I leave the country infused with its very essence. The sounds of tango fill my ears, the scent of leather and the rugged outdoors plague my senses and my stomach has dutifully been colonized by colossal amounts of steak and red wine. My 10 day trip and jam packed Argentina itinerary has me hooked.
First stop Buenos Aires; opting to stay in the trendy Palermo Soho district, characterized by its cobbled streets, boutique shops and café culture, it hit me with a hint of NYC modernity. But cheap taxis expose me to the more beating heart of the city; admiring The Pink House in Microcentro famed for its Evita balcony scenes before paying homage at her final resting place in the hauntingly beautiful Recoleta Cemetry. Strolling down amongst the antique shops in San Telmo I remain safety conscious at all times, with BA famed for petty crimes no doubt linked to the poverty evident in the graffiti stricken walls.
Surprisingly though, this poverty doesn’t impinge on my explorations but characterizes them; a city plagued with unrest yet united by its core. This core is most evident in the way the senses are 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 testament to the vivacious nature of the citizens. My love affair with tango ignites at night. Forgoing a lesson, I spend one night lurking in the corner of a milonga (a tango dance hall). Another night sees me venture to the infamous Café Tortoni, a magnificent old coffee house with a cavernous room at the back putting on nightly tango shows to the evocative words of Carlos Gardel.
The heart of the city, it seemed for me at least, resided in the restaurants, most notably, the parillas (steakhouses). A favourite was Parilla Pena, an exceptional amount and quality of meat for nominal amounts. For more charm and atmosphere, Don Julio surrounds you with history whereas the world famous La Cabrera is a steal if you dine between 7 and 8pm entitling you to 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 I did occasionally indulge such as at the rough and tumble but deliciously satisfying El Obrero, a real La Boca neighbourhood secret.
Hotel options range from hostels to five star chains but I sought immersion at every step, in this instance in the distinctly Argentinian Jardin Escondido. Its elegance, authenticity and character welcomed me immediately to the country. Decorated in deep red and yellow hues, furnished with local fabrics and artisanal products it instantly placed us but without forgoing luxury touches. Once holiday home to Francis Ford Coppola, style and quality shone through. My room, across the tranquil courtyard was a spacious enclave. Its sparse furnishings and deep hues avoided feeling basic and instead mustered up 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 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 the shopping and restaurants around, 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 as opposed to Jardin Escondido’s homely feel.
Dragging myself away from Buenos Aires’ addictive charm, I 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 are key. Leaving the itinerary to them, I explored my Casita. 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 fire place and outdoor terrace complete with plunge pool.
But the real heart stopping moment came when ascending to the private roof terrace, complete with yet another fireplace and views over the vineyards to the snow capped Andes on the horizon. Almost all my free time was spent 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 they arranged tastings and lunches at the best vineyards; Cobos, Bressia and Archeval Ferrar, as well as at some more intimate local ones such as Montequito. My reluctance to leave Mendoza, besotted with its beautiful scenery, inimitable wines and the sheer luxury of the hotel, was accentuated by an impending 19 hour bus journey.
As such a large country, the distance between destinations is huge and for one leg, I opted for the Andesmar overnight bus service rather than flights. Plumping for the Executive reclining seats, the journey was comfortable but ultimately memorable as the sweeping views driving up into the Argentinian lake district around Bariloche astounded. Bariloche, built by Swiss settlers, has a very Swiss alpine feel with log cabins, lakes, snow capped peaks and an infamy in chocolate making. Passing through the main town itself I bedded down for the night in the humble Los Juncos. On a quiet road overlooking the lake, this charming B&B offers a simplicity and homeliness of accommodation that nonetheless didn’t fail to satisfy. The authenticity of it, with local furnishings, creaky wooden floor boards and lakeside views, provided the perfect backdrop to my acclimatization into Patagonia. Eating a home-cooked dinner on site, a delicious feast of locally fished trout, I was besotted by the charm and welcoming nature of the owner, whose cheerful character enhanced my too short stay.
The next morning, I set off in intrepidly in my rental car on the magnificent Seven Lakes Road. A sweeping drive that interweaves through the region’s many lakes offering up more beautiful views and photo opportunities with each turn. Such was the beauty of the drive that I was content to navigate my way along the bumpy 25km unpaved section, ignoring my body’s protestations about the bumps in favour of the views. A coffee stop was made in the quaint Villa La Angostura before arriving at Rio Hermoso in San Martin de Los Andes.
Again, I decided to entrust my exploration of the area entirely to the hotel. Rio Hermoso, located 20km from the town centre, is a 7-bedroom hotel that nestles down into the bend of its eponymous river. The property is serenaded by the flowing sounds of the water and blessed with soul soothing views over the Andes and surrounding woodland. I snuggled up with some red wine by the log fire in the luxurious downstairs lounge. As the only guest I explored the property at my leisure, the upstairs library, small dining area and we shun the family room complete with TV (still yet to turn one on throughout our entire trip) for a brisk walk along the river’s edge. Meals were yet again, happily enjoyed in house. Dinner served up rich and sumptuous local delicacies such as Patagonian venison, lamb and trout, which fortified me for the wonderfully wintery weather outside. Deciding not to head to the local ski resort instead I 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. We picnicked on delicious sandwiches to the sounds of the ever-present flowing rivers and immense variety of local wildlife before finally setting off back across the now rougher lake. The guide, Agusto, was incredibly knowledgeable and enhanced my day, made unforgettable by the surrounding scenery; lakes providing lulls in the tumultuous mountain scenery, trees conquering slopes that were somehow accessed by mountaineering cows and horses. I returned on our final night, nursed by the gracious staff as snow started to fall and delighted in the tranquility, 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 and I fear that I may have lost my heart forever to Argentina. A country this vast is impossible to fully explore in one visit, a fact that necessitates my urgent planning of my next trip. There is a resilience to Argentina, that shines through from its core as the result of the unique combination of its diverse population, turbulent history and astounding natural setting that strips back life to its key and vital facets. And as a visitor it transported me to a land where time stood still and delighting the senses took priority.