Given the distance and time it takes to reach southern Chile, consider extending your trip with a few days in Santiago, or as we did, with what is known as the lake crossing (cruceandino.com), heading eastward through the bucolic mountains and across sundry lakes to the picture-postcard setting of the Llao Llao Hotel & Resort in panoramic Bar Iloche.
From this idyllic, scenic respite, we continued by plane (South America’s airline, LAN, is an ideal way to get around and business class to and from the States is gracious and restful) to Buenos Aires, the oft-dubbed Paris of South America, a lively city with 13 million residents. We chose the hospitable Intercontinental Hotel (located in the heart of the gaslight district of the Old Town), where you’ll enjoy a filling, sumptuous breakfast each morning (don’t skip South America’s gift to sugar addicts, dulce de leche), in the dining room overlooking the garden and the Terraza del Virrey restaurant. This indoor-outdoor café is an ideal spot for a bracing afternoon caipirinha or an
A mere three blocks from the hotel is the city’s main boulevard, the Avenida de Mayo, with an eclectic mix of striking architecture—including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the elegant Casa Rosada (The Pink House), the presidential palace. During your stroll, stop for a café cortado at the renowned Café Tortoni. Bisecting the Avenida is another great boulevard, perhaps the largest on the planet, the Avenida 9 de Julio, more than 16 lanes at some points, and home to the world-renowned Teatro Colón, one of the world’s grandest opera houses, scheduled to reopen in 2010.
Neighborhood-hopping is fun in BA, and for a lively evening hit Palermo, popping with restaurants, shops, and clubs, or the San Telmo barrio, with its cobblestone streets, where you can dine at the charming I Miei Amici. The Puerto Madero area was the site of the downtrodden docks, but has been reclaimed, with lots of nightlife and shopping. Calle Florida (popularly known by its English name, Florida Street) is a long pedestrian mall with hundreds of shops with souvenirs, leather goods, silver, and so on; it’s the perfect place for sleuthing out bargains. Luxury brand-name shopping is clustered in the fancy Recoleta neighborhood, where the best chocolates can be found at Vasalissa Chocolatier and upscale “gaucho” sportswear (think Ralph Lauren’s “cowboys”) at Cardon . The city’s chic mall Patio Bullrich, a former livestock auction house, is here, as is the celebrated La Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Perón is entombed.
Take dinner in Recoleta at La Cabaña, a steak house dating from 1935 (diners have included, among a roster of bold-face names, Louis Armstrong, Fidel Castro, Charles de Gaulle, and Sophia Loren), and now, since 1996, under the auspices of Orient-Express. The menu boasts steak, steak, and more steak…but remember, the chlorophyll and water on the pampas and on the estancias (farms) are not the same as those ingested in North America, so expect beef that tastes a little different. Don’t miss the restaurant’s papas soufflé—airy pillow-puffs of lightly fried potato—guaranteed to melt in your mouth.
Tea at the magnificent Alvear Palace Hotel is a lovely treat – in the delightful salon, Jardin d’Hiver, you’ll be blown away by the pastry carts laden with delices. Go first, however, to the hotel’s spa, for a thoroughly indulgent afternoon, and end your spa visit with a bracing walk in the hot and cold pools that center your chi, as you walk on stones in each.
Touristy tango shows abound, and some are very kitsch, but when in Rome…so take in one, perhaps Señor Tango or La Esquina de Carlos Gardel.
(One last note: Your concierge will probably advise that you take radio taxis, not street cabs, to ensure regulated fares.) –– RJK