Working Ranches: Tipiliuke Lodge, Neuquén, Argentina
The sun sinks behind the foothills of the Andes as I gallop on horseback toward the riverbank. My horse splashes into the rushing water, and I cling to the reins with frozen fingers. In the distance, smoke curls up through the evening sky. It’s a sign that I’m nearing Tipiliuke Lodge, the center of the sprawling Estancia Cerro de los Pinos, a cattle ranch in northern Patagonia. After several hours of exploring mountainous, wind-whipped terrain and barreling through apple orchards, I’m ready to lounge in front of the crackling fire.
When I arrive at the lodge, a deer-hunting party made up of physicians from Buenos Aires is already on a second round of cocktails. I’m instantly spotted. “¡Che, gringa!” they call to me. “Vení, ¡tómate una copa!” (“Come, have a drink!”) Within a minute, a portly ophthalmologist pours me a pisco sour and our hostess, María José Tiemersma, walks in with a huge wooden tray of smoked wild boar and salmon.
Like me, the hunters have returned from the far corners of the 48,000-acre estancia, or ranch, a patchwork of pine forests and bare hills crisscrossed by the Chimehuín and Quilquihue rivers. French-Argentine pioneer Jacques de Larminat settled here in 1909. Today, his descendants and a team of gauchos run the estancia, which is home to several thousand cattle and three herds of horses. Since 1997, María José and her husband, Kevin, have managed the lodge.
Argentine estancias abide by a certain old-fashioned decorum: Regardless of the day’s activities, everyone arrives at the evening meal looking perfectly put-together. I notice my dirt-caked boots and slip away for a quick soak. My room’s vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, and wrought-iron bed hint at its homestead history; while fine cotton sheets, vases filled with pink roses, and the bathroom’s oversize claw-foot tub suggest a romantic retreat. I pour aromatic salts into the bath and relax in the warm water as candlelight flickers around me.
I’m freshly scrubbed when I take my seat at the long wooden dining table, but I feel unsophisticated next to the glamorous María José. Draped in a cream-colored shawl, she presides over the meal with warmth and humor, making sure no glass goes empty throughout the courses of homemade linguine, braised pork, and chocolate soufflé.
I awake before dawn the next day for a fly-fishing lesson. Martín, my instructor, outfits me with a pair of rubber waders and leads me by the hand into the Río Chimehuín. “Keep your eye on the shadows. There are fish resting in the river’s coolest, darkest places,” he says. After hours of standing silently in waist-deep water, I feel a yank on the line. To our shared surprise, I’ve hooked a 21-inch salmon. (Full disclosure: Martín had to reel it in.)
At lunchtime, the guests reconvene on a stretch of lawn bordered by towering pines. A traditional Argentine asado always includes steaks and red wine, but at Tipiliuke the barbecue is a more elaborate affair. Under a white tent, other novice anglers pass the chorizo while the hunters laugh about their fruitless pursuit of a wild boar through the forest. As we socialize, the grill man roasts large cuts of chivito (goat). The meat—like the pork and beef we ate earlier—was raised on the estancia.
It’s a reminder that despite the crisp linens and gleaming silver, we’re still on a working ranch. I might not have broken a sweat, but after playing pioneer for a day, I’m ready for a Malbec-induced siesta. A
Tipiliuke Lodge, Estancia Cerro de los Pinos, San Martín de los Andes, Neuquén Province, Argentina. tipiliuke.com. 54/11-4806-8877 ext. 101. From $370 per person, including airport transfers, all meals and drinks, winetasting, and horseback riding. This appeared in the January/February 2011 issue.