Argentina sophisticated and wild
What’s not to like about a country where 10 pm is considered a suitable hour to meet one’s friends for pre-dinner drinks, where coffee comes in shot size with a buttery or chocolate treat on the side, or where you can walk in some of the wildest terrain on the planet?
In its taste for outdoor cafes, its leisurely dining habits, its dress, its contrasting planes of braggadocio and grit, BA Takes its cues from Mediterranean Europe. The Argentinean capital has character to burn. They are particularly fond of funerals and one of Buenos Aires’ standout attractions is Recoleta, a cemetery crammed with grandiose stone mausoleums, including that of Eva Peron. A sort off courtliness prevails in shops. Service is genteel, old fashioned and exceedingly polite. Palermo Viejo, which has just about everything the cool urban heart could wish for – funky boutiques, galleries, homemaker shops, bars, restaurants and smart hotels converted from the area’s former warehouses. Centre of the action is Plazaleto Jorge Cortazar, also known as Plaza Serrano, which hosts a flea market by daytime, while the bars and restaurants that ring the plaza spring to life when the sun goes down.
Raw, majestic and totally uncivilised, this is the ultimate in cataclysms, turning the world into a rioting, thundering stallion that sets the earth shaking under your feet and making speech impossible. The bare facts are amazing enough. From the surrounding forests, dozens of rivers converge to create a series of 275 cascades spread in a horseshoe shape over three kilometres. Boardwalks extend over the water to give you an unforgettable view of the world in tumult. Better still, the falls are surrounded by a glistening rainforest that echoes with the calls of howler monkeys and toucans. There is much to do besides letting your jaw fall open, including rafting trips and four-wheel drive forest tours. Argentina meets Brazil here. Each country offers different – yet not necessarily superior – viewpoints. Best bed on the Argentinean side is the Sheraton Iguazú Resort & Spa, overlooking the Garganta del Diablo – Devil’s Gorge.
Call of the Wild
In deepest Argentina, the 3,000-metre rock spires of Los Glaciares National Park erupt from the flat Patagonian steppes, dribbling glaciers into mirroring lakes in one of the Andes’ most photogenic visions. The adventures here come in several gradations. At the slothful end of the scale is the view of the five-kilometre wide terminal face of Petito Moreno Glacier from Lake Argentino. There are observation platforms and boat trips on the lake, but you can also strap on crampons for a guided hike on this creeping giant. More demanding is the trek to Laguna Torre, one of the world’s finest one-day walks, offering superb views of the main peaks of the Fitz Roy Range. This route also takes you to the base camp for assaults on the 3,128m spire of Cerro Torre, swept by the legendary, terrifying Patagonian wind that locals call “the Broom of God”, and off limits to all but mountaineers of the highest technical ability. Gateway to adventures in Los Glaciares is the town of El Calafate, on the southern shores of Lake Argentino, with regular flights to Buenos Aires.
Cruising Tierra del Fuego
At its southernmost extremity, Argentina disintegrates in a mosaic of islands separated by channels and fiords, an archipelago of mountains and ice trimmed with cedar forests. This is Tierra del Fuego, “Land of Fire”, named by the great Portuguese voyager, Ferdinand Magellan after the night fires he saw on the hillsides, lit by the region’s native people. Cruise company Cruceros Australis operates two identical ships on 3 and 4-night itineraries between Ushuaia, in Argentina, and Punta Arenas, in neighbouring Chile. At 70 metres and 2,600 tonnes, these vessels take small-ship, expeditionary cruising to a new level of luxury. Expect daily trips to calving glaciers, walks through spongy forests, soaring condors on the mountain peaks and – the icing on the cake – a landing at Cape Horn, weather permitting.
In the foothills of the Andes In the western province of Mendoza, the Valle de Uco is home to some of Argentina’s finest wineries. The valle is one of several wine sub-regions in the province and at an altitude of between 1,200 to 1,500 metres, against the backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks, they’re also some of its highest, with the ability to produce semillon, tempranillo, malbec and petit verdot of astonishing finesse. There are about 16 wineries here, with bodegas open for tasting. Wine touring along Los Caminos del Vino – the wine roads – is a well established notion and accommodation and food are easy to come by. The wineries at Salentein, Andeluna and La Azul are among the essential stops on any wine lover’s list.