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Argentina's insider take:

The pillars of rural Argentinean life are its estancias, ranches built by the owners of sprawling properties on the fabled pampa. Many were established by 19th-century European immigrants, who mimicked the idiosyncratic country houses of their fatherlands by decking them out in the style of French châteaux, English Tudor piles, or Italianate villas. Some still remain in the hands of their founding families, who offset high maintenance costs by accepting paying guests. Standards vary greatly, but a handful do get it right, providing an unparalleled view of gaucho culture, authentic country cuisine, and the chance to gallop across the pampa into the sunset.

The following properties lie within a three-hour drive of the capital:

Estancia El Rocío
San Miguel del Monte
Tel: 54 2271 420 488

Stables and polo attract a horse-loving crowd to El Rocío, an exclusive, pastel-washed ranchito with a level of service rarely found in Argentinean country homes. Nonriders can also enjoy its 400-acre parkland, swimming pool, and French-influenced gourmet cuisine.

El Ombú de Areco
San Antonio de Areco
Tel: 54 23 2649 2080

Gauchos have been hitching their mounts to this estancia's namesake—a giant ombú tree (Phytolacca dioica) that presides over the lush 750-acre grounds (including two swimming pools)—for over a century. El Ombú's main attraction is the chance to observe (or participate in) the workaday life of managing the estancia's stock of Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.