- Buenos Aires,
- Buenos Aires Province,
- Central + South America
Four days in Buenos Aires followed by a six-day road trip in the foothills of the Andes, up near the borders with Bolivia and Chile. Amazing food and wine, spectacular scenery, a real sense of being off the beaten track, and some lovely (sometimes luxurious) hotels. This was really a trip to remember.
Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires C1014AAD, Argentina
Tel: 54 11 5171 1234
Shaded by centennial gomero and tipa trees, and well situated between the Vatican's palatial embassy and the Addams Familystyle Residencia Maguire, Park Hyatt's 165-room Palacio Duhau has made a splash since opening in June 2006. Divided between a restored Belle Époque mansion and a contemporary addition (museum-quality art, renewed every 45 days, is displayed in an underground walkway connecting the two buildings), the hotel's paneled corridors and light-filled lounges ooze discreet wealth. There's marble aplenty if you look for it, but the emphasis is on classic materials and clean lines, with low-slung leather furniture, frosted-glass lamps, and pale wood tempering the mansion's ornate original plasterwork. It's difficult to fault the 500-label wine library, the on-site cheese store, and a bar with 17th-century oak (the Duhau family's former safe now houses the bar's collection of cognac and cigars), nor the soothing air of the gym and spa, with a phalanx of attendants, myriad treatment suites, and an Olympic-size swimming pool.
See + Do
San Telmo, Argentina
With its faded Italianate tenements (once the mansions of the Buenos Aires upper-crust) and cobbled calles, San Telmo is one of the most atmospheric of B.A.'s 48 barrios. Every Sunday, Plaza Dorrego hosts the Feria de San Pedro Telmo, a lively urban bazaar full of antique stalls and impromptu tango. (The neighborhood is known for its abundant antique dealers.) During the week, the plaza, with its outdoor cafés, becomes an ideal oasis for a coffee or an ice-cold Quilmes, the Budweiser of Argentina.
See + Do
The tony enclave of Recoleta feels like the 16th arrondissement of Paris or Manhattan's Upper East Side. Its leafy streets are lined with ornate townhouses, Polo and Cartier outposts, the occasional embassy and, at its heart, the posh fortress of the Alvear Palace Hotel. Recoleta's most famous resident remains Evita Perón, who, oblivious to her daily cavalcade of visitors, rests in peace at the must-see Cementerio de la Recoleta, a 13-acre necropolis founded in 1822. Avenida del Libertador, a wide parkway, leads to B.A.'s own museum mile, featuring the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, a former Belle Époque palace.
See + Do
Puerto Madero, Argentina
It's still shocking to many porteños that Puerto Madero—once a run-down dock area—has now surpassed Recoleta as B.A.'s highest-rent district. It's a barrio that didn't even officially exist until 1994, when massive renewal transformed a jumble of derelict brick warehouses and deserted streets into the TriBeCa of South America. These days, the four diques (locks) that define the old port are home to Cabaña Las Lilas, the best steakhouse in Argentina; Santiago Calatrava's lyrelike suspension bridge, Puente de la Mujer; and Faena Hotel + Universe, the mind-bogglingly over-the-top hotel that design superstar Philippe Starck carved out of a 1902 industrial grain warehouse.
See + Do
Plaza de Mayo, Argentina
The grassy Plaza de Mayo is B.A.'s village green. Originally laid out in 1580, the plaza was the site of the important uprising against Spanish rule that blew up on May 25, 1810 (thus the name). These days, the Plaza de Mayo plays host to countless tourists, a healthy pigeon population, and, every Thursday afternoon at 3:30 pm, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the activist-mothers who have protested the desaparecidos ("disappeared") of Argentina's 1976–1983 Dirty War for 20 years. At the Plaza de Mayo's center, one finds the Pirámide de Mayo, an obelisk commemorating the May uprising, and the square is bordered by the impressive Banco de la Nación, the old colonial Cabildo (town hall) and the Casa Rosada.
See + Do
Palermo is B.A.'s largest barrio, and, with its numerous sub-barrios and 350 acres of parkland, it feels like a city unto itself. There's the wonderful Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays with its frisky population of feral cats; the century-old Palermo polo grounds; and the palatial Hipódromo Argentino (4101 Libertador), a thoroughbred racecourse that makes Churchill Downs look like a shotgun shack. But the real action goes down in Palermo Viejo, the hipster hangout centered around Plazoleta Cortázar and subdivided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood, an area of tipa-lined streets, designer-soap emporiums, cocktail bars, and cutting-edge bistros like the Scandinavian-themed Ølsen. The outlying Las Cañitas is a throbbing nightlife zone popular with pub-crawling yuppies and out-past-curfew teens.
See + Do
Popularized by Argentina's gauchos, the hard-living cowboys of the fertile Pampas, yerba maté has become an Argentine obsession. The bitter infusion is derived from the leaves of the yerba plant, which grows widely in the steamy forests of northeastern Argentina. Aficionados—and all Argentines claim to be aficionados—place the dried yerba leaves in an ornamental gourd known as a maté, infuse them in hot (but not boiling) water, and suck the resulting brew through a metal straw, or bombilla. The surrounding ritual is complex and rife with debates about its idiosyncrasies, but maté consumption transcends barriers of class and race, providing the focus for daytime gatherings of family and friends. For an outsider, it's not easy to join the true circle of maté drinkers—it's usually best to enlist the help of friendly locals. Failing that, it is possible to order maté at the following venues:
La Provisión de Enciso
3909 Fernandez de Enciso
Tel: 54 11 4504 8283
Set back from a charming plaza in Devoto, a self-contained barrio in the western part of Buenos Aires, this neighborhood parrilla steakhouse offers a full maté service every afternoon (4 to 7:30 pm), along with all the necessary paraphernalia, including a tin kettle, gourd, metal straw, savory nibbles, and strong yerba leaves. Owner Juan Carlos Cremona is usually on hand to explain the ritual's unwritten rules to first-timers.
La Peña del Colorado
Tel: 54 11 4822 1038
This popular folk-music venue serves maté with chipá, or cassava bread rolls, in the afternoons (Mondays through Saturdays from 3 to 7 pm), with a second sitting when performances end around midnight.
Tel: 54 11 4804 0449
While purists would sneer at the maté listo (made from a travelers' kit of throwaway plastic), this landmark Recoleta café is nonetheless popular for its people-watching and the vast, 200-year-old gomero tree that overhangs its terrace.
See + Do
La Boca, Argentina
The salty old harbor of La Boca—with its working-class swagger, old-school cantinas, and copious graffiti—is thought to be the barrio where 19th-century Genovese immigrants first danced the tango. Modern-day practitioners can be seen strutting their stuff along the rainbow-hued alleyway known as Caminito, La Boca's open-air museum, art gallery, and souvenir market (see above). It's a total tourist trap, but an irresistible one that even the locals profess a grudging affection for. La Boca is also the stomping ground of Boca Juniors, the beloved soccer powerhouse whose stadium, La Bombonera (805 Brandsen), makes up the center—spiritual as well as geographic—of the neighborhood.
See + Do
Cementerio de la Recoleta, Argentina
Buenos Aires 1133, Argentina
Tel: 54 11 4803 1594
A who's who of Argentinean bold-faced names rests among Recoleta Cemetery's tombs and mausoleums, from the Alvears and the Dorregos to heavyweight boxer Luis Ángel Firpo. Foreigners come largely for Evita, whose remains returned to Buenos Aires in 1974 after a decades-long detour through Milan and Madrid and now lie in her family's simple crypt. Until recently, her late husband Juan Perón was buried across town at the less regal Chacarita Cemetery, a vast necropolis built during the city's 1871 yellow fever epidemic. Peronist party loyalists have since moved his remains to a grand mausoleum at El General's former home in the rural town of San Vicente.
Open daily 7 am to 5:45 pm.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tel: 54 11 4782 9082
You know Sucre is hot the moment you step through the door. There's its sleek industrial ambience of exposed girders and pipes, the perfectly exfoliated international schmoozers and boozers quaffing colorful infusions at the bar, and the open kitchen with its flame-spewing wood-fire grill. Chef, owner, and impresario Fernando Trocca has a flair for drama, and Sucre, the centerpiece of his fiefdom (which includes the equally fashion-friendly Bar Uriarte and Gran Bar Danzón) is pure theater. Thankfully, this is a people-watcher's paradise where the food comes very close to living up to the surroundings. Langostinos (king prawns) perfumed with Lapsang Souchong harmonize with the heady aroma of smoke that suffuses the establishment; savory-sweet "Bloody Mary" ceviche is a cool treat. But it's impossible to avoid those shooting flames (fueled by quebracho, an Argentinean hardwood), which lick at an impressive matambrito de cerdo (pork flank), bring the mollejas de chivito (goat sweetbreads) to a perfect crisp, and just plain look great reflecting off an evening-ending glass of port.
Open daily noon to 4 pm and 8 pm to 1 am.
Patagonia Sur, Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tel: 54 11 4303 5917
Francis Mallmann, the globe-trotting dandy who is Argentina's best-known chef and restaurateur, selected an appropriately southern city location for this breathtaking culinary love letter to the myth-rich, far-southern region of Patagonia. On a graffiti-splattered corner of La Boca, Mallmann installed B.A.'s most romantic dining room in a gorgeously reinvented old Italianate town house. If some of Mallmann's other properties obscure Patagonia Sur's light, that's a shame. In fact, it's a gleaming gem, with a menu full of Argentina's greatest hits: ensalada de centolla (spider crab salad), homey lentil stew, succulent roasted Patagonian lamb, and even a modern take on choripan, the local equivalent of a vendor hot dog, turned out with Cordon Bleu panache. The wine list brims with the very best Argentine bottles. (Try the 2002 Malbec from Finca La Anita.) Mallmann has a sweet tooth, too. His flan casero con dulce de leche y crema prompted one seen-it-all porteña to proclaim it the best she'd ever sampled.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays noon to 3 pm and 8 pm to 11 pm.