Argentina’s rich culture, large and varied landscape, great sporting achievements and dramatic history mean this is a country that can boast of attractions to entertain even the most discerning visitor. By Kathryn McCann
Some associate this grand nation with fast and furiously played football, others with its history of fearless female leaders, the former First Lady Eva Perón and current President Cristina Fernandez. Visitors from all over the world come to sample the fine cuisine on offer including the famous Argentinian beef asado (roasted) from a parrilla (grill) restaurant, washed down with a bottle of Mendoza’s excellent wine. Others prefer to chase down some sultry Argentine Tango – renowned as the world’s ultimate romantic dance – in the lively, bustling back streets of Buenos Aires.
Sold? You should be. Drinks Hamper guide you through the best of what the worlds eighth largest country has to offer…
The Argentine wine industry has long been among the largest outside Europe, and the country is the fifth most important wine producer in the world, with the annual per capita consumption of wine among the highest. The Mendoza region, an arid province that lies to the North East of the country, has numerous bodegas nestled in the shadows of the Andes and is at the heart of Argentinian wine making. It is most famous for its variety of Malbec grape, which although it has its origins in France, has found an ideal environment in the Province of Mendoza to successfully develop and become the world’s best Malbec wine. Mendoza accounts for 70% of the country’s total wine production, and provides many variations of ‘wine tourism’. Visitors also flock to Mendoza to experience the impressive landscape of the Cordillera de Los Andes and the highest peak in the Americas, Mount Aconcagua, at 6,952m (22,808 ft) high.
Many of the major bodegas (Norton, Rutini etc.) offer tours and wine-tasting events are extremely common in the area. There are a large number of operators offering organised tours of the vineyards, but you can also do it independently – although if you are, it is advisable to book in advance as many bodegas only open for pre-arranged visits and are closed at weekends. You will find plenty of information in the culture section of local newspapers or by asking around. A preferable period to visit is during harvesting in March and April, and if you chose to stay in the city, the famous winemaking regions of Luján de Cuyo and Maipú are a mere 100km away. These areas also produce Mendoza’s most famous varieties of Malbec as well as impressive Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Anoek Petit, Travel Consultant at Sunvil Traveller, explains why Argentina has become such a great wine country: “One of the main factors is the ideal conditions for grape growing in the area – dry, keeping it from many of the diseases found in other wine regions, differences in altitude due to being close to the Andes, which makes for more solar radiation through a cool temperature, and taking advantage of the Andean runoff for irrigation. These ideal conditions allow Argentinian wines to be of a high quality.
Although your plan may be to get lost in the sprawling vineyards or to tackle the daunting Mount Aconcagua, ensure you also make time to explore the city itself – to miss this would be a mistake.
For starters, Mendoza city far exceeds expectations of what to expect from a municipal with a location in the middle of a desert. This lively, bustling city is bursting with greenery and impressive fountains thanks to the acequias (irrigation ditches) that run beside every main road. There are plenty of sprawling piazzas – five in total – lined with cosmopolitan cafés and bars serving a mixture of cocktails and empanadas to satisfy every palette.
Take time to sample all the staples of Argentinian culture – drink Malbec from Maipú, enjoy grilled Argentine meat and try the tango – but remember the party doesn’t start until late!
24 hours in Mendoza…
Mendoza is recognised world wide as ‘wine country’, so you cannot possibly visit the region without making a trip to the famous vineyards outside the city. Malbec Symphony Wine Tours provides interesting and educational wine tours, directed by sommelier Julian Dlouhy and his knowledgeable staff. Options include learning about traditional irrigation systems in Lujan de Cuyo, visiting the Rutini Winery museum in Maipú or visiting organic wine producers, taking cooking classes and horseback riding through the vineyards in the Valle de Uco.
A trip to Mendoza wouldn’t be complete without sampling food cooked by the city’s most famous chef, Francis Mallmann. His flagship restaurant 1884 is considered to be one of Argentina’s top restaurants and was recently voted the 7th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine. The Spanish-style building inside the Bodega Escorihuela uses an array of different cast-iron grills, such as the parilla, a barbeque grill, or a plancha, a cast-iron griddle. 1884 uses a wood-fired oven in the winery’s courtyard to prepare roasted meats and empanadas. Mallmann changes the menu every two weeks and prepares dishes with matching wine selections.
Rest your weary head at the Park Hyatt Mendoza Hotel, Casino and spa. This prestigious luxury hotel has a beautifully restored 19th century Spanish colonial façade and is conveniently situated in the heart of Mendoza, looking onto Plaza Independencia and offering stunning views of the Andes mountain range. The hotel is ideally located a mere 20 minutes away from Mendoza International airport, and is also close to the most important vineyards and wineries of the region. Park Hyatt offers a wide range of activities including Mendoza wine tours, a premier Casino and luxury spa hotel services at Kaua Club and Spa.
If time is tight, stay in the city and sample hundreds of Argentinian wine at Vines of Mendoza. The tasting room features about 100 producers and is the only spot where you can try so many different types in one place. The servers are multilingual, well trained and knowledgeable. Sample a flight of malbecs, Mendoza’s most famous grape, for 75 pesos or experience some of the other regional varietals including torrontés, merlot, bonarda and a couple of the blends. Tours and barbecues to the Valle de Uco can also be arranged here.
All hail Buenos Aires
No doubt your trip to Argentina will include its magnificent capital city, Buenos Aires – the cultural and historic centre of the country. Anoek agrees, “ Buenos Aires is very elegant, with a lot of green space for such a metropolitan city. It is home to the Pink House (the Argentinian version of the White House), the tango, galleries and designer shops, colonial architecture and the brightly coloured houses of the La Boca neighbourhood.”
Most of Argentina’s activity is concentrated in this single city, which boasts a wide range of nightlife, restaurants and pubs to ensure you will be completely spoilt for choice. There are three million inhabitants and 48 districts called barrios (neighbouhoods). Some of the most famous include:
Microcentro – The buzzing downtown district of the city, near to the main historical and shopping spots. Florida Street is a famous pedestrian street in this part of the city and Galerias Pacifico on Avenida Cordoba is an upscale shopping mall.
La Boca – Bueno’s Aires most colourful neighbourhood, which still retains a strong European flavour, with many residents of mixed European descent. A favourite with tourists due to its rich history and vibrant red, blue, yellow, purple and green buildings.
Recoleta – Recoleta is an affluent district of the city, and an area of great historical and architectural interest. It is also a distinctive gastronomic area, with numerous first class restaurants. The famous Cementerio de la Recoleta, where all the rich families of Buenos Aires are buried, is well worth a visit for the ornate tombs. The cemetery is also the last resting place of Eva Perón.
Boedo – One cannot visit Buenos Aires without experiencing Argentine Tango, the country’s national dance. The barrio of Boedo, is one of the main Tango and historical spots in the city, traditionally a working class district which is known for its influence in tango culture and its numerous cafes which were important meeting places for the country’s famous writers and musicians.
Puerto Madero – This antique port of Buenos Aires has been renewed and now contains a mixture of high-end restaurants and luxury hotels. This area has some great architectural scenery and is a great place for a long walk. If you are looking for some greenery, look no further – Reserve Ecologica Castenera Sur is an expansive park and wildlife reserve popular with hikers, joggers and bird watchers. Take to the water and travel to Uruguay and other destinations from the Buquebus ferry terminal at Darsena Norte.
Explore the city…
For the last 27 years, the Rodizio restaurants have been THE place to go if you want to eat the world famous argentine asado. The three branches in Buenos Aires are distinguished by the high levels of cuisine and a unique cooking system. Splurge on the highest quality steak available in the city, which is served in ‘swords’.
The Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires, is said to be the most luxurious hotel in South America. Located in the affluent barrio of La Recoleta, it is surrounded by antique stores, fashionable boutiques and the best restaurants in the city. Magnificent architecture, impeccable service and European elegance combined with cutting edge technology, ensure The Alvear Palace keeps its place as one of the world’s best hotels.
Tango, as the national dance of Argentina, can be found all over the city. However Tango is best experienced not in La Boca and on Calle Florida, but in the Milongas. A Milonga is both a place where a Tango dance will take place, as well as a specific type of the dance. Expect the party to start late – Milongas officially begin at 11pm, but don’t usually fill up until 1.30am and can go on until five or six in the morning. Some Milongas to note are: Salon Canning, El Beso and Porteno y Bailarin. These are frequented by milongueros, expert tango dancers looking for a partner, and can be found on the free distribution guide ‘TangoMap’ along with the location and times of all the milongas in the city. The guide is edited by Caserón Porteño, a Tango Guest House in Buenos Aires and can be found at http://www.caseronporteno.com/.
If you want to quench your thirst after a heavy Tango session, look no further than the Gran Bar Danzón. The vast wine and cocktail list is enough to keep visitors amused for hours and the food is delicious. Try a Hemingway Daiquiri, a Jagermeister Mojito, or a Classic Long Island Ice Tea. For the most extensive wine selection in the city, try the vinoteca at the Park Hyatt, which is home to over 7,000 bottles of Argentinian reds and whites.
What else does Argentina have to offer?
If you have given yourself enough time to properly explore this great country – and you should – other highlights include the Iguazu Falls, Argeninian Estancias, the Lake District, Peninsula Valdes, El Calafate and Ushuaia. Anoek urges travelers to pay a visit to the Iguazu falls in particular: “This is one of the world’s most amazing waterfalls and is twice the size of Niagara. The 275 falls thunder down from a height of 82 metres and stretch for more than one and a half miles. The falls can be viewed from both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides.”
The Argentinian estancias range from traditional cattle ranches, farms and plantations, to elegant villas and country houses. The majority are located in the pampas, a vast area of land stretching inland from Buenos Aires for hundreds of miles.
In the Lake District you can experience great tranquility among the glacial lakes, snow-capped mountains and dense Northern Patagonian forests (home to four National Parks). An area of exquisite natural beauty stretching along 30 crystal lakes that vary between aquamarine blue and emerald green, with a backcloth of majestic extinct volcanoes traversed by silent forests, it offers a magical way to enter a pristine, timeless environment.
If you want to get up close and personal with wildlife, Anoek recommends Peninsula Valdes: “This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most significant marine reserves on the planet. Large colonies of Magellan penguins can be observed at close quarters from September to March. Between June and December, daily whale-watching boat trips take place, and between August and April, sea lions and elephant seals may be seen. Bird life is abundant with plenty of eagles, owls and lesser rheas. Guanacos scatter this wild territory.”
The town of El Calafate is the base for exploring Los Glaciares National Park and the monumental glacier of Perito Moreno. This glacier has a surface of 257 square kilometers and stands a towering 50-70 metres high, while reaching a depth of 137 metres. There are many platforms and trails from where you can view the glacier and hear the ice cracking continuously.
Ushuaia is the world’s southern most city. With elements of a frontier town with an indigenous heritage, it has increasingly adapted to its modern position as a focal point for the exploration of the subpolar region. Apart from cruises to Antarctica, you may explore a cruise along the Beagle Channel or to Punta Arenas in Chile.
For more information on Argentina, contact Sunvil Traveller, or Tel: 020 8748 4774