Jules, one of our Travel Consultants, recently traveled to Argentina to discover stunning views, friendly faces, fine wines and world-class food. In this blog, Jules tells us all…
Have you ever seen a butterfly dance? Have you ever seen a hummingbird twist through the brightly colored stems of a beautiful flower? Have you ever sat simply looking at the hills, soft hues of purple and blue in the distance etched against a cobalt blue sky or sat under an enormous sky full of stars whilst the gentle lights and fire of Estancia El Colibri burned softly in the ensuing darkness?
We flew into Córdoba and were greeted with the huge smile of our driver at the airport. Sinking into buttery leather coverings, I whispered the immortal words – Carpincho – the most beautiful of all Argentinian leather products at which our driver nodded with a smile. ‘Long legs’ gave an enormous sigh as this kind of intimate speak normally ends up costing him a lot of money in whatever currency one manages to procure such items! When he muttered how much a jacket cost in this stuff – I sweetly said ‘200 doves or a dozen pheasants and that wasn’t counting the cartridges’.
Nothing had prepared me for the extraordinary views that stretched in every direction for as far as the eye could see. El Colibri means the Hummingbird in Spanish and there is a story which says that the hummingbird only comes to the soul that it wants to attach itself to. Its beauty is elusive and that is perhaps the quintessential ingredient of El Colibri. It is not a hotel – it is the dream that has been realised by Stephanie and Raoul the owners, a vision to build the most beautiful Estancia and share it with their friends, family and guests. The first question people ask – what do you do to pass away the precious hours here? The first day was an experience in itself in that by the end of a few short hours I felt I had been here for a week. Mauro took me for a ride around part of this exquisite property and as my Spanish is limited to a very few words, what took my breath away was the silence and the tranquillity of this beautiful piece of paradise. He managed to teach me the Spanish words for happiness which was apparent everywhere along with the sheer beauty of the river, hills and woods surrounding this beautiful homestead.
There is as much or as little to do as you wish every day. The children there went off to collect the eggs in the morning and I went the second day, ending up milking the cows to add to the delicious coffee they serve you each day. You can ride out with the gauchos in the morning by the river or in the evening through the corn fields which turned to gold against the sapphire blue of the sky or you can take a bicycle and weave through some of the paths of this beautiful property. Even if you are not an experienced rider go out with the gauchos on a gentle ride which is a perfect way to explore. Play some polo on their polo field, have a massage in their little Spa, organize a picnic, visit the local village and markets or simply lie by the pool soaking up the peace. There is even a tiny gym if you are feeling energetic after your ride out with the gauchos.
We are spoiled with the restaurants of London and Europe but here we were only given the simplest and most wonderful fresh food which was grilled and prepared to perfection by their wonderful chef Leo. I think the world has forgotten how delicious it is to be served a simple salad that has come from their own herb garden – the Huerta – where we were treated to an amazing picnic lunch – followed by the most wonderful meat grilled on an open fire tasting of fresh air and fresh herbs! This is a family run property and some of their fantastic staff, Mauro, Leo, Bellen and Eliseo made sure every wish was granted, including finding my Carpincho boots and gilet which they sourced. Saying goodbye at dawn on a peerless day we set off for the next part of our adventure – the world famous wine lands of Mendoza and the Uco Valley.
Arriving after a short and marginally annoying tussle with the kilo differential between my ticket of 15 kilos (ridiculous) and reality check of 10 days of outfits and shoes – parting of more pesos – we were picked up by the fabulous Fernando and Martina and whisked off to Entre Cielos. Cecile, David and their cabal of friends from Switzerland searched through the various lands of Argentina until they arrived in Mendoza. Looking at the Andes through the trees and vineyard they fell in love with the location and Entre Cielos was conceived, executed, built and now blends with the earth and sky overlooking the majestic snow-capped Andes. Modern with eclectic twists of humor, the hotel is a home from home, on the outskirts of Mendoza and 5 mins from Cacers – euphemistically known as the Beverly Hills of Mendoza and to us a leafy take on the suburbs of Sydney or Cape Town complete with the abandoned station of Los – part of the legacy of Carlos Menin’s useless gesture of closing the railways in order to put the freight transport into the hands the trucking cartel who now regularly cripple business by striking arbitrarily.
Cecile and David and their cartel of friends turned their dream into reality with this charming set of rooms overlooking the mountains, surrounded by vines and gorgeous trees with a wonderful Spa and Hamman. Katherina – the beloved grandmother with all the recipes gives her name to their restaurant where we ate like kings supping their delicious Rose named again for the constellation of stars that are forever present in the clear night sky.
We had a marvelous day exploring the world renowned Uco Valley where our first stop was at Azur. A small boutique winery run by the same family and the name came from the lucky family member to draw the ‘blue’ colored slip from the hat ‘Papa’ decided was the best way to divide his assets fairly with between his families. Each part of his estate, large and small was color coded and the slips all picked randomly by the family members and Azur the winery and farm was ever-known by this name! The wines were delicious and our wine tasting comprised of a very exhaustive lesson on the Malbecs, Syrahs and Cabernets used in the Argentinian red wine making process. A perfect place to sample the delicious fare cooked over their open BBQ but we had other places to visit so sadly had to wend our way. The Bodegas Salentein winery has magnificent architecture and the wines were equally brilliantly structured, possibly their taste enhanced by the wonderful backdrop of the snow-capped Andes in the distance.
Lunch was now beckoning and I couldn’t wait to see the Vines Resort & Spa and their famous restaurant – Siete Fuegos – the seven fires made famous by the program A Cook Abroad and John Tovey. We never had a chance to eat at its sister in Mendoza – 1864 – again the system of the seven fires of which each cooks a dish in a different way and the brainchild of the famous chef Francis Mallman. One was for grilling, one roasting, one smoking and so on and at The Vines you saw the chefs preparing and cooking in the open kitchen over each of these particular fires which was brilliant. Not to mention the pit where they would bake whole lambs… What a feast we had overlooking one of the most awesome views of the Andes mountains flanked by their lake and the surrounding vines. Truly a great hotel, fantastic place to eat, gorgeous suites with far reaching views to the mountains and of course their delicious wine. It had been a long day as the drive from Mendoza is 2 hours in each direction but well worth it in every sense – a must!
Coming back to the lovely Entre Cielos and dining that night at Brindillas was one of the highlights of the trip as the refined and delicious complexity of the food and wine pairing here was second to none. Argentina has so much to offer from the simple Asedo BBQ to their magnificent grilled meat restaurants to something like Brindillas and we were lucky to sample such wines and delicious food.
Whether you spend a day by the pool, a day in their amazing Hamman and Spa, a day exploring the local wineries and feasting off the wonderful pairing menus they all offer there is simply so much to do here and Entre Cielos the most perfect base.
It was soon time to wend our way back to Buenos Aires where the last night was spent at Francis Ford Coppola’s boutique hotel El Jardin Escondido in the heart of the Palermo district. A charming home covered in vines, flowered terraces and rooms filled with antiques and memorabilia from this amazing man’s life. You could have sat and poured through the books whilst sipping wine from the little bar feeling as if you had reverted to a bygone age as the melancholy strains of the tango drifted through the night air.
We fell into our last sleep replete after an amazing final meal at one of Buenos Aires’ most famous meat restaurants, La Cabrera which like the restaurant we had lunch in on our first day, Don Julio, was perfect in every way.
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