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Brazil: From the beautiful game, to a beautiful view

Rio’s carnival is a must-see for foreign visitors, especially for first-timers arriving from the Middle East.
Olafur Eliasson’s kaleidoscope is a popular attraction.
Mineirão football stadium was the venue for World Cup qualifying matches and the scene of a few heartbreaking losses.
The celebrated Rio de Janerio Carnival can be an exercise in sensory overload.
The view from Mirante das Mangabeiras.

BELO HORIZONTE: The music and mayhem of last month’s Carnival in Rio de Janeiro will help paper over the cracks, but the sight of the city’s Maracanã Stadium, deserted, derelict and shorn of its contents following a recent looting, might just be the perfect symbol for how Brazil has been left in economic ruins since its hosting of the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games.
In 2014, the governing body for world football flew in, inflated its swollen coffers, and jetted out again without as much as an “até logo” (see you later). Last September, the International Olympic Committee did likewise, departing before the ticker-tape from the Maracanã’s closing ceremony had even been swept up. It will be some time before either sporting organization returns — although not because of a lack of flights.
Emirates airline, celebrating 10 years of operations in Brazil, is in no such mood to disappear from the country. In 2007, when the Dubai-based carrier launched a direct flight to São Paulo, it was the Middle East’s first non-stop flight into South America. Now Etihad and Qatar fly here too, while Emirates, as well as having added a direct route to Rio, is preparing to dispatch its first Airbus A380 to the continent.
The landmark flight, which will land in São Paulo, comes just a few months after a codeshare agreement with local carrier Gol opened up five more cities in Brazil, including Belo Horizonte, the third-largest metropolis in this vast and varied country.
Located 200km northwest of Rio in the Brazilian heartlands, Belo Horizonte is a city of around 4 million set among rolling green hills and pastoral farmlands. The best piece of advice available as you sit aboard any plane bound for either of the city’s two airports is to go easy on the inflight eating — Rio might offer beautiful beaches and São Paulo may boast shopping, but no place does food quite like BH, or, as the locals like to call it in Portuguese, Beagá.
Capital of the interior state of Minas Gerais, BH basks in its culinary superiority. Ask any Brazilian about food and they will inevitably speak of the steaks of the south and the spicy fried snacks of the Afrocentric northeast. They will also surely speak of pão de queijo, the little doughy balls of cheese-bread omnipresent across the country but created in Minas. Everybody agrees, however, that when it comes to food, comida mineira is Brazil’s most impressive offering.
Think heaped and hearty plates of cooked meats, plentiful rice and beans, myriad root vegetables, eggs, bananas and kale. Now add a natural juice made from some exotic fruit you have likely never heard of, such as acerola or jabuticaba or graviola. It is a meal as flavorsome as it is filling; the type a traveler can only feel guilt-free eating after a day of tiring sightseeing.
Fortunately, BH has plenty to offer in that regard too. For an alternative way of seeing the city, hire a rickshaw and driver and set off for Mercado Central, a labyrinthine market in which you can easily lose a day in the warren of stalls selling everything from clothes and carnival costumes to fish, furniture and fluffy white dogs. If you can pass through without buying a jar of doce de leite — an extremely sweet milk-based confectionary — or a wheel of the local cheese you are of stronger will than me.
In the north of the city sits Pampulha Modern Ensemble, a leisure and culture center built around an artificial lake and including the São Francisco de Assis church, which was designed by one of South America’s most famous architects, Oscar Niemeyer. It says everything about Brazil’s relationship with football that a site recently given UNESCO World Heritage status is only the second most popular place of worship in the nearby area.
The Estadio Mineirão attracted a record crowd of 132,834 during a derby match between local sides Cruzeiro and Villa Nova in 1997, but by the time the World Cup arrived in 2014, the capacity had regrettably been reduced to a mere 60,000. On hindsight, it might have been a good thing given what occurred in the semifinal: Brazil, competing for a place in the final of a World Cup they were hoping to win on home soil, experienced their most humbling and humiliating defeat in sporting history. The shocking 7-1 loss to Germany was felt around the world, but Belo Horizonte was the epicenter.
The national team has since returned to the Mineirão, beating Argentina in a recent World Cup 2018 qualifying match, while local sides often use it to play their home matches. Inside also exists a museum, showcasing the history of both the stadium and famous players. Fun fact: Brazil’s most iconic footballer, Pelé, was born 250km southwest of BH in the town of Três Corações.
For a slightly shorter — and far more rewarding — road trip, make the 60km journey to Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea, an incredible 275-acre open-air museum constructed amid lush tropical plants and tranquil waters. The museum is loaded with installations that attack all five senses, including a car-size kaleidoscope, an adult soft-play room, and a melting Eiffel Tower, which was made of candle wax and burns in a dark room alongside many other famous international buildings. And don’t forget your bathing suit because Inhotim also has two swimmable artworks.
Back in BH, as the sun makes its daily descent, take an early-evening pilgrimage to the top of Mirante das Mangabeiras. A free lookout point that affords panoramic views across the city, bask in a sunset that appears as perfect as an impressionist painting. It is here where you will best understand how the city earned its name. Belo Horizonte: beautiful horizon.
Cities in a sentence
As well as Belo Horizonte, Emirates’ codeshare agreement with the airline Gol has opened up four other Brazilian cities to Middle East travelers.
Brasilia
Brazil built a city from scratch decades before Dubai and Abu Dhabi had the idea, yet the country’s capital — designed in the shape of a bird’s wings and now a UNESCO Heritage site — attracts compliments and criticism almost in equal measure.
Curitiba
Once labeled “The Greenest City on Earth” by The Ecologist, it is often cited as the gold standard in terms of sustainable urban development, with 52 square meters of grass ... per capita.
Porto Alegre
The German capital of Brazil has neighborhoods with names such as Novo Hamburgo and people that look (and speak) like they have just stepped off a plane from Munich or Berlin.
Salvador
Not only the African epicenter of South America, but also the home of Islam in Brazil, Salvador is renowned for its role in the country’s history — as well as “The Three Cs”: capoeira, carnival and candomblé.
[email protected]

BELO HORIZONTE: The music and mayhem of last month’s Carnival in Rio de Janeiro will help paper over the cracks, but the sight of the city’s Maracanã Stadium, deserted, derelict and shorn of its contents following a recent looting, might just be the perfect symbol for how Brazil has been left in economic ruins since its hosting of the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games.
In 2014, the governing body for world football flew in, inflated its swollen coffers, and jetted out again without as much as an “até logo” (see you later). Last September, the International Olympic Committee did likewise, departing before the ticker-tape from the Maracanã’s closing ceremony had even been swept up. It will be some time before either sporting organization returns — although not because of a lack of flights.
Emirates airline, celebrating 10 years of operations in Brazil, is in no such mood to disappear from the country. In 2007, when the Dubai-based carrier launched a direct flight to São Paulo, it was the Middle East’s first non-stop flight into South America. Now Etihad and Qatar fly here too, while Emirates, as well as having added a direct route to Rio, is preparing to dispatch its first Airbus A380 to the continent.
The landmark flight, which will land in São Paulo, comes just a few months after a codeshare agreement with local carrier Gol opened up five more cities in Brazil, including Belo Horizonte, the third-largest metropolis in this vast and varied country.
Located 200km northwest of Rio in the Brazilian heartlands, Belo Horizonte is a city of around 4 million set among rolling green hills and pastoral farmlands. The best piece of advice available as you sit aboard any plane bound for either of the city’s two airports is to go easy on the inflight eating — Rio might offer beautiful beaches and São Paulo may boast shopping, but no place does food quite like BH, or, as the locals like to call it in Portuguese, Beagá.
Capital of the interior state of Minas Gerais, BH basks in its culinary superiority. Ask any Brazilian about food and they will inevitably speak of the steaks of the south and the spicy fried snacks of the Afrocentric northeast. They will also surely speak of pão de queijo, the little doughy balls of cheese-bread omnipresent across the country but created in Minas. Everybody agrees, however, that when it comes to food, comida mineira is Brazil’s most impressive offering.
Think heaped and hearty plates of cooked meats, plentiful rice and beans, myriad root vegetables, eggs, bananas and kale. Now add a natural juice made from some exotic fruit you have likely never heard of, such as acerola or jabuticaba or graviola. It is a meal as flavorsome as it is filling; the type a traveler can only feel guilt-free eating after a day of tiring sightseeing.
Fortunately, BH has plenty to offer in that regard too. For an alternative way of seeing the city, hire a rickshaw and driver and set off for Mercado Central, a labyrinthine market in which you can easily lose a day in the warren of stalls selling everything from clothes and carnival costumes to fish, furniture and fluffy white dogs. If you can pass through without buying a jar of doce de leite — an extremely sweet milk-based confectionary — or a wheel of the local cheese you are of stronger will than me.
In the north of the city sits Pampulha Modern Ensemble, a leisure and culture center built around an artificial lake and including the São Francisco de Assis church, which was designed by one of South America’s most famous architects, Oscar Niemeyer. It says everything about Brazil’s relationship with football that a site recently given UNESCO World Heritage status is only the second most popular place of worship in the nearby area.
The Estadio Mineirão attracted a record crowd of 132,834 during a derby match between local sides Cruzeiro and Villa Nova in 1997, but by the time the World Cup arrived in 2014, the capacity had regrettably been reduced to a mere 60,000. On hindsight, it might have been a good thing given what occurred in the semifinal: Brazil, competing for a place in the final of a World Cup they were hoping to win on home soil, experienced their most humbling and humiliating defeat in sporting history. The shocking 7-1 loss to Germany was felt around the world, but Belo Horizonte was the epicenter.
The national team has since returned to the Mineirão, beating Argentina in a recent World Cup 2018 qualifying match, while local sides often use it to play their home matches. Inside also exists a museum, showcasing the history of both the stadium and famous players. Fun fact: Brazil’s most iconic footballer, Pelé, was born 250km southwest of BH in the town of Três Corações.
For a slightly shorter — and far more rewarding — road trip, make the 60km journey to Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea, an incredible 275-acre open-air museum constructed amid lush tropical plants and tranquil waters. The museum is loaded with installations that attack all five senses, including a car-size kaleidoscope, an adult soft-play room, and a melting Eiffel Tower, which was made of candle wax and burns in a dark room alongside many other famous international buildings. And don’t forget your bathing suit because Inhotim also has two swimmable artworks.
Back in BH, as the sun makes its daily descent, take an early-evening pilgrimage to the top of Mirante das Mangabeiras. A free lookout point that affords panoramic views across the city, bask in a sunset that appears as perfect as an impressionist painting. It is here where you will best understand how the city earned its name. Belo Horizonte: beautiful horizon.
Cities in a sentence
As well as Belo Horizonte, Emirates’ codeshare agreement with the airline Gol has opened up four other Brazilian cities to Middle East travelers.
Brasilia
Brazil built a city from scratch decades before Dubai and Abu Dhabi had the idea, yet the country’s capital — designed in the shape of a bird’s wings and now a UNESCO Heritage site — attracts compliments and criticism almost in equal measure.
Curitiba
Once labeled “The Greenest City on Earth” by The Ecologist, it is often cited as the gold standard in terms of sustainable urban development, with 52 square meters of grass ... per capita.
Porto Alegre
The German capital of Brazil has neighborhoods with names such as Novo Hamburgo and people that look (and speak) like they have just stepped off a plane from Munich or Berlin.
Salvador
Not only the African epicenter of South America, but also the home of Islam in Brazil, Salvador is renowned for its role in the country’s history — as well as “The Three Cs”: capoeira, carnival and candomblé.
[email protected]

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