The focus on Brazil's tourist meccas of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador makes Belo Horizonte—the country's third largest city and where I stayed on my recent visit to art park Inhotim—all the more appealing. Full of hidden gems, the city's a worthy stopover when traveling to Brazil, exemplifying another angle of the famous Brazilian hospitality.
The Sion neighborhood stands out as one of my favorite under-the-radar stops. Although located next to the boutique-heavy district of Savassi, its residential, hilly streets give it a quiet, almost pensive side. Architect Patricia Naves, owner of design-objects shop Grampo (whose passion for design is a combination of her Brazilian background and schooling in Europe) introduced me to it.
Featuring Brazil's best industrial product designers from Estudio Manus and the Campana Brosthers to locals like Anna Cunha (stationery) and Lucia Lou (jewelry), Naves—whose own inventive line Oiti combines elements of design with architecture; Karim Rashid brought home the Toast It cork trivets (pictured) on a visit—makes it a point to also incorporate tees and other assorted items within a wide price range so that everyone can leave with something. To inquire about their collection, part of which can be viewed online, call Grampo at +55 (31) 3327-4674 or email (info [at] grampodesign [dot] com [dot] br).
A few doors down is the ateliê of Rogerio Fernandes, a blazingly prolific artist who specializes in lithography. His pure pop illustrations burst with color and have a consistently upbeat nature about them. He likes to explore themes of love, which explains why so many of his pieces show people locking lips. Fernandes' prints and other merchandise sells from his site.
A charming upstairs chocolatier producing artisan-quality Belgian chocolates, Ernestina Degryse and her Belgian husband Bertrand run Degryse, opening the shop after living in Brussels, where Ernestina learned to make candies like locals.
What most impressed me was not only the quality and taste of the chocolates (most Brazilian-made chocolate tend to load on fillers and fat), but also the incredible variation of shapes. Horse and pharaoh heads, pianos and grapes filled with gooey caramel or mint are all molded from the pre-formed trays the Degryses brought back from Belgium.
In a Brazilian twist, Degryse stocks bonbons filled with cachaca and caipirinha, which I've never encountered in Brazil before. The store takes international orders via e-mail—chocolates [dot] degryse [at] bol [dot] com [dot] br—and phone—+55 (31) 3227-4202.
Belo Horizonte, in the mining state of Minas Gerais, is a few hours by plane and eight hours by bus from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.