxi drivers, although they may round up the total.

 Brazil_taxi_Gabriel_Rocha
 Gabriel Rocha

Taxis in Brazil operate by the meter, and in Belo Horizonte the charge starts from 4.10 BRL (around $2). Although anyone can get a cab on the street, for security reasons tourists and business people are advised to ask the hotel, restaurant or company they are visiting to call a registered car from a reliable taxi service. If you must flag a cab, make sure the car is white, has the “taxi” sign on top, the “Belo Horizonte” sticker on the side, and red licence plates.

The Tancredo Neves International Airport is about a 40-minute drive north of downtown BH. The trip costs about 100 BRL.

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