Brazil's Estrada Real, the Royal Road, runs between a group of extraordinary small historic towns in Minas Gerais that flourished in the eighteenth century after the discovery of gold. Their huge wealth led to the creation of an astonishing array of baroque buildings just as the baroque era in Europe was drawing to a close. They display a simple mastery of the style that is applied with an intensity and vigour that takes the baroque to another level - beyond anything that can be seen in Europe.
The Royal Road and its little towns are almost unknown outside Brazil. Today it is a small country road running through some lovely mountain scenery between the towns. There are some wonderful small hotels to choose from -many in restored colonial properties. The Royal Road makes a moderately easy selfdrive holiday, or can be toured with a local guide. The Royal Road goes to the sea at Rio de Janeiro, which makes a fitting end to this trip. You could also continue to one of the many beaches on the Costa Verde or 'Green Coast' - lushly forested mountains that drop down to a seemingly endless succession of beautiful bays, islands and secluded beaches.