Summer Escapes in Argentina
By Ryley Hartt
Just as one cannot visit Argentina without noting the extraordinary convergence of European and provincial influence, it is similarly impossible not to be reminded of Galileo, who once referred to wine as “sunlight held together by water.” While for vacationing purposes it may be more fitting to think in terms of sunlight and water held together by wine, the point is that all three exist in staggering abundance in Argentina, which not only boasts one of the world’s most dynamic and accessible wine regions but also eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a true bucket list of natural wonders for active vacationers and an evolved infrastructure for worry-free travel to even the most remote corners of the map.
From the eclectic mix of Buenos Aires’ French and Italian architecture to the Jesuit Estancias of Córdoba and all the way to the Welsh colonies of Patagonia, there is evidence everywhere to suggest that this is a country chiefly comprised of foreigners who could not pull themselves away. The same holds true today, and whether initially drawn to trek across the Perito Moreno glacier, soak up the panoramic beauty of Iguazú Falls, get caught up in the throng at a Boca game (soccer), ski the Andes or discover firsthand why Argentines eat more beef per capita than anyone else, the greatest challenge for visitors is not finding the perfect niche but, having found it, resisting the urge to stay put.
The summer months (December-March) are perfect for just about anything except for riding the subte, but are especially suitable for exploring Mendoza during the wine harvest season, which culminates in a week-long Vendimia (grape harvest) festival at the beginning of March. A two-hour flight from Buenos Aires, the capital city of Mendoza is an attractive and convenient base of operations, with all the nightlife and accommodations of a big city centered around a large pedestrian plaza that feels like a charming oasis. Another option, just 30 minutes south of the city, is Chacras Glebinias, which was ranked among the top 10 Best Bargains and Best Hidden Gems in TripAdvisor’s 2009 Travelers’ Choice Awards. For activities Mendoza offers over 1,000 bodegas to choose from, so arranging a wine tour is no problem. The nearby Atuel and Diamante rivers also offer a wide range of rafting excursions for those looking for serious rapids or just a way to break up the afternoon.
Traveling north from Mendoza by car or bus, the breathtakingly beautiful Ruta 40 extends all the way up the spine of the Andes to the Bolivian border, granting access to some of the most spectacular and closely guarded treasures Argentina has to offer. The topography in the Northwest transforms repeatedly and without warning, from Andean foothills to the surreal volcanic moonscapes of Tinogasta, to sub-tropical jungle, to towering sandstone formations at Las Flechas.
Visitors can easily lose themselves in Salta’s capital city, known primarily for the vibrantly colored Iglesia San Francisco and Peña dinner shows along the Balcarce Strip. La Casona del Molino is the best place to unwind over authentic empanadas and listen to folklore music into the wee hours after riding the tram to the top of San Bernardo Mountain to watch the sun go down over the city. Thirty minutes outside the city in Chicoana, the Bo hotel is unbeatable and also offers packages which include horseback riding excursions with real local gauchos, day trips to Cachí and Cafayate in 4x4’s and classes on how to cook all of the Northwest staples like empanadas, humitas, tamales and locro. Visit www.bo-chicoana.com.ar
The final stop on the Northwest circuit is the Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, this valley has served as a major trade route for over 10,000 years, with evidence of pre-Incan villages set among the looming bristled sierras, multi-colored hills and giant cardón cactus. The Cerro de Siete Colores in Purmamarca is the focal point of the Colorados tour, which also visits Humahuaca and Tilcara, where thousands of panpipe musicians descend from the hillside every year on Easter.
With the exception of several destinations in Patagonia that offer direct service, nearly all domestic flights connect in Buenos Aires. Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN Argentina offer the best internal service, and it is recommended that Aerolineas customers make use of the new South American Pass to cut down on the tourist premium placed on domestic air travel. Overland travel on luxury buses is a cheap and reliable alternative for regional exploration, with numerous carriers offering daily service to major destinations north of Patagonia. Travel times vary, but Flecha Bus and Andesmar both offer overnight service from Retiro Station in Buenos Aires to Mendoza from AR$160 for a standard Semicama and AR$250 for a fully-reclining Cama Suite.
For information visit the Argentina Ministry of Tourism at www.turismo.gov.ar
Argentina: Maté to Malbec
By Aaron Epstein
So you want to learn to dance the tango. Or maybe it’s the wine that’s got you hooked? Perhaps you want to ski the most beautiful slopes in the southern hemisphere, or “beef up” on steak. Whatever it is you’re looking for on your next trip, Argentina is sure to have it.
Argentina, which shares the southern half of South America with Chile and Brazil, has garnered a lot of attention in recent years as a vacation destination as well as for being the birthplace of Tango, Malbec, Mt. Aconcagua, and world-class fútbol—not to mention the favorable exchange rate to the U.S. dollar. Though home to only 40 million people, Argentina covers a land area of 1,068,302 square miles and contains beaches and mountains, gauchos and winemakers. With all that there is to explore, the only question is: where do you want to begin?
The answer is Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital as well as that of its own eponymous province. The city is home to a quarter of the national population and has housed one of Latin America’s most vibrant culinary and art scenes for much of the past century. It is also the travel hub for all domestic flights in Argentina. There’s an extraordinary amount of culture on display: the antiques fair in San Telmo, the modern fashion and design of Palermo, the color of La Boca, the historic elegance of La Recoleta.
There are boutique hotels of high quality with good value springing up all over town, and enough restaurants to keep your palate satisfied even during a longer stay. You may want to enjoy a stay at Puro Baires (www.purobaires.com.ar), Home Hotel (www.homebuenosaires.com), or countless other options. If you want to spoil yourself, enjoy the glamour of the Philip Starck designed Hotel Faena (www.faenahotelanduniverse.com), or the utter luxury of the Historic Alvear Palace (www.alvearpalace.com). Enjoy steak at La Cabrera (www.parrillalacabrera.com.ar) or La Cabrera Norte or Cabaña Las Lilas (www.laslilas.com) in Puerto Madero if you’re feeling extravagant. Find modern Argentine cuisine at Bar Uriarte (www.baruriarte.com.ar) or Sucre (www.sucrerestaurant.com.ar), and when you need a break from meat, get a kick of Southeast Asian spice at Sudestada (www.sudestadabuenosaires.com). For the most exciting wine bar in town, check out Gran Bar Danzón (www.granbardanzon.com.ar).
When you’re ready to get out of town, you’ve got a lot of options. The domestic airport “Aeroparque Jorge Newberry” is right in the middle of town, and flights just about anywhere in the country are 1-2 hours. You can go north to the high desert of Salta, with its grand canyons and Torrontés white wine, south to Patagonia’s natural treasures, or west to Mendoza for world-renowned Malbec and the Andes’ highest peaks. Or you can stay more local and hit the sand in Mar de Plata, or take to the saddle with the gauchos on the pampas.
The Sommelier’s Guide to Mendoza
For your first trip to Argentina, a visit to Mendoza is highly recommended. The region’s wine has taken the world by storm in recent years, and as it works its way up the list of “the world’s great wine capitals,” the tourism industry continues to develop accordingly. Accommodations of all kinds are available and winery visits galore, with world-class cuisine to help the Malbec go down smoothly. LAN (www.lan.com) and Aerolineas Argentina (www.aerolineas.com.ar) offer several daily flights to and from Buenos Aires; the flight takes about one and a half hours and should cost approximately US $150 each way. (LAN is known to be the more reliable of the two airlines.)
When you arrive in Mendoza, drop your bags at the Park Hyatt (www.mendoza.park.hyatt.com) if you’re looking for the big game in town. Try the Villaggio (www.hotelvillaggio.com.ar) for a newer, boutique hotel in the city center. Then go stop by the wine tasting room operated by The Vines of Mendoza (www.vinesofmendoza.com), or the wine bar located inside the Hyatt itself and run by the same team. When it comes to wine tourism, this is where you should start and end your day; their well-trained staff will pour glasses and flights selected from Argentina’s largest by-the-glass wine program.
Some Wineries Not To Miss
If you’re up for a drive, O’Fournier (www.ofournier.com, San Carlos, Uco Valley) offers great wine, beautiful architecture and completely unobstructed views of the Andes from their restaurant.
El Lagar Carmelo Patti (261-498-1379, Luján de Cuyo) is the opposite; a tiny, hands’ on operation on the outskirts of town run by one man with a big personality.
Clos de Chacras (www.closdechacras.com.ar, Lújan de Cuyo) is a lovely mix of the two; a boutique winery with a memorable restaurant, outside of the city.
As far as culinary targets in and around Mendoza city, Don Mario (www.donmario.com.ar) offers some of the world’s best steak with a bit of local kitsch. Francis Mallman’s 1884 (www.1884restaurante.com.ar), connected to the Escorihuela Gascón (www.escorihuelagascon.com) winery, is undisputedly considered to be the finest meal in town, run by Argentina’s version of Tom Colicchio or Bobby Flay. Azafrán (261-429-4200), right in the center of town, is known for its eat-in wine cellar and creative use of local ingredients.
Non-wine destinations in the area include the hot springs at Cacheuta (www.termascacheuta.com) - 45 minutes from town, rustic, charming, and relaxing – and several ski resorts such as Las Leñas (www.laslenas.com), which vies with Bariloche for the honor of being South America’s best. The pass to Chile, which begins with vine-lined route 7, winds up past Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere), and there are opportunities for outdoor sports such as rafting along the way.
For further information on Argentina visit the Argentina Ministry of Tourism at www.turismo.gov.ar/eng/menu.htm