Recife and the northeast coast in Brazil

Shutterstock / Paulo WilliamsThe four states that comprise this region - Sergipe, Alagoas, Pernambuco and Paraíba - are often overlooked by visitors. Most travellers whizz through, perhaps stopping for a beach break at Porto de Galinhas or Fernando de Noronha, and a few days in colourful, colonial Olinda. But those who spend time in the region, exploring its buildings, sampling the music and arts scene in Recife or getting lost in the crowds at the great festivals in the
sertão
find it one of the most interesting, diverse and least spoilt parts of Brazil.

In the first centuries of its colonial history, the region grew rich through sugar and became the commercial and intellectual centre of Brazil. Pernambuco, in particular, retains many magnificent buildings from that period, while the convents in Olinda and Igarassu are fine examples of Iberian baroque. In the late 19th century, the sugar boom subsided and poverty began to spread across the state. Yet the proud intellectual tradition continued, with notables such as Marechal Deodoro, the founder of the Brazilian republic, Gilberto Freyre, who helped forge Brazil's identity and Francisco Brennand, the surreal artist, all from the area.

The region has never been more culturally exciting than today. In the 1980s Recife saw the explosion of an artistic movement called
mangue beat
, which sought to fuse the rich heritage of Pernambuco folk art and music with social activism and post- modernism. The resulting cultural fluorescence has helped to make Pernambuco Brazil's most vibrant cultural state. Artists have ateliers on every other corner in Olinda, while numerous festivals showcase the country's most innovative film-making and resurrect popular culture. Carnaval in Recife or Olinda is considered by many to be the best and most traditional in the country.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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