Passing the gate that leads into the city of Pirenópolis, one can get the impression that it's just another little municipality in countryside Goiás state, with fresh air, peace and calm. But a few blocks ahead, the city with shortly over 20,000 inhabitants begins to rear its charming historical head.
Narrow streets unfold showcasing little old houses, colored by local handicraft hanging at the doors of many, a rooster crows every once in a while, and you can even heard the sound of the nearby Rio das Almas (River of Souls), with waterfalls that can be looked at or bathed in.
Lying at the foot of mountain range Serra dos Pireneus, Pirenópolis has been declared a national heritage site by the Institute for National Artistic and Historical Heritage (Iphan) in 1986 due to its colonial houses.
It is named after the range, who dubbed it such because they found it to resemble the mountains that comprise the natural border between France and Spain. Festa do Divino Espírito Santo (Divine Holy Spirit Festival), which takes place after each Easter, was declared immaterial Brazilian heritage in 2010.
Established between the late 17th and early 18th century, Pirenópolis was a major urban hub in the past, first during the gold cycle, due to mining, and later due to agriculture. It was also the breeding ground for Goiás state music and printed news media, as it spawned the first newspaper in Brazil's Midwest, named Matutina Meiapontense.
Now, the municipality lives off tourism, which became viable after the construction of Brasília, which is 150 kilometers away, and is the point of departure for many visitors.
The city boasts cultural and natural attractions, according to the municipal secretary for Tourism Sérgio Rady. To cap off the Divine Holy Spirit Fest, the municipality promotes the Cavalhadas. It is a three-day bash during which the struggle between Moors and Christians on the Iberian Peninsula is staged.
This year, the event will take place on May 19, 20 and 21, and the staged ritual will occur from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm across the city's streets. According to Rady, this has been taking place in Pirenópolis for almost 200 years now.
The myriad attractions of the city, however, make it a good place to visit not just during the Cavalhadas. For those who like to party, there is the Carnaval in Pirenópolis, with its marchinhas (traditional music) and young people hailing in from other areas of the Goiás state, and the Federal District. During extended holidays, the city is usually packed with people from those two regions.
But the city also offers more tranquil leisure, on regular weekends or during the week. At these times, the handicraft shops, of which there are about 50, and the waterfalls, which amount to roughly 80, are emptier.
The waterfalls, by the way, are among the best features of the locality. Twenty of them are equipped to receive visitors, some more and some less. Cachoeira do Abade is 14 kilometers away from the city and the landscape, which can be seen from the road, is a sample of what Serra dos Pireneus is about.
After a reception at the farm that houses the fall, a stone road leads to the waters. Underneath, at the waterfall, there is even a small beach. A dip in January, when rains are plenty and the water is cold, gets your spirit ready to face the year.
Another "best" of Pirenópolis is the small shops scattered about the historical center. There are establishments selling everything from imported Indian clothing to earrings, sculptures, and decorative objects, some low- and some very high-priced, made by local artisans.
The city also has a tradition of selling silver jewelry and a large number of goldsmiths. The charm of nearly all shops is the old little houses they're housed in, a type of construction that also harbors a few restaurants.
There are all types of food in Pirenópolis. Some establishments are somewhat improvised, selling empadão goiano (Goiás pie) and caldos (soups), but there are also good restaurants with international or colonial food.
There are 150 lodges (pousadas) in the city. Some are in the central area, such as Mandala, one of the city's largest, others are on the road, such as Vila das Pedras, and others yet are in the rural zone.
Pousada Tajupá, near the historical center, but not quite there, is a good choice. It is set in a quiet area and is near everything. In the morning, you can hear roosters crowing, and in the evening, the cows mooing.
And, despite the rural vibe of the surroundings, the lodge is charming, and the entrepreneurs have thought out each detail, from the herb and fruit soap in the bathroom to the afternoon coffee offered to guests.
Tourism information: +55 (62) 3331-2633
Website: www.pirenopolis.go.gov.br and http://cidadeshistoricasgoias.com.br/pirenopolis/