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.

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…