State: Minas Gerais
Stadium: Mineirão (cap. 65,000)
Games: Six including England v Costa Rica, a round of 16 and a semi-final.
Airport to city centre: From Tancredo Neves international airport, it’s about 40 minutes; the domestic airport is around 20 minutes away.
Belo Horizonte is an underestimated city with an inferiority complex because it is so close to Rio and doesn’t have any beaches with which to compete. But it’s also charming, and has a local delicacy that is basically pork scratchings.
That’s right. It’s a sore point. But Belo Horizonte is in the heart of mining (Minas) country and the mountainous landscape is beautiful, especially if you head out of Belo to one of the historic towns on the outskirts like Ouro Preto or Tiradentes. These make for good weekend or two-day breaks either before or after the football (given England will in all likelihood be out by this point). Do-able by bus.
For scenic points in the city, though, there’s a beautiful lagoon, Pampulha lagoa, which is right beside the Mineirão stadium and there you can find the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, which was designed by the late, celebrated Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and so has his characteristic curves. Worth a picture as the sun goes down over the lake.
What’s this about pubs?
People from Minas Gerais (mineiros) will tell you that Belo Horizonte is the pub/bar capital of Brazil. A lot of these are pavement-side bars with plastic chairs and tables, where the number of beers you drink is marked off the paper tablecloth. They’re ideal for a simple beer and putting the world to rights. The Savassi area of the city is well served by these botecos, and I can recommend Baiana do Acarajé in Rua Antonio de Albuquerque.
You’ll also hear a lot about mineira food: in the absence of beaches, the state likes to rely on its food and drink as its best advert. If you’ve ever been to Brazil before, you’ll know of pão de queijo – little cheesey dough balls that Brazilians eat for breakfast or as a snack. Apparently, Belo Horizonte has the best pão de queijo in Brazil.
Other regional dishes include frango com quiabo, which is chicken with okra, tropeiro, a bean side dish with bacon and egg, and tutu, another bean side. But my favourite mineira food is torresmo – I was told about this with great excitement as one of the typical delicacies of the region. As a Black Country girl, I was equally excited to find it was essentially pork scratchings. Pork scratchings in the pub capital of Brazil. Imagina.
Is it safe?
Speaking anecdotally, Belo Horizonte certainly feels safer than Rio and São Paulo both during the day and after dark. But the same advice applies as with any major city: check out where you’re going first, and try to stay to busy places. Belo is not traditionally a tourist city; it’s much more of a business visitors’ city. But that said, dozens of new hotels have sprung up because of the World Cup and a higher proportion of people speak English.
:: If you have chance, the 5,000-acre Inhotim contemporary art centre comes highly recommended. I’ve yet to have the chance to visit but I don’t know anyone who has been and didn’t come back singing its praises. It’s less than 40 miles from Belo Horizonte and has plenty to explore.
:: For those after some nostalgia, Belo Horizonte was also where England lost to USA in the 1950 World Cup. To relive this inglorious match, visit the Independencia stadium in the east of the city.
:: Mind the cachaça. Minas is famous for the strong sugar-cane spirit, which is the key ingredient in caipirinhas. But here, it’s often taken neat: Milagre de Minas, from Ouro Preto, is especially lethal.
:: Beatles fans can rest easy. For reasons that remain unknown, the Fab Four are still hugely popular in Belo Horizonte, such that the city is The Beatles capital of Brazil and even celebrates a Beatles week.
:: Belo Horizonte will also host Team GB during the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics at the Minas Tenis Clube, an impressive private club. If you’re into sports and can get in, the facilities are excellent.