Explore Beautiful Olinda

7 Jun

Olinda is a highlight of any trip to Brazil’s north-eastern Atlantic coast. It has bags of personality and looks to die for. The historic centre offers one of the largest and best preserved examples of colonial architecture in all of Brazil and earned Olinda UNESCO World Heritage status in 1982. The city is built into rolling green hills and is studded with beautiful painted houses, baroque churches and tree-lined plazas. The views out to the turquoise sea and back towards Recife from one of Olinda’s many look-out points are simply magnificent. Over past decades artists and creative types have settled in Olinda, making it a hotspot for art and creativity. The city is also home to one of Brazil’s most famous carnivals, rich in folklaw traditions.

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Located only 6 kilometres away from the commercial and industrial hub of Recife, Olinda is a world apart. Recife’s towering concrete buildings are in contrast to Olinda’s charming colonial cottages with terracotta roofs. The working class grit and humdrum is replaced by funky restaurants, chic art galleries and musicians on the street. The frenetic traffic and edginess engrained in the big city is swapped for a laid back and friendly village-like appeal.

Olinda is often described as a suburb of Recife but with its own attractions, attractive historic pousadas and good restaurants, it more like a city in its own right and the best place to base yourself to explore the area.

History and Art

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Olinda is the historic and cultural icon of the region. Evoke the spirit of days gone by exploring the cobbled alleyways on foot. Admire decorated ceramic tiles, painted walls, solid wooden doors, Baroque fountains and vibrant Bougainvillea hanging from rooftops.

The majority of Olinda’s buildings were constructed in the 16th century, but bloody clashes between Catholics and Dutch Calvinists and later between Recife’s merchants and Olinda’s sugar barons, meant many buildings were destroyed and rebuilt, with most of what remains today dating from the 18th century.

A good place to learn about the region’s colourful history is Museu Regional de Olinda, housed in a beautiful colonial building and chronicling Olinda since the city was founded in 1535 by Portuguese explorer Duarte Coelho Pereira. Olinda’s rich religious beliefs and folk traditions are showcased at the interesting Mamulengo Museum, entirely dedicated to handcrafted puppets representing local heroes, saints and political figures.

Artistic talent oozes from the streets. Art galleries and studios fill cobbled streets, with many clustered around Rua Amparo. Studios and workshops run by the artists themselves have in recent years opened their doors to tourists to allow people to experience first-hand art, jewellery and sculptures being created.

Learn about modern Pernambuco culture at the museum of contemporary art who display an impressive collection of local and national artists. Museu de Arte Sacra explains the role of Catholicism in influencing religious art, handicrafts and indigenous art.

Sacred sites

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Olinda is brimming with churches, chapels, convents and monasteries and to peek inside their magnificent walls is a magical experience.  As one of the oldest cities in Brazil, the churches date from the 16th century when the Portuguese settled here and have been rebuilt and restored many times during Olinda’s colourful history.

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In the heart of the old town, São Bento cathedral and monastery with its beautifully ornate and decorative architecture, is a great place to start. From there, head to Convento de São Francisco. Seemingly humble from the exterior, it comes alive with decorated tiles and painted ceilings as you enter through the wooden doorway.

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The climb to grand Igreja da Sé is well worth it, if only for the incredible views out over the city from its leafy courtyard.

Food for thought

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In the early evenings head to the Alto da Sé plaza in front of the Igreja da Sé, to sample Pernambuco’s best street food at very affordable prices. The plaza is a whirl of sights and smells. Get your taste buds tingling with acarajé (fritters stuffed with shrimp, potato, garlic and spicy salsa).

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For main course, move onto tapioca crêpes stuffed with cheese, onion and shredded beef, and for dessert indulge in coconut candy and chocolate covered bananas.

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Wash it down with fresh coconut milk or refreshing fruit caipirinhas. For a special occasion, Oficina do Sabor is considered one of the best restaurants in Olinda offering regional cuisine with a modern and inventive twist.

Do as the locals do

If you’re looking to rub shoulders with the locals, the Bodega de Veio is a small hole in the wall grocery store and bar selling ice-cold beers, shots of sugarcane liquor called cachaça, and small tapas plates. In the balmy evenings the music is cranked up and the revelry spills out onto the street.

The popularity of Olinda’s samba schools has exploded in recent years and most encourage visitors to drop by and enjoy their many events. Gres Preto Velho, Sunday evening Samba event is a lively and fun place to begin.

Olinda’s Carnival

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Olinda is famous for one of the most electrifying carnivals outside of Rio and Salvador. The carnival takes place during February, with the entire city coming together to celebrate rich religious beliefs and folk traditions. Much of the carnival’s success stems from its intimacy and intensity as thousands of participants dance through Olinda’s narrow cobbled streets.

Over two weeks, all manner of parades, theatrical performances and orchestral events take place. Large dolls and religious figurines are paraded through the streets and revellers forget their everyday problems, dancing and singing as they follow behind.

    

The Carnival takes place every February but if this doesn’t coincide with your visit don’t worry as you’ll still get a flavour of the event walking around Olinda where costumes are displayed and groups put on impromptu performances throughout the year. You could even dress up yourself if you’re feeling in a theatrical mood!!

Legend tells of Portuguese sailors passing the city in their wooden sailing ships and shouting out “Ó, Linda!” – literally translated as “Oh, beautiful!” and the name just stuck! Fusing the past and present with ease and grace, Olinda remains one of Brazil’s most beautiful colonial cities and a must for any Brazilian odyssey!

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