When Sassy’s resident jetsetter Jaime announced she was off to Argentina, we knew we had to get all the deets of her epic Argentine adventure! With stunning scenery, seductive tangos, and colossal amounts of steak and red wine along the way, we get her tips on where to stay and what to do in Argentina…
We opted to stay in the trendy Palermo Soho district and with its cobbled streets, boutique shops and café culture, it hit us with a hint of NYC modernity. Nevertheless, taking cheap taxis around town showed us more of the beating heart of the city – we admired The Pink House in Microcentro famed for its Evita balcony scenes, before paying homage at Eva Peron’s final resting place in the hauntingly beautiful Recoleta Cemetry. Strolling amongst the antique shops in San Telmo, we remembered to be safety conscious at all times (Buenos Aires is famed for petty crimes, no doubt linked to the poverty evident from its graffiti-stricken walls).
Surprisingly though, this poverty didn’t impinge on our explorations but characterised them – a city plagued with unrest yet united by its core. This core is most evident in the way our senses were indulged at every moment. Strolling down El Caminito in the infamously poor La Boca area (perfectly safe during the day providing you get a taxi there), the brightly coloured buildings and market stalls are testament to the vivacious nature of the citizens. I developed a love affair with the tango; forgoing a lesson of our own, we spent one night lurking in the corner of a milonga (a tango dance hall)… another night, we ventured to the infamous Café Tortoni, a magnificent old coffee house with a cavernous room at the back for nightly tango shows.
The heart of the city (it seemed for us at least) was in the restaurants, most notably the parillas (steakhouses). Our favourite was Parilla Pena – an exceptional amount and quality of meat for a nominal price! For more charm and atmosphere, Don Julio surrounded us with history, whilst the world-famous La Cabrera was a steal when we discovered that dining between 7 and 8pm gave you 50% off your entire bill. Occasionally lunch was a respite from steak, sampling other local delicacies such as empanadas, pastas and the moreish dulce de leche, but we did still indulge – the rough and tumble but deliciously satisfying El Obrero is a real La Boca neighbourhood secret.
Hotel options range from hostels to five-star chains but we wanted immersion at every step. Our first two nights were spent in the distinctly Argentinian Jardin Escondido. Its elegance, authenticity and character welcomed us immediately to the country. Decorated in deep red and yellow hues, and furnished with local fabrics and artisanal products, this was once Francis Ford Coppola’s holiday home – and its style, quality and luxury shone through. Our room, across the tranquil courtyard, was a spacious enclave. Its sparse furnishings and deep hues avoided feeling basic, instead evoking a rugged sense of Argentinian identity. Run as a B&B, the manager, German, and his staff were nonetheless on hand at all times and exceedingly helpful, enhancing our explorations of local Palermo and further afield.
For those wishing to stay in more of the business and tourism hub, there are plenty of other options, such as the modern and design-focused Hotel Pulitzer. In Retiro, within easy access to shops and restaurants, it is a more anonymous option. Perfectly slick style, quirky design elements and an on-site bar make it more of a city-break stop-off compared with Jardin Escondido’s homely feel.
Dragging ourselves away from Buenos Aires, we hopped on an internal flight to Mendoza for three nights of excessive drinking and indulgence! For the ultimate vineyard experience, there is no contender for Cavas Wine Lodge’s charm, hospitality and style. With only 14 rooms (each housed in its own building), intimacy and discretion is key.
Leaving our itinerary to Cavas, we explored our Casita – which was definitely the most impressive room I have and will ever stay in! Set amongst the vineyards, it instantly transported you to another world. The room itself, with its own lounge, giant bedroom, walk-in wardrobe and magnificent en suite, was beautifully decorated and most impressively, contained its own log fireplace and outdoor terrace complete with plunge pool.
However, the real heart-stopping moment came with our private roof terrace, complete with yet another fireplace and views over the vineyards to the snow-capped Andes on the horizon. We spent almost all our free time here, sipping wine watching the glorious nightly sunsets and one night, dining snuggled up by the log fire, stargazing whilst tucking into Cavas’ ridiculously sublime food.
Other on-site activities included cycling around the surrounding vines, a blissful bit of escapism in the Moroccan-feeling spa, a complimentary wine tasting in the cellar and a tango show. During the days, Cavas arranged tastings and lunches at the best vineyards, including Cobos, Bressia and Archeval Ferrar, as well as at some more intimate local ones such as Montequito. We were reluctant to leave Mendoza, besotted with the beautiful scenery, inimitable wines and sheer luxury of the hotel… but this reluctance was enhanced by our impending 19-hour bus journey!
PATAGONIA – BARILOCHE & SAN MARTIN DE LOS ANDES
As Argentina is so big, the distance between destinations is huge so for our next leg, we opted for the Andesmar overnight bus service rather than flights. Plumping for the Executive reclining seats, the journey was comfortable and memorable – with sweeping views across the Argentinian lake district around Bariloche that astounded us. Bariloche, built by Swiss settlers, has a Swiss alpine feel with log cabins, lakes and snowcapped peaks, and is also famed for making chocolate!
We drove through the main town itself and bedded down for the night in the humble Los Juncos. On a quiet road overlooking the lake, this charming B&B offers a satisfying simplicity and homeliness. The authenticity of the place, with local furnishings, creaky wooden floor boards and lakeside views, provided the perfect backdrop to our acclimatisation into Patagonia. We ate dinner on-site, a delicious feast of locally fished trout, and were besotted by the charm and welcoming nature of Los Juncos’ owner, whose cheerful character enhanced our too short stay.
The next morning, we set off in our rental car on the magnificent Seven Lakes Road – a sweeping drive that interweaves through the region’s many lakes, offering more beautiful views and photo opportunities with each turn. Such was the beauty of the drive that we were content to navigate our way along the bumpy 25km unpaved section! We made a coffee stop in the quaint Villa La Angostura before arriving at our destination, Rio Hermoso in San Martin de Los Andes.
Again, we decided to entrust our exploration of the area entirely to the hotel. Rio Hermoso, located 20km from the town centre, is a seven-bedroom hotel that nestles down into the bend of its eponymous river. The property is serenaded by the flowing sounds of water and blessed with soul-soothing views over the Andes and surrounding woodland. As the only guests, we explored the property at our leisure – the upstairs library, the small dining area, the luxurious downstairs lounge – before heading for a brisk walk along the river’s edge. Our meals were yet again happily enjoyed in house, including rich and sumptuous local delicacies like Patagonian venison, lamb and trout – perfect for the wonderfully wintery weather outside.
We decided against the local ski resort and instead spent a day exploring the great outdoors with the hotel’s guide. We canoed across a lake so still we could see our reflections before hiking for three hours in the surrounding hills amongst local indigenous Mapuche houses, stopping to picnic on delicious sandwiches to the sounds of the ever-present flowing rivers and immense variety of local wildlife.
Our guide, Agusto, was incredibly knowledgeable and enhanced our day; the surrounding scenery was unforgettable – lakes providing lulls in the tumultuous mountain scenery, trees conquering slopes that were somehow accessed by mountaineering cows and horses. We returned on our final night, nursed by the gracious staff as snow started to fall and we delighted in the tranquillity, stillness and beauty of the setting, along with the warmth and comfort provided by this luxury boutique hotel.
Never have I before fallen so quickly in love with a country – its food, its people, its scenery, its style… I fear that I may have lost my heart forever to Argentina. There is a resilience to Argentina that shines through from its core, the result of the unique combination of its diverse population, turbulent history and astounding natural setting, which strips back life to its key and vital facets. It transported me away from the crazy, manic world that is Hong Kong to a land where time stood still and delighting the senses took priority. A country this vast is impossible to fully explore in one visit – I’m already planning my next trip!
For more boutique hotels, visit www.mrandmrssmith.com or call the expert Travel Team on 800 905 326